Warwickshire’s Essential Entertainment Guide
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One of the first Midlands venues to announce its reopening as lockdown rules eased was Warwick Castle. Boasting history tours, detailed exhibits, programmed activities and 64 acres of landscaped garden, the venue offers a combination of attractions that makes for a fabulous family day out.
The castle benefits from being run by Merlin Entertainments, a global company renowned for its wide range of visitor attractions. As might therefore be expected, a considerable amount of thought has gone into the challenge of bringing the venue’s long and illustrious history to life.
Journey through the one-way system of the castle’s Great Hall & State Rooms to uncover a wealth of historically significant artefacts. These include a weapons and armoury collection amassed by the Earls of Warwick through the centuries, famous Van Dyck portraiture, and the bed in which Queen Anne is said to have met her demise at Kensington Palace in 1714.
Meanwhile, the Kingmaker exhibit sees visitors being guided through an underground labyrinth, where they will learn about the preparations made by Warwick’s army ahead of its battle in 1471. This interactive journey - complete with authentic sounds and smells - provides a real sense of medieval England. Along the way it also highlights the work undertaken not only by the castle’s bowmen and soldiers but also by its blacksmith, stonemason, treasurer, seamstress and cobbler.
Make sure you allow plenty of time to marvel at the mannequins - so perfectly formed and lifelike that they look as though they’re going to leap into action at any minute!
Certain to capture the attention of younger visitors is the castle’s Horrible Histories © Maze. An innovative way in which to trek back in time, the attraction guides families through England’s often gruesome past - from the ‘Stormin’ Normans’ to the ‘Frightful First World War’, with the ‘Terrifying Tudors’ and ‘Slimy Stuarts’ popping up in between.
Again, a one-way system ensures everyone can access the attraction safely.
A day out at the castle wouldn’t be complete without checking out its much-loved Birds of Prey Show - the biggest of its kind in the UK.
Species of birds from across the world - the largest, heaviest and fastest - feature in a magnificent action-packed display of impressive acrobatics. New health & safety guidelines have meant changes to the structuring of all Falconer’s Quest shows. Visitors will now be directed to an allocated space on the riverside viewing area. The 360-degree arena presents a perfect vantage point for all, so there’s no need to worry about missing out. Show times are daily at 11.30am and 2.30pm.
Social distancing also means that the princesses will no longer be able to host their popular storytelling sessions in The Princess Tower. Instead they’ll be wandering the grounds to share their magical tales with visitors.
Youngsters wishing to learn the skills required to become a knight can do so at Knight School. A sword and shield (which can be purchased onsite or brought along from home) are needed to partake in this ever-popular interactive show.
Knight School runs at selected times during key school holiday dates only, and is included with all entry tickets.
While the castle’s extensive grounds very much lend themselves to the delights of a home-made picnic, there are also plenty of on-site places to purchase food & drink should you prefer. Check the castle website to see what’s open ahead of your visit.
With staycations the preferred choice of many Brits this year, a family break at Warwick Castle is certainly worth considering. Tucked away in a secluded woodland grove, The Knight’s Village comprises 28 themed lodges with views over the River Avon. Lodges sleep up to seven people and each is spaciously separated by wooden walkways. Packages include overnight stays, two-day entry to the castle, themed evening entertainment, a cooked or continental breakfast, car parking and unlimited WiFi.
Warwick Castle has been awarded the VisitEngland We're Good To Go charter mark, demonstrating that all of the requisite health & safety processes are in place to ensure that visitors have a safe and enjoyable visit.
Telephone: 0871 265 2000
Until Sun 31 Oct
From Sat 27 Nov
Posted on Fri 14 May
WARWICK CASTLE'S AFTER DARK EXPERIENCE
As family home to the all-powerful knight and ‘Kingmaker’ Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, this Medieval castle-turned entertainment resort has long attracted the bravest and boldest in the land to take arms in bloody battle for its cause. Pity then, that this same spirit of dauntless courage was so sadly lacking in the cowardly critic invited along to review Warwick Castle’s all-new ‘After Dark’ event on Sat 23rd October.
