Kenilworth Castle. Hundreds of years of history wrapped up in one beautiful ruined package. It merits so much more time than I am going to spend on it. I’m in a hurry, you see, with too much to do, and “Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!”
You could rummage through the excellent-as-always English Heritage page for the Castle, and even download some of the research materials or guides for teachers — I did before our visit! My kids didn’t even mind! Mostly because I bribed them with cakes in the beautiful cafe!
Take a peek at the Tudor stables. Inside is an interactive museum and the lovely tearoom.
Turn your back on the stables, which are part of the ancient walls surrounding Kenilworth, and begin to take in the several buildings which make up the castle. To the right, the original Norman tower, built by Geoffrey de Clinton in the twelfth century. In the background, the great hall built by John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III, and the manly origin of the Lancastrian dynasty. And here’s your trivia for the day: Chaucer’s wife’s sister was John of Gaunt’s third wife. Small world. Small, rich world.
Off to one side is the Elizabethan gatehouse, later enclosed and turned into a freestanding home. Downstairs, where the carriages and wagons once rolled through the gatehouse, the rooms are quite large. That large bay window in the center of the photo is where the gate used to be. Inside the house, more interactive and interesting pieces of the history of the castle and the families who lived there.
The gardens were considered a marvel of their time. Dudley had them designed and built as a private garden, specifically for the enjoyment of Elizabeth I on her visits. Really, much of the work put into the castle and grounds during the 16th century were a massive and expensive effort to convince Elizabeth to marry Dudley. The garden was lost to inattention and decay, but has been lovingly and painstakingly restored to something close to it’s original glory.
And interior view of the Norman keep. The original windows were all like the small slit in the lower level. Later owners modernized the keep with large windows (and expensive panes of glass), and even added a ‘loggia’ to the entrance, in Italianate style.
I love this photo for the lovely woman who is SWEEPING the ruins. Talk about keeping things tidy. You also get a good sense of just how fallen about the castle is now, how thick the walls were, and a bit of the scope of the facilities. Taking this photo, I’m standing near the edge of the castle kitchens, which were the largest in Europe. There was even a separate kitchen next to the main kitchens (which have a cauldron so large it is built into the foundation of the walls) where the foods for the high table were prepared.
Here we’re standing on top of the stairs you just saw, looking back over the kitchens, part of the great hall, the old keep, and the inner courtyard.
And here, turning around, you can look over what used to be a massive interior lake — the Great Mere created by John I in the thirteenth century. The gate you see slightly sunk into the hill would have been a water entrance to the castle.
Decorative vandalism can be found all over the castle, carved into the soft sandstone.
It’s not hard to see how the ruins at Kenilworth inspired so many romantic authors, like Sir Walter Scott.
It’s funny because it’s true:
The view from the newly scaffolded Leicester Tower (built by Dudley for Elizabeth I) is spectacular. Here see Gaunt’s Oriel tower and great hall once again.
And hold on tight before you look DOWN. This view is from Elizabeth’s personal chamber, where she could watch interior entertainments to the left, and look out the window to see entertainers on the lawn. Dudley pulled out all the stops.
One of my favorite things to see was all the jackdaws. They are a cackling, sociable sort of crow who love rocky ruins like this. Their call sings “England” to me. (Click on “audio” to give a listen: http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/name/j/jackdaw/)
It was easy to spend hours wandering the grounds.
If you could only see one castle in England, should this be it? I’m not sure, but … maybe. There’s a bit of almost everything here, architecture from the Norman conquest to today, cultural history, fascinating personalities, human drama, literary inspirations, wild examples of humans shaping and reshaping their environment, and, of course, fairly tasty cakes and tea.