Our weekend of glamping, sword-fighting and banqueting at Warwick Castle was the best my three boys can remember.
Warwick Castle is a historical theme park with class - after all, it is one of the most spell-binding, intact castles in Britain. It is run by Merlin (Madam Tussauds, Sealife Centres, Thorpe Park, Alton Towers)…and they know how to pack an awful lot of excitement and magic into a family day out.
After a day climbing up the ramparts and watching flaming missiles being catapaulted by a trebuchet, we were welcomed to the VIP glampsite by a fully kitted-out knight.
The tents are arranged prettily in a lakeside meadow. Pathways between them and the banqueting tent are lit by fairy lights and made mud-proof with rush matting.
And inside the tents were really lovely, with wooden floors, large, wooden beds and top-quality bedlinen.
The bathroom facilities were a bit more basic (not en suite!) - a bank of smart portaloos and festival-style portable shower units – and an awful lot nicer than the original gardyloos would have been!
Children quickly made new friendships and ran around exploring.
The supper banquet was available from 5.30pm, which was suitably family-friendly, especially after such a busy day. There was a large selection; roast pork, chicken, burgers, fish in a white sauce, sausages, lots of salads and various side dishes, followed by jellies, cheesecakes, or chocolate profiteroles. You could return as many times as you liked, which was a great novelty for the children. And the staff were extremely attentive and great fun, which made for a relaxed and happy atmosphere.
The evening’s entertainment was fantastic: Knight School and Jester training. Whilst some of the adults chatted over drinks at the picnic tables, the kids had expert tuition on using a sword, archery, magic tricks, juggling, plate-spinning and hula-hooping. My 7- and 4-year-olds loved uttering blood-thirsty cries as they thrust their swords at a practice post, while the 2-year-old was content to hurl juggling balls into hoops.
As the sun went down and stars came out, we returned to our tents, which were rather romantically lit up with electric “candle” lights. The beds were extremely comfortable and the children fell asleep after the first story (yay!). The toddler predictably sought us out at 2am, but the double bed was so big there was plenty of room. The tents are close to each other, so could hear the odd noisy shout and wailing baby - but after all the fresh air everyone slept pretty soundly.
We had an early start, thanks to the bright sunshine and birdsong…and a rude awakening when I chose a broken shower and could only get cold water! But we weren’t here for spa facilities, so it didn’t matter much, and a staff member was quickly there to direct other campers to the working (hot) showers.
Breakfast was another feast, with a really delicious array of fruit, yoghurt, cereals, croissants, pancakes, muffins, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, hash-browns, waffles and eggs (scrambled or fried).
We checked out in time for the raising of the barbican at 10.30am, when a brilliant actor with an impressively loud voice set the scene, with a witty introduction to the Wars of the Roses.
The actors and staff really elevate Warwick Castle above being any old tourist attraction. They were so engaging and brimmed with enthusiasm. Every nugget of history was laced with juicy details.
Teams from the excellent Horrible Histories CBBC TV show manned stalls all around the grounds (Slimy Stuarts, Vile Victorians, Vicious Vikings, Smashing Saxons, Measly Middle Ages and Gorgeous Georgians). These stalls were a big highlight of our visit, and the children (now armed with wooden swords) delighted in taking sides against a goady Viking who challenged them to a fight. There’s nothing they like better than having a fully-costumed grown-up willing to banter and play silly games with!
The castle is really wonderful – full of ghost stories, secrets and vast quantities of armour. The dungeons are off-limits to under-ten year olds (too scary), but we made visits to the Princess Tower (to take part in a story to free a princess’s love from a curse) and Merlin’s Tower (incurs an extra charge). They were good fun, but be warned: on entry into both these attractions you are whisked into position to be photographed and then asked to pay £12 for your portraits at the end. There’s no hard-sell at all, but it’s distracting and unwelcome.
There are also many, many opportunities to spend money, and every single child there needed and hungered for a sword, so do bring birthday money in readiness!
It was an absolutely five-star weekend. If you have children who enjoy sword-fighting, archery and meeting zany Vikings, this the perfect holiday for you.
Mediaeval Glamping at Warwick Castle:
King’s Tents (3 available)
From £300 per night.
Includes a wooden four-poster bed and two wooden single beds, all bed linen and towels, real armour for brave knights to try on and hidden treasure.
Sleeps two adults, two children.
Warwick Tents (38 available)
From £200 per night.
Includes wooden-framed double bed and two wooden singles beds, and all bed linen.
Sleeps two adults, two children.
What’s included in the price?
Overnight stay in a fully-set-up King’s Tent or Warwick Tent.
Two days' Priority Castle tickets including entrance to Horrible Histories™ Foul Fayres and Jousting (from 19 July 2014)
Cooked or continental breakfast served in Mediaeval Banqueting Tent
VIP parking for two days
Free Wi-Fi across the Glamping site.
Free Mediaeval Evening Entertainment: Jester’s School, Knight’s School and have-a-go archery.
Private Glampsite cash bar – serving a variety of alcoholic and soft drinks until 11pm.
Ample toilet and private shower facilities.
A limited number of cots for babies are available upon request.
Mediaeval Dinner Feast Buffet available for an additional £16.95 per adult, £7.95 per child.
For more information see www.warwick-castle.com/glamping/ and to book call the Glamping Hotline on 0871 663 1676 (lines open Monday – Friday 9am-5pm).
Prices current in May 2014.