Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Haunted Castle

The UK seems a little confused about what holiday season this is-- Halloween was a few days ago, but since it fell in the middle of the week, those festivities seem to be continuing into the weekend, the next "holiday" here is Guy Fawkes Day (which I'll have more to write about tomorrow after I got to the celebration tonight) which isn't until Monday but because that's the work week, it's being celebrated all weekend before, and, of course, Christmas is the next big holiday. I'm guessing that because there's no big holiday before it (since there is no Thanksgiving here) and because Halloween isn't really celebrated as heavily here as it is in the US (there isn't much trick-or-treating), the UK has nothing better to do than start gearing up for Christmas.  It's not just the heavy shopping district in London's Oxford Circus. It's the city of Oxford as well, on the streets and in stores.

I took those pictures on Halloween Day.  They don't even wait until it's over.  I mention this because Oxford seems to have moved into Christmas mode which made going to Warwick Castle on Friday-- two days after Halloween-- a little disorienting.  While the castle has flyers advertising Christmas programs, it is still Halloween at Warwick Castle, which is the Haunted Castle... at least until November 4.

(If you enlarge the picture, you can see it says "The Haunted Castle" in light.)

Warwick Castle is located in Warwick (convenient).  It's the first castle I've gone to that really felt like a little like a gimicky tourist place. Not that there wasn't a lot of history explained, but it's more like history meets theme park... more so than any other castle I've been to.  It's also huge-- there is an offer to buy a two day pass for just a pound more than the one day pass which I couldn't quite figure out until we spent from 10 am to 5 pm there and still didn't quite see everything (we missed the Witches Tower because every time we tried to go we were told it was children's story time, the rose garden because there are no more roses now, and other gardens for the same reason.  We also only briefly saw the Mill Room-- we ran out of time and so sort of hurried through it.).  There's a lot to do in a pretty compact space, as the map shows.

The entry to Warwick Castle the attraction is different than the entry to Warwick Castle itself. You enter the attraction through turnstiles.  But, you get into the castle across a proper drawbridge.

Before getting to the entry, there are Halloween specific things, like the Haunted Hollow (sort of a Halloween maze for kids) and grave markers. This was my favorite grave marker.

(The sun made it a bit difficult to photograph-- it says, "I told you I was sick.")

Warwick Castle is huge. It's too big to get a picture of as one entity.  That's one section of it.

I got a lot of it by climbing The Mound and then Guy's Tower (to climb and descend Guy's Tower is 530 steps. Very steep, narrow, uneven, worn steps.  The sign only mentions that there are 530 of them. It's a pretty good workout, if that's what you're visiting a castle for.).

From the pictures, you can kind of see what is most historically telling about Warwick Castle, which is that is was built in four distinct time periods, starting from when it was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 when the Anglo-Saxons were invading England, to the 1400s when the castle came under French ownership (which is when Guy's Tower was built-- it's meant to look British on the outside but decorated in the more elegant manner of the French on the inside. That's why, as you can sort of tell from the picture below, the windows are so big-- great for letting in light and being aesthetic; not so great for holding off attackers. It defeats the purpose of a castle as fortification a bit.),

to when it was taken over by Francis Greville, 3rd Baron of Brooke (as opposed to Francis Greville the 8th Baron of Brooke... I don't know how the Brits keep their history straight with all the name repetition.) in the 1600s and then through the next 300+ years when it was occupied by members of the Greville family. (It was bought by the Tussauds Group-- think Madame Tussaud-- in 1978 when it became purely a tourist attraction.  That the Tussauds Group owns it does a lot to explain the statues of historical figures that are placed liberally in the displays.) What that means is that different sections of the castle look different-- it's even more pronounced on the inside, especially in the section that was developed int he late 1800s (which is the section to the right in the second picture above). Parts of this varied history come out as you go through different displays.  And, it means that the castle served different purposes-- originally it was built with fortification and defense in mind, but as time went on, it became more of a "country house" and that's somewhat evident in the displays of rooms.

You have to schedule times for the two biggest "attractions" at Warwick Castle-- Merlin's Dragon Tower and the Castle Dungeon.  We went to Merlin: The Dragon Tower first  No pictures are allowed, so this is all you get to see of it: the entryway.

But, in it, visitors hear all about Merlin and how magic and sorcery were forbidden (all while books are magically falling off shelves-- which really seems more like there's a ghost than that magic is happening, but that's ok) and then, they get to meet Merlin's Dragon who, though a video dragon on a screen, interacts with the audience.  It can actually hear what members of the audience are saying even though it's quite loud in the room what with all the dramatic music playing.  I couldn't figure out where the microphones for hearing the audience were-- it's quite well done.

