THE WONDER OF WARWICK
:: With jousting contests, magic shows and knights in shimmering armour, camping in the grounds of Warwick Castle is an adventure for Emily Shelley’s family
I’m calmly sipping gin and tonic in the evening sunshine while watching my four-year-old son yell ‘die!’ as he rages toward his opponent with a lance, before decapitating him with a broadsword.
His enemy may be stuffed full of straw, but to this budding warrior, ‘knight school’ at Warwick Castle is 100% real.
It’s quite easy to keep up the illusion; jaunty lute music is playing out in the background, and his instructor is completely in period and in character. And we’ve just unpacked our modern day gear inside our immaculate ‘campaign’ tent, complete with banner, bow and arrows, storage trunks and fur throws.
Welcome to medieval ‘glamping’ at Warwick Castle – and make-believe on a scale to rival Disney.
There are 38 campaign tents like ours, and three kings’ tents (with four-posters) dotted among the trees in a wooded glade along the banks of the sleepy river Avon, on the edge of the castle grounds.As part of our overnight stay, following a whole day exploring the castle, we’ve just eaten an enormous feast in the banqueting tent, with a full hog roast, and beer and wine by the goblet.
Now the evening entertainment has captured the children’s imagination and attention. As well as ‘knight school’, there are archery lessons and ‘jester school’, where my daughter is two-hours into a chaotic attempt at juggling, magic tricks and spinning plates.
It’s 10 o’clock before we coerce them into bed, with castle staff on hand to supply warm milk. The sleep of kings follows, as they snore happily in their small truckle beds, wrapped up in furs and still clutching their complementary swords.
One of the added perks of our glamping weekend is exclusive access to the castle earlier than the masses. So it’s with a sense of privilege that we cross the wooden bridge into the grounds and stroll up the peacock lawn the following morning, bodies freshly showered and bellies full of cooked breakfast.
We have half an hour to savour the peace of the castle courtyard, and to climb the battlements and walk the ramparts unfettered by crowds.
There has been a castle here since William the Conqueror built one in 1068. Owned by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, among others, and involved in the stories of Joan of Arc, Lady Jane Grey and Emma Hamilton, a visit here is a vivid immersion in British history – from the War of the Roses to the Civil War, Georgian largesse to Victorian engineering.
Merlin Entertainments, who bought the castle in the 1970s from the Greville family, have used all their theme park experience to bring the juiciest aspects of this history to life – with a little help from one or two waxworks from Madame Tussauds.
Our first call this morning is to pick sides (we go for Yorkist) as we watch the raising of the portcullis. With the Horrible Histories challenge in situ at Warwick all summer, we then have a go at the game of operation, Middle Ages-style, and experience the terror of the Victorian schoolroom.
A two-day pass comes with the glamping experience and means you can plan and pace your activities; we saw the birds of prey soar yesterday and today, we’re not going to miss the firing of the largest working trebuchet in the world.
Fresh from disappointment at the longbow challenge (arrows landing a country mile from the £1,000 bullseye) we watch our children gaze open-mouthed as an enormous fireball is hurled through the air by the ‘knights’ below.
It will make other history lessons, and other camping holidays, seem incredibly dull by comparison.
:: Tents at Warwick Castle start from £200 per night, sleeping two adults and two children. Price includes two days Priority Castle tickets and entrance to Horrible Histories(TM) Foul Fayres and Jousting (from July 19), breakfast, parking and activities. Medieval Dinner Feast Buffet available for an additional £16.95 per adult, £7.95 per child. Visit www.warwick-castle.com/glamping or call 0871 663 1676 (lines open Monday-Friday 9am-5pm).
:: Chiltern Railways provides train travel to Warwick from London Marylebone and Birmingham stations thirty times a day. The Castle is a ten-minute walk from the station. Or drive – it’s just over an hour’s trip from Cheltenham.