Combining ‘live, immersive entertainment, quirky roaming characters, street food and thrilling attractions’, ‘Warwick Castle After Dark’ experience (priced from £20 per person) promises the ‘ultimate themed night for fearless friends, date nights and up-for-it families’ and boy – did it live up to its promise!
Armed with only a novelty witch’s hat for comfort and a growing sense of foreboding, my partner and I cautiously made our way through the low-lit woodland walkway to the illuminated castle entrance, bracing ourselves for the ultimate nerve-jangling night out. Surrounded – on all sides - by families of intrepid parents and teens, 20 to 30-something groups of friends and couples forced to leave their dignity at the door, the excitement and anticipation was palpable as one by one, we stepped over the historic portcullis into an altogether enchanting midnight world of sinister soundscapes, stunning light displays and eerie encounters with characters from across the centuries!
First up, a leisurely stroll through the ‘Haunted Hollows’ or ‘Horrible Histories’ maze by day, here transformed into an other-worldly, walking tour through your worst nightmare! Following in the footsteps of such iconic Merlin attractions as the London Dungeons, Thorpe Park and Alton Towers, the terrifying tone was well and truly set as hooded figure by hooded figure emerged, pale-faced and bloody-eyed from the shadows, delighting in the nervous laughter and screams of their unsuspecting victims…er visitors!
Moving from abandoned graveyard to witches’ hollow, taking in cob-webbed gargoyles, vengeful hunchbacks, winged daemons and royal skeletons of kings and queens past…the delightful details weaved their way through every aspect of the design, as did the inventive use of lighting effects, from ghoulish greens to ghostly whites, accentuating each spooky silhouette with every turn.
Of course, all this haunting is hungry work and who better to put some colour back into the cheeks of an already unnerved audience than Digbeth Dining Club – now a regular fixture of Warwick’s pop-up event experiences and in every way a welcome addition to the evening. Whether tucking into a Harlem-inspired chicken burger (Yardbirds), a gourmet wood-fired Neopolitan pizza (Surf and Slice), sampling some Vietnamese Street Food (Brum Mi) or downing a slice of double-cherry chocolate ‘Urban Cheesecake’, the quality of the food was matched only by the beauty of the backdrop; a resplendent Warwick Castle illuminated in shades of purple, green and blue, bathed in the glow or row on row of festoon lights!
After tucking into a portion of loaded ‘Disco Fries’ and an American-style beef-burger (courtesy of the aptly named ‘Smoke and Bones’), our descent into Warwick’s Halloween underworld continued with a whistle-stop trip to the ‘Massacre-rade’ ball, an immersive walking tour of the castle’s state-rooms recounted through the terrifying tale of a 19th Century house party gone horribly wrong.
Inspired by the 1898 ‘Powder Ball’ hosted by the 5th Earl and Countess of Warwick, this real-life ‘Haunted House’ experience was, perhaps, the most unnerving encounter of the evening and was certainly not for the feint-hearted! Making our way through the eerily still stairways and ornate state rooms, the castle’s familiar waxworks took on a menacing new life as, one by one, each room revealed new and disturbing secrets about what really happened on that fateful night. Poised somewhere between Poltergeist and Paranormal activity, all the tried and tested horror tropes were used to maximum-effect – from the flickering of distant chandeliers to paranormal power-outtages, shadowy figures lurking within the barely lit corridors to the creaking of floorboards amidst far-distant cries of dinner guests cutting through the darkness! Forget powder - I’m turning pale just thinking about it!
With our anxiety-levels reaching fever-pitch, there was just enough time to partake in a spot of hunting…before making our way home, or should that be ‘Hunted’? Inspired by The Earl of Warwick’s very own hunting party, this high-drama, (and delightfully high-camp) walking-tour of the castle’s medieval cloisters and corridors felt akin to a modern-day zombie apocalypse movie as would-be guests of the historic Earl quickly find themselves to be the real prey ‘in line with current population control legislation’.