Between appointed "attraction" times, we toured the State Rooms and Chapel at Warwick.  No matter what the time period, good lighting doesn't seem to be a major concern in castles, so some rooms were harder than others to photograph.  But, the grandeur is amazing.

You enter into the Great Hall

which has displays of armor and weaponry as well as Calvary horses (which were hard to photograph in anything but shadow because they were directly backlit from the sun).

From the Great Hall,  there's the State Dining Hall

which is set in the period of George Guy Greville, Earl of Warwick in the mid-1800s. The room is specifically set in 1858, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert came to visit.  The chandelier is Murano cut glass and was probably hung in the 1700s. 

There was the Red Drawing Room

Then, the Green Drawing Room (I love the ceiling)

which the informational sign says is supposed to be more masculine than the Red Drawing room, though I don't see it.  It's set as it was in the late 19th century; it's a room for talking business.

There's the Queen Anne Room

set as though for her visit in 1704. This is the bed that was sent ahead of her visit for her to sleep in. Her visit actually got canceled, but the bed remained in the castle. (I want to be important enough that custom beds are sent ahead of me when I visit places.  And rich enough to simply then abandon them all over the country and world whether I ever sleep in them or not.) 

And, finally, the Blue Boudoir (which was probably a dressing room in the 17th and 18th centuries).

It's also staged in the decorations from the late 19th century, despite the statues of Henry the VIII and his wives (which are a little confusing in this setting, but maybe the Tussauds Group had extras--there is an authentic painting of Henry VIII in the room, but that still doesn't quite explain this particular display.).

From there, we went to the Castle Dungeon.  Again, no pictures are allowed inside.  There are warnings all over that this is not suitable for children under 10.  (And, it's not.  Really, 10 might be pushing it.)  I do like that Warwick Castle, though clearly a family-oriented attraction, has exhibits that are only meant for adults (especially since as we didn't have small children with us, we weren't allowed into the Witches Tower for story time. It evens things out a bit.). The Castle Dungeon marked on the map with 4 out of 5 witches hats to denote how scary it can be.

 It is a lot like going through a haunted house-- a really good one. Things jump out and lights go on and off.  Some of the scariest parts are actually walking from room to room-- it's not well lit and the stairs are steep and uneven.  I'm amazed no one falls.  But, the part that is most inappropriate for kids are the scenes which are acted out that demonstrate horrible forms of torture (like hooking people through any orifice the torturer wanted to use-- think about that a second...), castration devices which did the job pretty slowly, and other gruesome methods.  (Read a little further-- I have pictures of one of the contraptions of torture and death from another part of the castle.)  I've visited a few castles and palaces now, most of which had some kind of dungeon for holding prisoners and torturing them, but this is the most graphic description of what was done that I've heard so far.  The people living in the middle ages were really sadistic-- I'm often appalled at the capacity some people now seem to have for cruelty, but I'm thinking some of them would have been considered pansies in the middle ages.  There is also a scene that demonstrates the medical treatments done on those who were afflicted with the Plague (including wrist slashing for the poor and leeches for the rich--both methods of draining the "bad blood" that pretty much resulted in death themselves.  Really, it was a lose-lose kind of thing.).  Those were pretty gruesome as well-- though not as much so as the descriptions of what the Plague did to the body, like how it caused internal bleeding and rotting of the organs from the inside (which were pulled out of a fake-- though real looking-- body to demonstrate what they would have looked like.  This also explains why people smelled so badly before they died of the Plague.). There was also a scene demonstrating beheading (though that was a bit more comical as it used audience participation) and a trial in which everyone put on trial was silenced when trying to mount a defense and then condemned to various horrors.  And there was the requisite meeting of a ghost.

After lunch (because who doesn't want to eat after hearing tales of bloody torture and plague), we started exploring the separate sections of the castle, all of which are separate historical displays. 

We went into Gaol's Tower, where more instruments of torture and death were on display.

The one on the left is a cage with a skeleton in it; the skeleton is bent because the cage isn't really big enough for a human. The one on the right is particularly horrifying to me-- it's basically a giant iron body cage which was hung from the ceiling (obviously, there would have someone in it) and then the person was simply left there to die and rot.  There was also a small hole in the floor which people were locked into and left to die.  There were kids touring this part of the castle-- I'm guessing their parents weren't reading the signs to them.

The next display was the slightly more cheery Kingmaker. This section is set as though in the 15th Century when Richard Neville occupied the castle.  He imprisoned King Edward IV here and then tried to rule in his name (sort of making himself king...).

