Just a twenty-five-minute drive from Birmingham, Kenilworth Castle has a 900 year-old history that includes a Norman keep and Elizabethan splendour and is widely known as one of England’s most beautiful castles. Owned and maintained by English Heritage, the castle and grounds provide a fascinating insight into the lives of Tudor and Elizabethan royalty. Once a lavish palace, the castle was stripped and partly demolished and dismantled in 1650, leaving behind a stunning set of ruins.
With the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s Kenilworth in 1821 it became a popular tourist destination and in the last twenty years has undergone numerous repairs and restorations to allow for further public access. It’s a beautiful place to explore (particularly during the warmer months of the year) and a great day out for all the family!
The gatehouse was built in the early 1570’s as a new entrance to the castle, and was converted into a private residence after the Civil War of the 1640’s. It is now possible to see how it looked when the last caretaker left in the late 1930s and includes the Oak Room and Elizabethan bedroom.
The Queen’s Privy Garden
As an ambitious royal favourite, Robert Dudley – Earl of Leicester – created the stunning Queen’s Privy Garden for Queen Elizabeth I during her visit in 1575. Lost for nearly 400 years, the garden has now been recreated and rebuilt based on an eyewitness description of the time along with historical research and some archaeological investigations. In the centre of the garden is the fountain, described as ‘two Athlants, joined together… with their hands upholding a fair-formed bowl of three feet over… all hewn out of rich and hard white marble. It can be found at the side of the Great Tower and forebuilding.
The Inner Court
Now standing as a set of spectacular set of ruins, the Inner Court includes the huge Norman keep, a tall block of Elizabethan State Apartments, the queen’s bed chamber which was a place where Queen Elizabeth I met with her closest friends and courtiers and a lower two-storey range of lodgings that were built by King Henry VII around 1530. On the keep corner turret were two clock faces on two sides. It is possible to walk around these on several levels and the views are spectacular.
The Great Hall and Castle Walls
The Great Hall was designed and rebuilt in the late 1300’s by John of Gaunt – Duke of Lancaster and was inspired by the great hall built by Gaunt’s father, King Edward III at Windsor Castle. Covered by an enormous roof, six fireplaces and tall windows were set around the room and it was situated above a stone-vaulted cellar on the first floor. It was created to make a statement of status and wealth and was only used during important occasions. It is possible to view the former Great Hall during a walk around the castle walls, which also provides a beautiful view of the former mere -an enormous artificial lake that was once behind the castle.
At the bottom of the court stands the Stables, a half-timbered building that was built in the mid-1500’s. On one half is an interactive exhibition – ‘The Castle and its People,’ which shows how the castle has changed during its history.
The other half is a beautiful tearoom offering a whole range of snacks and light lunches, with children’s options available.
Kenilworth Castle is open every day from 10.00am – 6.00pm. Prices are free for English Heritage Members, Adult tickets: £11.80 (£13.00 with Gift Aid), Child (5-17 years) are £7.10 (£7.90 with Gift Aid), Concession £10.60 (£11.70 with Gift Aid) and a Family ticket (2 adults, up to 3 children) £30.70. For more information, visit the English Heritage Website here: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/kenilworth-castle/
(Images: Duncan Walker)