Warwick Castle: ‘It puts living pictures to the history text books’
PUBLISHED: 09:35 21 October 2019
Tracy Spiers returns to wonderful Warwick Castle to witness an aerial display unlike any other, while also getting immersed in living history, from trebuchet and Tudors to battles and banquets
Steel birds flew overhead before the live ones stole the show. Ducks scarpered and we knew the kings and queens of the sky were near. Human eyes turned upwards, eagerly waiting. A swan in all its majestic glory flew by and received a clap. But the stars of this open sky, orchestrated to perfection, were quite simply awesome as they zoomed in low, causing heads to duck and mouths to utter oohhs and ahhs in unison.
A beautiful heart-shaped barn owl which appeared to float in from nowhere, marked the start of The Falconer's Quest, a highly creative and engaging avian adventure, the latest spectacle at Warwick Castle. Set on the banks of the River Avon, it is billed as the biggest birds of prey show in the UK and it is a show unlike any other. Three years ago, my twins, parents and I watched these birds in the castle's previous show. It was spectacular then, but this fresh approach, using a strong narrative to weave the aerial dynamics together in the form a young falconer seeking out the finest birds in the land, is extremely clever, innovative and truly spectacular. To watch hawks, eagles, giant bone-eating vultures, red kits and a peregrine falcon fly on cue made the story come alive whilst providing a fresh appreciation of these majestic creatures. To see and hear an Andean Condor, with its wingspan of 10ft, zoom past one's ear, was thrilling.
It was the proximity of these birds along with the interesting facts about them that made it such an enthralling educational experience. It also highlighted the commitment of the castle in its bid to protect some of the world's rarest breeds from extinction by working with other conservation charities. There is nothing like learning about something magnificent that is there in front of you when it does what it does best - lording the skies.
Warwick Castle does that. It puts living pictures to the history text books, it sparks the imagination and opens a door into another time. Once you are in that physical place, then the facts seem to go in and get embedded in the mind. At Warwick Castle, as well as climbing the medieval towers and battlements, one can marvel at the magnificent Great Hall, State Rooms and the Earl's private Chapel as well as joining the aristocracy of 1898 at a lavish party. Due to my vivid imagination, I declined on entering the castle dungeon, but for those who like having chills down the spine, it is a memorable experience as live actors make the walkthrough excitingly scary.
Instead my husband Rog and his work colleague Gowtham from Chennai, India took the tamer option and enjoyed getting lost in the Horrible Histories' Maze where we encountered Vicious Vikings, Terrifying Tudors, Slimy Stuarts, Frightful First World War, Stormin' Normans and Measly Middle Ages.
Here we learnt which crimes were punishable by death including cutting down fruit trees, being found on the King's highway with a sooty face, pickpocketing, poisoning wells, setting fire to your mother's or your own house and adopting a disguise! I was slightly more merciful and decided to punish my two male companions by putting them in the stocks.
Warwick Castle may have the Falconer's Quest to wow the crowds, but staff are currently on an important quest to find two specific Ash trees in Europe to mend a key spectacle at this attraction - the Mighty Trebuchet, the largest siege machine in the world.
It currently needs a new throwing arm. After over 14 years of catapulting some 10,000 rocks, staff noticed a crack appearing and until it is replaced, the arm has remained still. Instead staff are providing an informative talk about the machine and are hoping the Trebuchet will be back in action in 2020.
Since we last visited, the Knights' Village has been opened, offering unique medieval-style glamping and inspiring period-related wooden lodges. This provides a true authentic adventure and chance to soak up the history in an unhurried way. Guests can pay extra for a medieval dinner feast in the banqueting hall.
"We introduced the Knights' Village three years ago which has been a great success with guests enjoying evening entertainment and the banquets. We have had many weddings here over the years too with couples using the State Dining Room, Green Drawing Room and the Great Hall for dancing," explained Melissa Paniccia, head of historical interpretation at Warwick Castle.
"We have also had the Dragon Slayer show running on 14 select Twilight performances over the summer which has involved fire joust, thrilling stunts, battles and a spectacular projection light show with real flames, mythical monsters which is all set to the forgotten legend of Guy of Warwick and his quest for the love of Princess Felice of Warwick Castle."
Like her colleagues, Melissa's passion is history and coming up with creative ideas to communicate the stories to the various audiences visiting Warwick.
"For us, the history is what we are all here for. We have a fantastic team of experienced performers who are constantly coming up with engaging and interactive ways to explain those historic facts and we have a wonderful setting to do it in," added Melissa.
Just being able to walk within the very stone walls of this castle, which has a history going back almost 11 centuries and has witnessed many a battle, siege, murder or power struggle, was incredible. But the 64 acres of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown's stunningly landscaped gardens were equally as impressive. We had fun watching the peacocks proudly strutting around, one of them displaying his fine feathers to warn off a jackdaw in his way.
Last time I visited I had two little girls with me desperate to take a peacock feather home which a member of staff kindly gave them. It is still in my office. On this occasion, the two men in my company didn't need a feather. They went home happy, talking animatedly about the spectacular birds of prey show and the impressive castle they had experienced.
History will always be there. But we need places like Warwick Castle and the visionaries behind the creative interactive performances to help bring it alive.
Warwick Castle fact box:
The Falconer's Quest: The Quest flies until November 3 as part of the Castle's daily entertainment programme included with general admission.
For day visitors: Castle entry starts from £19 per person when booked online at least five days in advance. Book your ticket at warwick-castle.com.
For weekends/overnight: Short breaks at Warwick Castle include one night's accommodation in the Knight's Village; two-day entry to the castle so you can catch your favourite shows again or see those you've missed on the first day; buffet breakfast served in the Knight's Village Banquet Hall, and car parking. Prices start from £172 per night, based on a family of four sharing a Woodland Lodge. An entertaining medieval-themed dinner is available in the Knight's Village Banquet Hall for an additional £18.95 per adult or £9.95 per child.