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Travel & Holidays in later life


In the courtyard of Warwick Castle, the setting for many outdoor eventsMost castles around Britain hibernate during winter, but Warwick can provide a complete day out any time of the year.

Warwick's strong point - apart from its massive walls - is a combination of permanent attractions with widely different events and festivals according to season

In the depth of winter, throughout December and into January, the castle's central courtyard hosts the annual Frost Fair, complete with ice rink, Jack Frost in person, a team of Christmas fairies dancing on stilts, and accordion music accompanied by teapot. 

For a reasonable charge, visitors can take to the ice themselves, with skate hire included. 

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Warwick Castle entrance fees vary with season. Off Peak, Standard and Peak. Peak tends to cover major holiday periods.

Further information including dates of special events and feasts, directions and facilities can be obtained from the official web site.

Also worth visiting: Stratford-upon-Avon; the Georgian spa town of Royal Leamington Spa. Web: www.shakespeare-

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Of course all well-organised castles have their resident ghosts. But the spooks of Warwick's Ghost Tower have an annual break from November till mid-March. They then come back screaming for the murder of Sir Fulke Greville every half-hour during castle opening times. 

All through the year, Warwick Castle is focused on giving visitors different aspects of this typical kind of Medieval Experience. 

During a typical Half Term, for instance, the theme was 'Terrible Tortures', when schoolkids could meet the Grim Jailer and the Evil Executioner. 

Even better, they were shown what medieval torture instruments were used, with practical demonstrations. It was rated as a lot of fun, very educational.

Armed men stnd ready for medieval-style actionDuring the main season, there's a steady supply of additional events and attractions, including the annual peak-summer display of medieval jousting. 

In the Middle Ages, Warwick Castle was one of only five licensed jousting venues in England. The knights had to be very fit, wearing armour weighing up to 80 lbs. 

Twice daily the world's largest siege engine - a trebuchet - hurls 15kg missiles 300 metres across the River Island. It takes five men half an hour to prepare and load the machine for firing. 

Displaying rather faster action is the Warwick Castle Bowman who would have picked off the entire team within a minute or two. Meanwhile the Castle provides plenty of cover, though you'll probably have to queue to visit the ever-popular dungeons. Warwick Castle is operated by the Madame Tussauds Group. So two main historic themes are displayed in waxworks style.

The medieval version is set in year 1471, when the castle was getting ready for battle. A cast of wax characters, together with music, audio and authentic medieval stench, are busy with final preparations.

Preparing a bow ready for actionCraftsmen mend armour, sharpen swords, string bows and feather arrows. Women repair tents and sew flags, while the wardrobe master checks that all battle dress is ready and correct.

At that time, Richard Neville the Earl of Warwick was a shifty leader who kept changing sides during the Wars of the Roses - Yorkists versus Lancastrians. 

He used his power to get the crown for the Yorkist king Edward IV. Later he drove Edward into exile and put the Lancastrian Henry VI on the throne. Hence his nickname, 'The Kingmaker'.

Ever since 1982, Madame Tussaud's has produced a highly successful medieval-style evening banquet called the Kingmaker's Feast. The idea is that it's held the evening before an expected battle, mostly on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year.

It's a five-course meal with all the wine or beer you can quaff. 'Eat, Drink and Be Merry for tomorrow - who knows?' 

Minstrels are always available at all the eventsIn fact, the Kingmaker was killed a month later at the Battle of Barnet. But at the Feast in the castle basement - the Undercroft - he puts on a very cheerful show, with jolly-looking serving wenches joining in for a song. 

For another taste of authenticity, the date switches to 1775, when the Earl of Warwick is away travelling. So his Head Housekeeper shows guests around the State Rooms, ending at the 18th-century Coach House for a Highwayman's Supper. 

The lead character, suitably armed with 18th-century pistols, has a keen eye for pretty ladies and their jewels. There's parsnip soup for supper, pork pie, beef, and a sponge with chocolate sauce. 

For another view of Castle lifestyle, the scene shifts to the State Rooms for Madame Tussaud's reconstruction of 'A Royal Weekend Party 1898'.

Each room is furnished with figures of the famous guests, including Winston Churchill. Although only 23 at that time, he was already making a name for himself as a war correspondent, having accompanied Kitchener's Expedition to Khartoum.

If you're visiting medieval, Georgian or Victorian Warwick Castle, be sure to leave time for Warwick town today. The historic parts are only a short walk away. 

Summertime in the courtyard of the Lord Leycester Hospital.Certainly worth an hour is the Lord Leycester Hospital, established in 1571 as a home for twelve old and disabled soldiers called Brethren. It's a cluster of 14th century timber framed buildings around the original Norman gate into Warwick. 

Nowadays, in return for free self-contained and modernised accommodation the Brethren man the ticket office, act as guides and perform light duties around the Hospital. 

Among their jobs the Brethren are required to conduct a weekday morning service in the Chapel. This custom has continued without a break for over 430 years!


Consider another Midlands destination

STRATFORD - follow the Shakespeare trail

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Shakespeare Country and Cotswolds - A Landmark Visitors Guide in the latest up-dated edition, dividing the region into itineraries for motorists or cyclists. Ideal for anyone with more time than just a day trip to Warwick.

Little Lillie Visits Warwick Castle by Shera Payne - If you're introducing grandchildren to the adventure of history, here's a humorous and exciting account with vivid illustrations. 

Warwick the Kingmaker by Michael Hicks - If you are intrigued by the background to the Kingmaker story, here's an excellent biography of this fascinating historical character.

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