Historic timbered charm, castles steeped in legend, teeming market stalls and much, much more to boot, there’s certainly a great deal going for Warwick, a town almost slap bang in the centre of England’s backbone. But cast your gaze across the River Avon into the realms afar and find more to this side of merry olde England than you first thought possible.
You don’t often hear of people playing favourites with things like Saxon strongholds, but Kenilworth Castle may just have been the monarchy’s most-loved building. Countless sums of royal cash have gone into the fortress throughout its (not insignificant) 900 year existence, and each lovingly crafted element borne of a particular moment in history has its own story to tell.
From the castle’s imposing Norman keep, to the tower where Queen Elizabeth I nearly fell for the charms of the Earl of Leicester, many of Kenilworth’s most intriguing aspects have been beautifully restored in order to give visitors a real insight into life ‘as it was’. Thankfully, even older elements, such as the skeletal shell of the Great Hall, can also be viewed in all their crumbling glory. Though revolution, anarchy, countless armies and the temperamental British weather have rained down upon it across the centuries, this beloved bastion still cuts a pretty remarkable silhouette against the Warwickshire sky.
Love him or hate him, it would be fair to say that William Shakespeare did make a bit of an impact on the world during his 52 years – even if that world was confined to three painful months studying King Lear’s descent into madness in your GCSE English class. But thanks to the never-ending popularity of his classic tales, a trip to the house in which young William first came to be has become a bit of a bucket list activity for many folks from across the globe.
As both a shrine for the hard core Bard fan and a pleasant excursion for those who appreciate being serenaded by the odd sonnet once in a while, a day of immersion in Shakespeare’s childhood home is a fine way to spend your time. Especially when the setting is the charming chocolate box township of Stratford-upon-Avon. From interesting nuggets of new information about the playwright’s family, marriage and early life, to finding out what previous visitors – including Dickens, Hardy and Keats – thought of the location, the exhibition offers an up-close and personal way to get acquainted with a real life legend. Couple your tour with an RSC performance in one of the nearby theatres to complete the experience.
Rugby School & Webb Ellis Museum
As smart alecks will have no doubt gathered, the town of Rugby does indeed have something to do with the sport of the same name. But instead of meandering around with the throng in the market-laden streets looking for clues and the odd oval-shaped souvenir, why not head straight to the place where the glorious game really began.
Founded in 1567, this prestigious educational establishment was rather overlooked until 1823, when a pupil by the name of William Webb Ellis decided that kicking a ball was all a bit of a bore and decided to pick it up and run with it instead. This event, and many others which have contributed to the game since, are best heard from the highly knowledgeable guides and explored through the memorabilia-stuffed exhibits, which will keep you interested for much longer than 80 minutes. Literary lovers will be pleased to find out that the building was also the setting for the classic Hughes novel, Tom Brown’s School Days, so bring along a copy to keep yourselves occupied just in case the sport stuff all gets a bit…trying.
If you know anything about English heritage, you’ll know about its love for legends where stone circles are concerned. And the magnificent Rollrights are no exception, with their own tales involving the dealings of a trickster witch, some conspiring knights and a king doomed to remain forever alone, among many others. But no matter if you’re convinced by the stories or not, they do at least help to explain the positioning of these randomly placed monoliths, because the actual reason for their being there really is (despite archaeologists’ best efforts) anyone’s guess.
Located on a lusciously green bluff a little way outside the wonderfully named village of Chipping Norton, these ancient rocks offer three features for the price of one, giving you much more mythical bang for your buck than the likes of ‘grander’ sites like Stonehenge. Plus, you get the added bonus of stretching your legs along the edge of the ever-in-vogue Cotswolds. For a truly infuriating day out, why not set yourself the task of tallying up the number of stones in the circle known as The King’s Men – a supposedly impossible undertaking according to local folklore.
If you’re longing for something a little more continental from your foray into Buckinghamshire, a trip to Waddesdon Manor might be right up your rue. A picture-perfect slice of France placed squarely in between the Vale of Aylesbury and the undulating Chiltern Hills, this grande-dame of a chateau is a marvel of 16th Century flourishes both outside and in.
Now owned by the National Trust, Waddesdon was originally built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild as a Renaissance-inspired retreat geared towards entertaining the likes of the fashionable upper crust in its flamboyantly decorated and ever eclectic rooms. From an aviary, which houses tropical songbirds, to a very well-stocked wine cellar, to acres of woodland and an ever-evolving art collection carefully curated across the decades, much of what Rothschild had intended for the eyes of the elite only, can now be viewed and enjoyed by us mere mortals. We’re almost certain the tea and cakes are just as good as they were back then too.