A Romantic History - Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Gardens
I'd heard of Kenilworth Castle several times when we first moved to the West Midlands, but I refused to go because I had once attended a business meeting in Kenilworth and sadly mistook a little ruin I saw at the end of the town's high street for the castle. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered there was not only an ACTUAL castle in Kenilworth, theres also the beautiful Elizabethan Gardens as well.
A Great Day Out
In fact, just a 45 minute drive from Birmingham, Kenilworth is a pretty accessible from the M45 towards Coventry, and then down a few windy roads. As an American, even after 16 years it still amazes me that actual castles can pop up around any corner in this country. But although they're all a part of history, they're not always well maintained, organised and fun. But this castle ticks all the boxes.
At a reasonable entry fee of about £16.00 per person, or less with an English Heritage individual, group, or family membership, you can not only access the castle and all of it's outbuildings and cafe, you can use it several times over the year for additonal English Heritage historic places which is a great deal for a birthday, Mother's Day or Father's Day gift, or even as a lovely family Christmas gift for the following Spring and Summer. We decided to go as a birthday outing for my husband with our (adult) kids.
The Tower Views
For the first time in 350 years you can explore the full height of the tower built by Leicester to court Elizabeth I. Stand at floor level in the queen's private rooms and soak up the same spectacular views that she enjoyed. You can also experience a whole new perspective on what was one of Elizabethan England's finest buildings.
The staircases and platforms take you 18 metres up into the tower, to the level of the fireplaces and windows built specially for the royal visit. One of my personal favourite views was a glimpse of the queen's private staircase, and the long gallery where she could have private time with her most intimate friends. Apparently, in 1575 these rooms were luxurious, elegant and flooded with light from enormous glass windows.
Lord Leicester's Gatehouse
Once inside, you can visit the fascinating exhibition about the famous royal romance between the queen and her ambitious courtier, Robert Dudley. Built in the 1570s, the imposing castle entrance was transformed into a private house after 1650. Today you can see how it looked when the last caretaker left in the late 1930s. You must explore the Elizabethan bedroom and Oak Room which contains a beautifully ornate alabaster fireplace (above) which once stood in Elizabeth I's private rooms.
As a family, we're fascinated by English history, culture, castles and legends, and Kenilworth Castle has it all. Once one of the country’s most formidable medieval fortresses, the castle was later transformed into a spectacular Elizabethan palace by Robert Dudley in an effort to impress his queen, the legendary Queen Elizabeth I. So in addition to the Castle Keep, The Great Hall, amazing tower views and Leister's Gatehouse (above), there is the stunning Elizabethan Gardens Robert Dudley built just for her leisure.
Here, you can walk in the footsteps of the great Tudor queen through the garden and imagine the opulence and splendour of Elizabethan Kenilworth. It was lost to the world for almost 400 years, but this beautifully recreated Elizabethan Garden is a haven of peace and tranquillity, full of colour and fragrant walkways.
Approach through the loggia onto the terrace to start your tour, and for the best views over the garden and beyond. Then wander the pathways to discover the marble fountain, the ornate bird aviary and the Earl of Leicester's emblem of the bear and ragged staff (can you see the little white bears on the posts).
Food Glorious Food - The Stable
Finally, no day out would be complete without a lovely, hot, proper cuppa and a hearty savoury meal or snack. And, hubby's knees arent what they used to be, so when we were ready for a sit down and some sustenance, we follwoed the signs that said, cafe.
Here we found the Stable Tearoom within a magnificent Tudor timber-framed stables building. It offered a delicious selection of cakes and snadwiches, made from seasonal ingredients and sourced from local suppliers. But let's face it, sometimes you just want a little more than a bag of chips and a coke, and I must say I was impressed. The food was simple, fresh, hot and good. What more can one ask for?
Unfortunately, I can't add everything I would like to say about Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethasn Gardens, but unlike some days out where you come home feeling more ruffled than refreshed, I definately felt the latter. I can't say enough about the location, mantenance, history and romance.
I'd love to hear if you've ever been, or would like to go? Share your comments below.