A rich vein of medieval and Tudor history runs through Warwickshire and the romantic ruins of Kenilworth Castle, the grandeur of Warwick Castle and the elegance of Royal Leamington Spa set the tone for this most delightful of counties. However, it is Stratford-upon-Avon that is the focal point for most visitors. Known throughout the world as the birthplace of William Shakespeare, the old part of the town is completely dominated by this exceptional man who died nearly 400 years ago. Along with the various timber-framed houses that are linked with the Bard, Stratford is also the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which holds a regular programme of performances of his plays each year.
Another town that has found fame through one of its inhabitants is Rugby, as it was a pupil at the school there who, in the early 19th century, broke the rules of football during a match and, in so doing, founded the game that bears the name of the town. Close by is the ancient village of Dunchurch that is often dubbed the Gunpowder Plot Village as it was here, in 1605, that the conspirators waited to hear if they had succeeded in blowing up the Houses of Parliament.
The West Midlands and the extreme north of the county of Warwickshire is dominated by the major cities of Birmingham and Coventry. It often gets overlooked by visitors but repays a visit. It is an area rich in natural beauty, with a wealth of beautiful gardens, some excellent museums and historic buildings, and a long and distinguished industrial and cultural heritage.
Over the past 10 centuries Warwick Castle has witnessed some of the most turbulent times in English history. From the era of William the Conqueror to the grand reign of Queen Victoria, the Castle has left us a fascinating legacy to enjoy. Dominating the town, it is surely everyone’s ideal of a medieval building, one of the country’s most splendid castles and certainly one of the most visited. It still serves as a home, as well as retaining the greater part of its original masonry. Standing by the River Avon, Warwick is in a good defensive position and became part of Crown lands as recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086.
A tour of this palatial mansion takes you from the grim austerity of the original dungeons with their gruesome torture chambers, to the gloomy but sumptuous opulence of rooms later adapted for comfortable living. The castle’s magnificent State Rooms, once used to entertain the highest members of the nobility, house some superb art treasures, including works by Holbein, Rubens and Velasquez. As the castle is owned by Madame Tussaud’s, striking waxworks play their part in the displays. In the castle’s Ghost Tower, visitors can learn of the dark and sinister secrets surrounding the fatal stabbing of Sir Fulke Greville who is said to haunt the premises to this day. In the Great Hall visitors come face to face with Oliver Cromwell’s death mask. And the armoury houses one of the best private collections in the country.
The castle exterior is best viewed from Castle Bridge, where the 14th-century walls can be seen reflected in the waters of the River Avon. There is a walk along the ramparts, and much to explore within 60 acres of grounds, including a re-created Victorian formal rose garden, the Peacock Gardens and an expanse of open parkland designed by Capability Brown. Events throughout the year include Medieval Tournaments, open-air firework concerts and special entertainment days.