It shows the stables, women making clothes, the dining halls and soldiers getting ready for battle (most of whom never returned to Warwick Castle).  There were also displays of blacksmiths and whitesmiths (those who mold items out of cold metal rather than hot) and armor making, etc. but those pictures came out too dark to see.  What it all demonstrated was how self-sustaining the castle was at this time-- a village unto itself, as most were.

The castle displays (if you walk around the displays in the order they're presented-- you would have to criss-cross a bit to do them in chronological order) jump ahead in history then to the late 1800s when Francis Evelyn "Daisy" Maynard lived there with her husband, Lord Brooke, who inherited the castle and the Earlship in 1893.  The display is called Secrets and Scandals-- and focuses on Daisy largely because her sordid history. She had many affairs, which her husband apparently knew about and overlooked, and converted to socialism and then represented the Labour Party at the general election in 1923.  She was also apparently a great humanitarian who did a lot of work for charity (though, she showed up for a lot of it dressed in furs and expensive jewelry). The display rooms focus a lot more on her affairs and interactions with members of society than on her politics or charity work.

For example, the above is Daisy standing at the piano listening to her daughter, Marjorie, play.  Marjorie is said to be the product of Daisy's affair with Charles Beresford.  Daisy also had an 8 year affair with Edward, Prince of Wales as well as an affair with Joe Laycock, "the love of her life," with whom she also supposedly also had a child (it was never clear if she had any children with her actual husband).  The signs in all the rooms focus on this kind of information.  So, bedrooms depict the guests or relatives who would have stayed in them and the signs discuss the gossip about them.

The wealth was on display, even in the servants quarters pictured below (I don't know why there was a rocking horse there, except that I'm pretty sure the maids also took care of the children. In the hallway was a statue of a maid holding an infant.).

There are also lots of outdoor things to do.  The demonstrations and live action recreations are scheduled throughout the and include a pretty cheesy, choreographed duel, the story of the sword in the stone, historical tours (which is where I learned a lot of how the castle was built in stages and about how, though methods for launching a siege were described, Warwick Castle itself was never really the victim of siege.  Mostly, people just kept handing it over when asked/tricked into it.  Or, it was given away as people died off.), and the birds of prey.

Birds of prey included a baby vulture named Ringo-- he's really only a few months old.

He flew around and ate, what I think were, dead mice as a reward.

There was also a bald eagle.

And, there's an owl, which apparently flew at the noon demonstration, but not at the 2:30 one we saw.

There's a birds of prey viewing area, separate from the demonstration arena, that has a bunch of birds, largely eagle varieties.  It's sort of a look-but-don't-touch-thing.

If you wander around outside enough, you come across random events, like the archer, who was there all day long shooting a longbow (though not like the one used in the middle ages.  It was lighter.  The ones from the middle ages were massive and very heavy.  According to the archer, you can tell from the skeletons just how brutal it was to have to use one because those who did have rounded and worn away shoulder bones.).

You will also come across the Headless Horseman (though maybe that's only for Halloween?)

and a man throwing rats (which I thought was going to turn into some kind of carnival game that people could pay to play, but it never did.  He was the only one allowed to throw rats.).

The final demonstration of the day was the trebuchet. I got a still photo of it, but I couldn't get video, mostly because we watched it from the top of Gaol's Tower (which is part of the 530 step climb I mentioned early in the post-- it's largely the way down, though to go down, there were still some steps to go up) so we were too far away for video to work.

Basically, the trebuchet throws a large, flaming iron ball quite a distance.  It was used to throw large flaming iron balls over the walls of castles during a siege. I'm sure in the middle ages those who worked the machines cheered when their giant balls of flame went over the walls; today, a bunch of people run towards it after its landed to put out the fire they've set in a field.

By 5 pm, the sun has gone down and it's pretty cold out at night now that it's November (it was really cold on top of Gaol's Tower watching the trebuchet-- the wind was brutal up there), so we left, even though the bus wasn't returning to Warwick to take us back to Oxford until about 7:30. 

Warwick Castle was supposed to be spookier at night, which might have been worth staying for, but all I saw happening was the addition of multi-colored lights hitting the walls, which didn't seem too spooky.  And, seven hours of wandering around a castle is about all the brain can take.

We wandered around the town (which the Warwick visitor guide describes as bustling even though none of that bustle was in evidence anywhere other than the castle--it seemed pretty deserted) until we found the Thomas Lloyd Pub, which is in keeping with my attempt to stop in a pub in every city I go to (though the choice was largely motivated by the prices being reasonable. Warwick is not the place to go if you want reasonably priced restaurants. Most seemed priced to take advantage of tourists leaving Warwick Castle.).

1 comment:

  1. Excellent insight into what Warwick Castle has to offer and very interesting and amusing to read. Thank you for taking the time to post and for the pictures, it is appreciated! : ]