During our 2019 summer holidays, we spent a couple of days in the West Midlands. I must admit, it’s not a region of England we’ve explored much but based on our experiences this summer, we’ll certainly be back for more.
WHERE TO VISIT
I’ve visited many castles over the years and Warwick Castle, sitting alongside the River Avon and within 64 acres of rolling landscaped grounds, is one of the best.
I’m an advocate of brushing up on your history before stepping inside a castle’s grounds: it makes for a more memorable visit and means you’re well armed for those moments when the kids ask tricky questions.
Warwick Castle dates back to the 11th century and was built at the behest of William the Conqueror; it’s certainly been in the wars over the centuries! Not only was it attacked in 1264 and besieged in 1642 but was damaged by fire in 1871, too.
Despite its turbulent past, the castle remains an impressive site and a must for everyone’s agenda when visiting this part of the world. But be prepared to spend hours here because there is so much to see, experience and enjoy as you stroll around.
The welcoming and informative staff don medieval costumes, complementing the atmosphere, so don’t be surprised if you spot knights, servants, jesters and princesses around seemingly every corner. There are plenty of fascinating exhibits, too, including the infamous Castle Dungeon, dating back to 1345. Not suitable for under 10s and anyone with a nervous disposition tells you that this isn’t for the fainthearted.
Other highlights from our visit included giving our leg muscles a work-out while walking the complete stretch of towers and ramparts, watching the falconry displays within the central courtyard and simply roaming around while enjoying the beautiful grounds.
Oh, and here’s a tip: book your tickets online and you save at least 20 per cent on walk up prices, as well as being able to print your tickets and avoid queues on arrival.
Belfry Hotel & Resort
It was a delight returning to The Belfry, the spiritual home of the Ryder Cup, where on our previous visit I scored a hole in one! Alas, this great achievement didn’t take place on any of the three first-class courses, it was while enjoying a round with Paula and the kids on the super 12-hole Ryder Legends course, among the best mini-golf courses we’ve played. So another round was a great start on the course inspired by legendary holes on various Ryder Cup courses.
The Belfry is a prestigious hotel, spa, golf academy and all-round ideal location for a relaxing break. Amid 500 acres of pure countryside, it’s difficult to believe that you’re not that far from Sutton Coldfield in the heart of the West Midlands.
The Belfry oozes history yet it hasn’t become stuck in the past: its contemporary, classy interiors aren’t just consigned to public spaces, they run throughout the restaurants and bedrooms, too.
Hollie and Peter enjoyed a 30-minute golf lesson at the on-site PGA Golf Academy. Their tutor was a qualified pro who made our kids feel at ease from the first moment. It didn’t matter that they were novices, valuable tuition was provided, covering everything from how to stand to holding the club. As is befitting a world-class venue, the facilities at the academy were excellent.
Black Country Living Museum
Situated approximately 50 minutes from Warwick, the Black Country Museum should definitely be on your agenda. It really is a little world on its own. As you approach from the busy “A” road, you’ll think you’ve got the wrong place because it’s hard to believe there is an entire village tucked away a few yards away – but there certainly is!
Set in 26 acres, this open-air museum reflects the area’s importance during the industrial revolution with over 40 reconstructed shops, houses and industrial buildings. If it looks familiar, that’s because it’s provided the backdrop for myriad TV series and films, including BBC’s gritty drama, Peaky Blinders.
The museum works like a living village with actors going about their daily tasks from chain-making and allotment tending to shop-keeping and trolley bus driving; and to really set the scene, all have a tale to tell.
Make sure you start your adventure with a trip down to the village centre in the local trolley bus. After alighting, it’s just a case of wandering. There are things to pique your interest around every corner: try your hand at some traditional children’s street games, enjoy a drink at the Bottle & Glass Inn, take a peek into home life at the replica cottages and gardens or put on your hard hat and take a trip down a mine.
You really could spend a whole day here. There are plenty of places to picnic, but if you haven’t packed your sandwiches, there are various eateries, including a traditional 1930s fish and chip shop where the queue was halfway down the road, so it must be good!
If you don’t manage to see everything or just want to experience the village again, don’t worry because your ticket is valid for 12 months.
WHERE TO STAY
Knight’s Village, Warwick Castle
When you’re next visiting Warwick Castle, why not treat yourself and the kids by staying over at the Knight’s Village accommodation?
You can choose from three types of accommodation: Woodland Lodges, Knight’s Lodges (for larger families) or Medieval Glamping. All are connected by attractive wooden walkways so there’s no worries about traipsing mud into your accommodation on wet days.
We were lucky enough to experience both styles of lodge. The smaller Woodland Lodge was adequate for four people but didn’t provide any inside space for seating. You can, however, use the bench on the terrace when the weather is clement. But if all you’re looking for is a place to lay your head at the end of a busy day, it’s perfectly acceptable and provides everything you need.
However, if you’re planning to spend more time on site, the Knight’s Lodges are for you. With a mezzanine level and sofa bed, the living area is much more spacious – as is the outside space.
Whichever lodge you choose, you’ll have access to complimentary hot and cold soft drinks in the restaurant, a selection of evening entertainment (ranging from archery, jester skills and knight’s tournaments), free parking and access via a private entrance to the castle grounds during opening hours. What’s more, an overnight stay comes with a buffet-style breakfast and free entry to the castle for a second day.
We didn’t sample glamping but the tents were located in the same area as the lodges and provide a medieval twist on camping.
The washing facilities on site were very clean and modern and from what we could see of the tents, they seemed a fun option, albeit perhaps a little close to each other for our liking.
Breakfast was certainly plentiful. In an attempt to avoid overcrowding, you have to book a time for your arrival. On our second morning, we were informed that we only had the table for 45 minutes before the next people were due. Although, of course, this was plenty of time, it did create a little bit of pressure and prevented us just sitting back and relaxing. But, hey, it didn’t affect the experience.
Overall, we enjoyed our stay. It’s a novel, unique experience and great for families.
www.thebelfry.com, tel: 0844 980 0600
www.bclm.co.uk, tel: 0121 557 9643
Reviewed: July 2019