As soon as marketing material uses hyperbolic wording, I get suspicious. And usually, I’m justified. Easy Off Bang isn’t, and Vanish doesn’t. Not to mention the scores of “Lose weight now!” and “Tata ma Millions” type adverts.
So when Warwick Castle bills itself as “Britian’s Ultimate Castle”, I took it with a pinch of salt, and decided to reserve judgment. Well, judgment day was yesterday, and I’m left with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, the castle is in good condition. Not having been left to ruin like so many other castles in Britain and Ireland (especially the latter, for reasonably obvious political reasons), it’s been lived in until much more recently, and still in inhabitable, by and large. The towers are still standing, the spiral staircases have been repaired where necessary, and visually, it’s impressive and stunning.
On the other hand, they’ve gone to a lot of trouble to add trimmings – girls in olde outfits telling fairy stories to little “princesses and knights” in the Princess tower, including a dress-up station with photo-op. (Did someone say Disneyland?) Or Lancelot and Merlin having a witty verbal battle (oh yes, don’t forget the mock sword fight) with Mordred with a Sword in the Stone setup. (What exactly did this have to do with Warwick, again?)
But some of the trimmings are pretty darn good. There’s a fully-operational Trebuchet. No, really – a full-size, 18m high Trebuchet, capable of hurling 150kg weights about 200-300m. They fire it twice a day, once with a burning fireball projectile (ok, so the overkill starts sneaking in here too). Fantastic stuff. There’s also a resident falconer, who does demonstrations with his lanner falcon, and brings out other birds as well – vultures, eagles and owls.
So, the verdict? There’s a lot to see, and a lot to experience. But I left with a feeling that Theme Parkism had come in and done a little bit too much to draw in the crowds. Sure, you need to compete against all the other attractions in the area, and having things for the kids to get involved in does help. £250,000 is a lot of money to raise on an annual basis. Maybe it’s just me, but the experience of walking around a ruined castle, and imagining what it must have been like a few hundred years back is more haunting and memorable than having someone enact their version of reality (especially when that bears no connection to history at all).
So, I’d return to climb to the top of Guy’s tower, and take in the view. And I’d ogle the birds. And I would love to be one of the ‘peasants’ who get to walk the wheels of the Trebuchet to wind it up.
But I’ll stop short of calling it the Ultimate castle.