Tim Hughes gets into the spirit of the Middle Ages by staying over at England’s finest medieval home, Warwick Castle

I HAVE always quite fancied the idea of living in Medieval times. Not as a peasant, of course – far too many turnips, fleas and pustules for my liking – but as a knight.

Yes, charging round on quests, rescuing damsels in distress, and feasting with my chivalrous mates in great halls. And then there’s the kit: broad swords, long bows, bill hooks and all that gleaming armour. All I need are a few riding lessons.

Of course Medieval history is about more than jousting and jesters, but in a world (and especially a week) where all the old certainties have gone out the window, there’s no harm in clutching to a rosy vision of an imagined past. Politicians of all hues, after all, have based careers out of that.

Perched on a rocky outcrop above the River Avon, Warwick Castle is everyone’s vision of Medieval life made real. Not only the best castle in Britain, but one of the finest in the world, it ticks every box – crenellated battlements, ramparts, portcullis, moat, picturesque turrets reached by thigh-burning spiral staircases – and halls stuffed with armour and the most vicious-looking weaponry.

Even nature plays along – with spooky trees, screeching peacocks and an ever present ‘murder’ of crows cawing overhead.

It’s a delight to all lovers of history – no matter how superficial. Kids love running around with wooden swords or foam maces (stocked by each of the numerous gift shops) and learning a simplified version of this extraordinary site’s lurid past. The more academically-minded, meanwhile, join detailed tours focussing on the castle’s former inhabitants, their grisly deaths, the weapons collection or the methods of punishment meted out in the dungeon. All are more hair-raising than you can imagine, and the guides, all qualified historians are engaging, fascinating and fun (don’t tell anyone, but one even opened the secret door in one of the State Rooms... but you have to find it first).

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Highlights include the 39m-tall 14th century Guy’s Tower – named after the legendary knight Guy of Warwick, famed for all manner of derring do – and reached by a thigh-toning set of steps, and the Gaol – a bleak hole reached from a hatch in the ground. The stone walls are etched with graffiti, much of it religious in nature, carved by inmates.

The mound, opposite, dates back to 1068, built under the orders of William the Conqueror. The views across the Warwickshire countryside, and the pretty county town itself, are superb.

Even the biggest kids among us will find it hard to resist imagining what it would be like to loose off a few arrows onto the enemy below.

There is even a maze, themed on the immensely popular Horrible Histories books, which teach anyone willing to get a bit lost, about the very juiciest moments of Viking, Norman, Medieval, Tudor and Stuart history – along with the First World War. Excellent fun it is too (not to mention gruesomely educational).

Young history buffs are exceptionally-well catered for at Warwick, with an ever-changing series of events. Having just recovered from a spooky Halloween, it will next week commence its Christmas programme. You can guarantee it will be quite unlike anything you’ve seen.

To really indulge your inner knight, prince or princess, though, you have to stay over.

From this year, the castle is offering accommodation in medieval-style lodges in its Knight’s Village. If you imagine Centre Parcs but with Plantagenet weapons – and more fun – you’ll get close.

Wooden lodges supported with beautifully-carpentered wooden beams are set in woodland and reached by board walks from a reception area and banqueting hall.

The Middle Aged theme continues inside, with swords fixed above beds, and bows and arrows handily placed near doors (decorative, of course, to the disappointment of my two boys – but my great relief). Oh and there’s a completely authentic 15th century cable television, Tudor-style wifi and tea and coffee making facilities – with proper espresso machines – as Guy of Warwick himself would expect.

There are Knight’s lodges sleeping up to five and two-story Woodland Lodges fit for up to seven.

Dining is in the banqueting hall, of course, where food is served on metal trenchers, among the clatter of duelling knights. We tucked into a mound of roast meats – half a chicken, a slab of pork, sticky ribs and a mountain of vegetables - washed down in my case with real ale (mead is available!) and in the lads’ by less authentic – but crowd pleasing – bottomless cups of soft drink.

The whole experience is great fun, particularly for families with boisterous kids. It’s essential to join in the spirit and it’s impossible to enjoy.

Now, where’s that lance and set of gauntlets? Probably fallen down the back of the portcullis again...


Visit: Warwick Castle is on the edge of Warwick, just 45 minutes up the M40 from Oxford. Go to warwick-castle.com for events and offers.

Stay: Choose from Knight or Woodland lodges in Knights Village from just £41.30 per person (based on five people sharing a Woodland Lodge). Go to warwick-castle.com for offers and to book.

Events: Christmas at the Castle events run from Monday until January 1.

Top tip: If you are planning to visit the castle, book tickets five days ahead, and get them for £13 instead of £19.20 or £16.80 on the gate.

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