Day Two: A-Warwick A-Warwick!
We hadn't decided what order to do days two and three (if you see what I mean) before arriving, but waking up to rain on Wednesday made the decision for us to stay local. OK, partly I wanted a day off from driving, but we figured that we could duck in and out of different bits of Warwick castle and stay reasonably dry better than trying to get between different Shakespeare houses. And it was forecast to dry up later anyway, which it did.
One advantage of Audrey's strict 0800-0845 breakfast rule meant we were up and about and in town nice and early. Warwick has a nice mix of medieaval and Regency architecture throughout the town centre and had more to offer than we had time to visit. We will definitely go back some time as I really want to look around Lord Leycester's Hospital which we had to miss.
The rain had eased off to a drizzle but before we went down to the castle we had a look around the Warwickshire museum. I got the impression that most of it was last updated in the early 80s and it could use a bit of a refresh. Not that anything was wrong, it just gave me a feeling of being a museum about a museum rather than about the county as such. Still, there was some intereseting stuff on display including a nice model of the town before the great fire and also a temporary 40 years of the moon landing exhibition which naturally grabbed my attention.
So this brings us on to the castle itself and the first obstacle to an fun-packed day of knights and princesses: getting in. Physically not a problem, you just join a queue, pay up and wander through the turnstiles. Mentally, however, it is quite a challenge. Walk up admission for an adult is a kibblesworth under £20. Now, that's a fair bit in my book and quite how the enormous family groups we saw inside can justify the cost is beyond me. Entry to the dungeon was another £7.50 on top. Fortunately MrsB has a pass that gets her into many things free (or at least cheap), what with her being a tourist information officer, so that was a bit of a saving for us. The second obstacle was, as previously mentioned, the weather but that was clearing up by now. And the final obstacle were the huge family groups (I'm really painting myself as a boring old fart here, but too many screaming kids and I just want to run for the hills. I know, I know, don't go to a family attraction then complain about the families!).
Having made it through the gates we headed to the Dungeon bit first as that was a timed entry ticket. It still took us half an hour (standing in the rain) to get inside from joining the queue - mainly due to them only letting in small groups at a time and also insisting on taking everyone's picture in an execution pose first. We did like the resulting photo but declined to pay £5 for it. Anyway, that was really the end of the negativity and things got better from then on.
We went to the London Dungeon a few years ago and this was much like a cut-down version of that - lots of grizzly torture instruments and people dressed up with a loose degree of authenticity to do a bit of acting in each new chamber. There was also a fair bit about the plague, which I'm not sure quite fitted the torture theme, but I guess it was better there than elsewhere in the castle. In fact, I got volunteered to have my head cut open and a cure effected - all done very nicely with curtains and shadows which definitely made it look realistic from where I was sitting. I'm not aware that there was any communication between the denizens of the dungeon, but they managed to pick different victims in each instance of requiring one so nobody in our group ended up feeling like they stood out too much.
Interactivity was a theme of much of the rest of the day as well. There are numerous static exhibits with rooms done out in the style of various eras of the castle's history (we felt these could have done with a few more interpretation boards, and while we saw people carrying audio guides at no point were we offered the use of them) but there was also a continual stream of things happening around the grounds, in various rooms etc. As well as looking through the exhibits and climbing the walls we witnessed a fire breathing jester attempting to entertain the mob (he succeeded), jousting, falconry, general hand to hand combat and the firing of a Trebuchet. All accompanied by subtle use of facts and folklore to get the crowd involved and fired up for one side or the other in the various combats without them realising they were getting a bit of a history lesson thrown in with the spectacle.
Despite my misgivings caused by the cost, the crowds and the theme-park atmosphere (the Castle is run by the Merlin Group who also operate Madam Tussauds, Legoland Windsor, the Sea Life Centres, Alton Towers and much more so that was understandable) I ended up having a great day out.
We walked a mile or so the other way that night for dinner at a recommended pub. OK, but nothing special in my book. Staggered the locals when we told them we had walked it though (to be fair, we did get a taxi back but only because the rain had returned)...