Kenilworth Castle – Castle Review

Built:  1120s

Location: Castle Green, Kenilworth CV8 1NG

History: Kenilworth is one of England’s most magnificent castles. First built in the 1120s and a royal castle for most of its history, it was expanded by King John, John of Gaunt and Henry V. In 1563 Elizabeth I granted it to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who converted Kenilworth into a lavish palace. The castle’s fortifications were dismantled in 1650, and the ruins later became famous thanks in part to Walter Scott’s 1821 romance Kenilworth.

Review: This really was a special trip for me. For starters, it was my birthday – yes I am the type of person to celebrate their 20th birthday by seeing the family and visiting a castle, rather than go out drinking.

There are only two bad things that happened on this day:

1) I had to get an early train to Coventry (and I was only running on like 3 hours of sleep). 2) The weather was really not that good — this may be petty (as it wasn’t raining or anything) but I swear the weather has always been amazing on my birthday (like when I was a kid and had a party, it only rained once when I was a child), but that’s by the by.

So anyway, this castle is easily found as there are plenty of signs around – you may not see the castle from the road (or at least we didn’t), but trust me you’ll find it. The parking was ok – it was relatively full when we got there, which was after one so that’s not really surprising. I think you could park on the grass (and not just the stone area), but there was no space between parked cars so I’m not too sure on that one.

It’s only a short walk from the parking spot to the ticket place (which is also the shop). Now I have to say the man who served us was incredibly friendly and chatty. I think he was called David? But I might just be making that up – anyway, whoever the man was, who was working on the 10th June at about 1:20, you were very very good.

The only issue that my dad, sister and I had, was that there was a wedding going on. Which meant that one of the buildings would be closed. So this was the ‘Leicester’s Gatehouse’, which was about a 5-minute walk away from ticket place.

Admittedly we were still in there past 1:30 (and I reckon the people working there found us very annoying – so sorry for that – but there was a lot to read in the top part of the building). But what I loved about this place was two things. The fireplace in the bottom room (which we couldn’t inspect properly because it was sectioned off for the wedding), and then the furnished bedroom on the next floor. Now that might only be a small detail but I love seeing the furniture set out. It’s probably why I like ‘Tretower Court’ so much and ‘Shugborough Hall’ (Although, I haven’t been to Shugborough since I was a kid).

Anyway, when we finally left that section, we were close enough to walk and explore the Elizabethan gardens. In some ways, I was kind of under-awed by this part (no offense). I think I was just making a comparison to the gardens in Tretower, but it might just be that we visited at the wrong time. I can see why the idea of the gardens would be so stunning. But I do have one question and that is what made them choose that weird colour of pink to paint the fences and the bird cage thing in? I don’t know what I thought about it and neither did my sister, but it just looked wrong.

Anyway, I’m sure in the sunshine that place is wonderful to walk around.

From the gardens, we made our way around the wall, rather than head back to the main castle. After all, every section must be explored even if it is only the wall. What I liked about the wall though, was that you could still see the water gates that would have lead out onto the lake that would have surrounded the castle — I mean why did they have to drain the water? It would have been stunning. At least, it now allows for some pretty cool walks.

Anyway, just by walking around the walls you can still get a sense of the sheer size of this castle and further, one bit that I loved was that there was a hidden doorway into a very small room. I don’t know if this room is intentional, or what it was actually used for. But I did like the idea that it was a hidden room, only accessible from the outside. Made me feel really cool when I explored it.

There is also a huge mound that sits just on the outside of the castle. You can access the top from within the castle, but I would have hated to have climbed up that hill – we came to the conclusion that it was an extra defense mechanism or just a sitting place from the top because you would have had a sweet view (and I mean what else would these rich people have done with their time?).

When we had finally made our way around the wall, we were back to where we started (because we basically did a circle duh). So we were now faced with the impressive view of the actual castle.

From where we stood, it was clear how magnificent this would have been back in the day. However, when we looked at the guidebook, it because fairly clearly how disproportionate and out of place it kind of looked. I don’t know why, I guess I always assume that castles are structured and symmetrical – but when you look a the picture of what this place would have looked like, this is not the case. It kind of did bother me – but like what can you do about you know since this place is old.

When we finally made our way up, we had our guidebook out and we were ready to take in as much information as possible.

We’d taken one of those free audio guides as well, but we only used it twice – not really worth it if you have the guidebook as it just tells you the same information, but at a much slower rate. It did play some music – but it wasn’t to my dad’s taste so he just turned if straight off.

We explored the building on the right first. This held a pretty impressive kitchen, cellar? (which had some mind blowing arch work done – like no one important would see it and yet whoever owned it at the time clearly had enough money to not care about the expense).

The great hall (or at least what remains) is huge. There is so much detail that went into the fireplaces and windows (and just think, this is just what remains). There is so much to take in at this point, and it’s not even just the castle itself but once you make it to the top, the view is spectacular.

If it had been a slightly nicer day I could have stayed up there for ages.

Still, the exploration of this ruin isn’t done because once you have finished with this side, there is the building on the other side. This is the ‘Leicester’s Building’. What I loved about this place is more the history behind it.

As anyone who studied history knows that Queen Elizabeth never married because why should a man take all her power (there’s probably more to it I know, but let’s keep this basic). So what I found rather amusing, is that Robert Dudley spent a huge portion of his money on this building (and the gardens) to impress her/woo her and she took nothing from it.

What was even better about this section though, was that even though it pretty much is just a ruin. You are now able to make your way to the very top, thanks to modern stairs and platforms that have been put in place. This really helps you to get a feel for the place.  I don’t know how long the modern structure has been there, but to whoever came up with the idea, you are a genius (just saying).

I also liked the repairs done on the wall, particularly the one that looked like a cartoon ghost. It’s probably unintentional but it made my sister and I laugh.

Lastly, another funny bit is the fact that Elizabeth had an extra stairway put in so that she wouldn’t have to deal with anyone if she did not want to. To be honest, I like the way she thought because sometimes people can be really horrible, and I hate having to deal with them (particularly where I work, which is kind of surprising).

Don’t forget to visit the barn (which held like almost 50 horses), it’s not just the onsite cafe, but it also has some valuable knowledge inside. There’s also the bit to the side of it to explore.

All in all, this took us about 3 hours and I think I could have spent a bit longer there if it weren’t for the fact that I just wanted a cup of tea.

I should have brought my grandma with me because she would have been prepared with a flask and probably some biscuits —- there are plenty of benches and grassy areas to sit down on, by the way.

This is probably one of the best ways I could have spent my birthday (and the fact that I was spoilt with a nice meal out with my family that evening makes me feel incredibly happy right now – feeling).

This is so the place to go visit on your day off. You don’t want to miss out.

 

 

Feature picture taken from  http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/kenilworth-castle/history/

 

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