I love a good ruin, and this ticks most boxes for me. It has sprawling grounds, numerous dark little stairways and passages, an absolutely stunning Elizabethan Garden and some awesome romantic history.
Now managed by English Heritage, the entrance fee of £9 does appear hefty however it is somewhere a full day could be spent enjoying both the grounds and castle, and if you took a picnic this could be easily done. Unfortunately, we only had around 4 hours and I was hesitant because of the entry fee but even after this period I did not feel out of pocket.
Founded in the 1120s, the castle was at its height during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It came into the hands of Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester who, if he had not have been already married would have probably been Elizabeth’s choice as a husband. He devoted his life and treasury into making it a castle fit for a queen, and she did indeed visit it numerous times throughout her reign during one of her many progresses. Her final visit lasted an unprecedented 19 days, and it was Dudley’s last chance to persuade her to marry him. It never happened, and he was left almost bankrupt because of his life’s obsession.
The highlight of the castle is the Elizabethan garden, designed for entertainment rather than practicality, a huge viewing terrace traverses the length of it, where you could imagine the Queen surveying the pageants and fireworks which had been put on for her. The garden was lost about 400 years ago, but fortunately had been that well documented and described, that English Heritage have been able to recreate it in all its glory. It really is stunning, and this for me made the £9 worthwhile.
The rest of the main castle is in ruins, destroyed in 1649 on orders of Parliament to prevent it from becoming a stronghold in the ongoing Civil War. They are mostly accessible, and there are a few towers to climb, and small alcoves to discover. It is also far less crowded than nearby Warwick Castle, but I would imagine at the weekends some parts would become overcrowded.
It is worth a walk around the back of the castle as this is seldom used and is a fantastic sun trap and a place to relax and eat a sandwich.
There are a lot of wild flowers on the bank behind the castle creating a nice haven for butterflies, with orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines), peacock (Inachis io), red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) and large white (Pieris brassiere) all on show. We also could hear a green woodpecker (Picus viridis) from outside the grounds but were unable to get a sighting.
One of the gatehouses has a museum inside it and is still original and intact. There is lots of information inside and even a research room. I tend to zone out when I get presented with a museum type situation, but this is worth a look, with lovely oak panels and beams, and more information on the budding romance that came to nothing.
All in all this would get a strong recommendation from me to visit, but only if you can make it last a few hours, if you are rushed then it’s not worth the entrance fee.
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