The UK's Marvelous Midlands

by Laura Lindsey

Just minutes away from Coventry, the hill with three churches and a place chocked full of history and art; not far from a market square that remembers Lady Godiva, who rode through the streets to save her people and where Peeping Tom, well, peeped; is one of the most intriguing castles in Great Britain.  The towers and turrets, battlements and impressive walls reflect a long and powerful history in the area known as The Midlands..

Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle was once home to Ethelfleda, Alfred the Great's daughter and was a Saxon fortification she used to defend against the Danes.  In about 1068, William the Conqueror ordered the Earl of Warwick to build a castle that would defend his new conquest and last against assault.  Generations gradually rebuilt the fortress in stone and by the 14th century, it was a solid stronghold of the Beauchamp family and part of their vast lands and holdings.  It was attacked many times over the centuries and was damaged by fire in the late 1800's.  Yet despite time and many trials, it stands in much of its former glory, bleached with sunlight, and is being faithfully updated and restored.

The Earl of Warwick's family living quarters are preserved and lovely furnishings abound. Recently, medals earned for service to Britain by the family over generations were offered for display in the castle.  Wax figures from Madame Tussauds illustrate the niceties and charm of the World War II era. Special areas inside include a family chapel, the blue room, a family portrait gallery and an inspiring library. 

The Great Hall is home to an impressive display of armor, swords and doors that make you think of Robin Hood, Maid Marion, Knights and Kings. Look closely, and you'll discover where secret passageways allowed for intrigue and safe passage for the family throughout the years.  The castle hosts special collections and seasonal displays so there is always something new to discover.  You can walk for hours around the grounds and see little princesses and future knights with their families. Everyone can watch craftsmen, eat traditional English fare and enjoy the day.

Outside, the balmy Conservatory is open and surrounded by lush, tropical vegetation.  It overlooks a lovely Peacock Garden designed by Robert Marnock, a place where peacocks still roam happily around the grounds.  The property also boasts a wonderful Victorian rose garden and beautiful green spaces with trees, like the Cedars of Lebanon, that are over 200 years old.  One tree was planted by Prince Albert in 1858 and can be seen as you walk the Pageant Field, a gentle hill that leads to a picture perfect bridge and river. 

This treasure has somewhat recently been bought by an entertainment company that preserves the heritage but adds interactive activities to make it appealing to children and adults of all ages. Dungeon experiences and a tower with interactive dragon adventures offer great opportunities to knights young and old.  The Princess Tower offers stories and fairytale surroundings that every little princess will love.  All this is a delightfully mix of history and contemporary engagement.

You can walk up the tallest towers and up and down hundreds of stone steps along the walls.  It's a lot of work, but worth every step when you feel yourself on top of the amazing castle and see the spectacular view of the area. The Towers and Curtain Walls that protect the inner courtyard were built as part of a restructuring during the 14th and 15th centuries and bring unity and beauty to the overall look and feel of the structure.

Mound
Mound

For those who may not want to take the over 550 steps it takes to walk the walls and tower, the Mound is a wonderful alternative.  Originally part of the Norman castle's defense system, it became part of Sir Fulke Greville's garden by the 17th century.  Today it provides a beautiful view of the surrounding area.

Anyone can enjoy a medieval experience by walking the grounds and walls, seeing live shows, touring the castle, and learning about the Mill that provided for the people of the area for generations.  So much history is alive within the amazing castle walls and throughout the land surrounding it; you won't be able to help soaking up a bit of knowledge as you enter into the adventure.

Even the locals will tell you that Warwick Castle is a must see attraction if you are in the Coventry area.  It is worth planning into any trip to England.  It can also be rented for special occasions like weddings and corporate outings.  To find out more or to plan your trip, go to the Warwick Castle's website.

If you are looking for a place to stay in the area, Coombe Abbey is a wonderful choice in Warwickshire.  Swans float on a lake as you walk quiet paths.  You'll enjoy gardens and tree-lined trails planted by monks when they lived in the original 12th century Cistercian Abbey.  After the dissolution of the monastery the Abbey was leased to various people until it became the property of the Earl of Warwick in 1547.

In the 1600's, the Abbey was the childhood home to the future queen of England, Elizabeth. Today, it is a jewel nestled on 500 acres of parkland which can be enjoyed throughout your stay.  The grounds also offer a garden originally designed by England's renowned 18th Century landscape Architect “Capability Brown” and have been added to by many others throughout the years. 

Inside, old intricately carved confessionals are in the lobby along with a warm fireplace and cozy areas to read or surf the web.  A glass enclosed garden room serves guests breakfast each day and offer's Afternoon Tea by reservation.  Each room is decorated to reflect a period in the Abby's history with antique furnishings that make you feel a part of the past.  Many of the 119 rooms overlook gardens or courtyards and offer the peace and beauty of the English Midlands.

The history of the monks and the family include murder, gypsy curses, mysterious ghosts and royal intrigue.   All the history can be explored during your stay as you walk the halls and read the interesting history offered throughout the buildings. The hotel is owned by No Ordinary Hotels and offers excellent service and great food.  Enjoy freshly baked pastries, local dairy products including scrumptious cream, and an authentic regional menu.  The grounds are part of a public park and create the backdrop for a retreat from everyday life.  The Abbey is a restful place to spend a night or an entire week and provides a perfect back-drop for weddings and special events. 

Packages at the Coombe Abbey are available to include themed dinners like Medieval night or Bavarian night along with special offerings for holidays throughout the year.  The shows offer guests the opportunity to dress in period finery if desired, but it is not required.  You can book your reservations and optional feasts through Celtic Castles. You may want to book ahead for best pricing and room selection.

Warwickshire
Warwickshire

A taxi or bus can take you to near-by attractions on a modest budget.  Warwickshire is where Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway, lived in her family home.  It is a beautiful example of a thatch-roofed cottage with colorful gardens that could be toured as a part of your visit.  The Town of Coventry, Coombes Abbey, Warwick Castle and the Hathaway family home are also near to historic Strafford on Avon where Shakespeare's spirit is alive and well. Shops, shows and museums to celebrate his life abound. The Midlands offer a great place to discover a sampling of the romance, history, beauty and charm of England.