Here's a sample chapter from my new 2011 Daytrips from London guidebook, available now.
A Daytrip from London
Many visitors go to see the magnificent castle at Warwick but completely overlook the town itself. That's a pity, because this is surely one of the least spoiled places in England. Small and compact, it has a wonderful blend of Tudor and Georgian architecture, a splendid church, marvelous gardens, and several fine museums.
Warwick grew up around its castle, whose origins date back to a fortification built here in 914 by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great, to protect her kingdom of Mercia. Nothing of this remains, but there are still traces of the motte built by William the Conqueror in 1068. The castle you see today is largely of 14th-century construction with great modifications made down through the years to convert the interior into a luxurious home. Sold to Madame Tussaud's in 1978, it is now a showcase combining medieval elements with those of a more recent stately home, and outfitted with the inevitable wax figures.
Trains depart London's Marylebone Station on Chiltern Railways frequently for Warwick Town Station (not Warwick Parkway Station), a trip of about 90 minutes. Good return service operates until mid-evening, after that it is infrequent and slow. Service is reduced on Sundays and holidays.
By Car, Warwick is 96 miles northwest of London via the M40 to Junction 15, then the A429.
The castle is open every day except Christmas Day, but some of the other sights are closed on Sundays or Mondays. The local Tourist Information Centre, T: (01926) 492-212, W: visitwarwick.co.uk, is in the Court House on Jury Street. Markets are held on Saturdays, and a farmers’ market on the 3rd Friday of each month. Warwick is the county town of Warwickshire, and has a population of about 22,000.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Some choice places for lunch are:
Rose and Crown (30 Market Place). An upmarket dining pub with superb modern cuisine, voted one of the best pubs in England. T: (01926) 411-117, W: roseandcrownwarwick.co.uk. Open daily from 8 a.m. on. £, ££, and £££
Tudor House Inn (92 West St., beyond Lord Leycester Hospital) Traditional, simple English dishes in a 15th-century inn. T: (01926) 495-447, W: thetudorhousewarwick.co.uk. ££
Piccolinos (31 Smith St., west of St. John's House) Italian, specializing in chicken and fish dishes for over two decades. T: (01926) 491-020, W: ilpiccolinos.co.uk. £ and ££
Catalan (6 Jury St.) Mediterranean cuisine, especially noted for tapas. T: (01926) 498-930, W: cafecatalan.com. X: Sun. £ and ££
Tilted Wig (11 Market Place, near the County Museum) A popular pub with a variety of English, International, and vegetarian dishes. T: (01926) 411-534, W: the tiltedwig.co.uk. £ and ££
There are also two eateries and a snack bar at the castle. Picnicking is permitted on the grounds.
Click on map to enlarge
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Leave the train station (1) and follow the map to:
*WARWICK CASTLE (2), T: (01926) 406-600, W: warwick-castle.co.uk. Open daily except Christmas Day, 10-6, closing at 5 from Oct.-March. Last admission is half an hour before closing. Admission not including dungeon: Adults £17.95, seniors £11.95, children £10. Advance online purchases save 20%. With dungeon £25.45, £19.45, £17.50 respectively. Special events. Gift shop. Restaurants. Café. Picnic area.
Considered by many to be the finest medieval castle in England, it will easily take two or three hours to explore. Everything is well marked and explained. The main attractions include the Barbican and Gatehouse, a 14th-century complex featuring an exhibition on the life of Richard III; the Armoury with its superb collection of weapons; and the Dungeon and Torture Chamber, which has fascinating (if grisly) displays of medieval torture instruments. Beyond this, Guy's Tower may be climbed and the ramparts walked.The Ghost Tower is allegedly haunted by a 17th-century apparition. A major attraction — “Kingmaker — A Preparation for Battle” — brings to life the sights and sounds of 1471 as the Earl of Warwick readies his army for combat. More Victorian in character, the *State Apartments make a gorgeous show of baronial splendor. Next to them is the Royal Weekend, a re-creation of a turn-of-the-century house party enlivened with wax figures of famous nobility.
Beyond the castle are lovely gardens created by “Capability” Brown in the 18th century. Peacocks roam about the trees, some of which were planted by such luminaries as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Cross the bridge over the River Avon to an island (3) that has wonderful views of the south face. Also facing the river is the Mill & Engine House. This medieval watermill was converted to generate electricity for the castle as early as 1894 – quite an innovation at the time, and one that is thoroughly explained to visitors.
The Conservatory (4) is a fantasy recalling the spirit of Georgian times.
Leave the Castle and return to Castle Hill. A short walk down Mill Street takes you to the lovely Mill Gardens (5), a treat for gardeners everywhere. T:(01926) 492-877. Open daily Apr.-Oct., 9-6. £1.50.
Now follow the map to Oken's House at the bottom of Mill Lane, an Elizabethan dwelling that survived the devastating fire of 1694. It now houses an utterly delightful tea room, the perfect spot for a break. W: thomasokentearooms.com.
Continue up Castle Street and make a left on High Street to the Lord Leycester Hospital (6), (photo on right), a group of picturesque 14th-century almshouses that have been used since the 16th century as a retirement home for old soldiers. One of these gentlemen will be happy to show you around, and then you can visit the restored 16th-century Master’s Garden. T: (01926) 491-422, W: lordleycester.com.
Walk down Brook Street to the Warwickshire Museum (7) in the Market Place. Displays here cover archaeology, natural history, and local bygones in addition to changing exhibitions. T: (01926) 412-500. Open Tues.-Sat. 10-5; and also Sun. from Apr.-Sept., 11:30-5. Free.
St. Mary's Church (8), nearby, has parts dating from the 12th century, although it was largely rebuilt after the 1694 fire. Its 15th-century *Beauchamp Chapel is incomparable, and its tower can be climbed for a nice view of Warwickshire. T: (01926) 403-940, W: stmaryswarwick.org.uk. Open daily 10-6, closing at 4 in winter. Free. Tower open daily in summer, weather permitting, nominal charge.
Jury Street leads past the East Gate, a relic of the old town wall, and as Smith Street to St. John's House (9). This beautiful 17th-century mansion is now a museum featuring period reconstructions of a parlor, a kitchen, and a Victorian classroom, along with costumes and musical instruments. There is a regimental military exhibition on the floor above. T: (01926) 412-132. Open Tues.-Sat. and Bank Holiday Mon., 10-5; and also on Sun. from Apr.-Sept., 2:30-5. Free.
A short walk in the garden completes your tour before returning to the nearby train station.
Text and map copyright © 2010 by Earl Steinbicker