Moving nervously through the castle’s narrow corridors amidst a daemonic din of clanging metal, high-pitched alarm calls and the frequent fit of nervous giggles, this was Shaun of the Dead 15th Century-style as - one-by-one - bemused victims emerged from the darkness like waxworks brought to life amid the murderous wails of chainsaw-wielding beasts, sinister surgeons and a whole host of bloodcurdling characters in a medieval world turned topsy-turvy with more than a small nod to our own!
If it all gets a bit too much, the Warwick Castle ‘After Dark’ experience also comes complete with a fantastic line-up of free entertainment performed live from the castle’s Central Courtyard including flame-throwers, supernatural magic acts, light acrobatics and a swinging pop, soul and R ‘n’ B soundtrack performed by high-energy live musicians from across the UK. And don’t forget to pre-book your tickets to the Castle Dungeon for an added helping of horrible history in the company of Warwick’s resident plague doctor!
When it comes to Halloween parties with a difference, it’s hard to think of a more thrilling location in which to embrace the scariness, spookiness (and downright silliness) of the season than Warwick Castle, with its hair-raising tales of Medieval torture and brutal betrayal, sinister passageways ripe for ghostly encounters and historic battlements on which many a bloody battle was fought and won. As much fun for adult thrill-seekers as for older families, Warwick Castle’s ‘After Dark’ experience combines theatrical thrills and high-jinks to deliver the perfect party atmosphere, whatever your fear threshold!
Fiendishly good fun!
Five stars. Reviewed by Katherine Ewing on Saturday 23 October.
SPOOKY HALF TERM FUN AT WARWICK CASTLE
Warwick Castle has transformed into a Halloween Spooktacular this holiday season, and you really shouldn’t miss it!
Upscares, Downscares, The Haunted Hollows, The Witches Tower and The Dead Centre Stage are spooky attractions programmed especially for this half term holiday, which really gets you in the mood for Halloween.
Upscares, Downscares is a tour of the castle’s interior with additional spooky frights perfectly pitched for children. Although I did jump on more than one occasion, it ended in fits of giggles from both me and my son.
As we climbed the turret to The Witches Tower we joined in an interactive experience of traditional storytelling and multimedia. This was much tamer than the other attractions and would suit a younger audience.
As we followed the path through the castle grounds to The Haunted Hollows we met a host of 'spooktacular characters' who are in residence at the Castle for Halloween. The hollows are full of fun and frights and the ghostly real-life characters are thoroughly entertaining.
The Dead Centre Stage is situated in the courtyard and provides a range of entertainment every half an hour - from puppetry to Halloween Discos, there is something for everyone... The seating, which was plentiful, frames the area and allows adults to have a rest while the children are entertained.
Although not Halloween related, The Falconer’s Quest (permanent attraction) was very much the highlight of our day, so much so we watched it twice. The dynamic display of aerial acrobatics by Birds of Prey, coupled with the story telling of the Earl of Warwick’s falconer, was absolutely spellbinding. This show, alone, is worth the admission price.
The Vile Victorians at The Horrible History Maze was also brilliant. It was super fun for children and adults, whilst providing an array of historical facts. The Maze was peppered with photo opportunities relating to pivotal points in history including World War I, The Victorians, The Vikings, and The Elizabethans, to name a few.
My son had two attempts in the archery range which he absolutely loved. This was mainly down to the excellent staff working there. They were encouraging and gave clear instructions, whilst making it a really fun activity.
The castle as a backdrop is absolutely stunning and the endless array of scattered pumpkins and hay bales really set the scene. However, I cannot emphasise enough how incredible the roaming actors were. From the Headless Horseman to cackling witches, jesters on stilts and the Wizards’ School, they never dropped character, involved everyone, and made the event a day to remember.
Six hours went by in a flash and my son was asking to come again before we had even got to the car. Now that is a recommendation in itself! My father also missed his beloved football team achieving the best win of the season but did not regret it as we had an amazing family day.
Many attendees had really gone to town by getting into the 'spirit' of the event by dressing up in in various Halloween costumes, so do not be scared to dress up in your finest attire.
Five stars. Reviewed by Eva Easthope on Saturday 23 October