The England posts: “First Class” (the story of our flights to London, written in Hemel Hampstead, England); “Made It!” (brief post that chronologically jumps ahead in our trip to share my arrival at the Eagle & Child, written in Somerton, England); “Last Night in Lyme Regis” (a short post written in Lyme Regis, the day before we journeyed back to London and home); “London 1” (first reflection on the trip written in Canada); “London 2” (you get the idea…).
OK, so…Wednesday-Thursday-Friday was Saskatoon-Denver-London, where we were picked up by my aunt and uncle. Saturday and Sunday, London. On Monday morning, after a full English Breakfast, my aunt and uncle drove us to a point somewhere between Hemel Hampstead and Warwick Castle (or was it Bicester), where we met Toni and Chris. I say “point somewhere between” because it seemed to me that our meeting place was the parking lot of a pub (Shepton Mallet?) that appeared to be literally the only inhabited location on that stretch of the highway. It may just be that we were distracted with excitement at seeing Chris and Toni again. We exchanged hugs and made introductions and moved our luggage from one vehicle to the other and we were off to Warwick castle.
Warwick Castle is interesting in that it is both a ruin and not a ruin. This is the oldest section of the castle, and it is essentially a ruin:
On the other hand, other parts of the castle are still in good shape (or have been reconstructed):
We spent a part of the morning there and the rest of the afternoon. Warwick Castle is the most castle-y of the palces/castles we visted. Also, Warwick Castle’s presentation differed again from that of Hampton Court and the Tower of London. Hampton Court was more or less a static display of how the room were and the Tower of London is mostly a collection of artifacts. Warwick Castle, however, is more of an interactive experience. We don’t simply walk by the rooms (as we more or less did at Hampton Court), but we walked through them. They had live actors in costume who would interact with tourists (this always makes me a bit uncomfortable), audio commentary, as well as very life-like models (presumably wax). The butler in the back right of this picture, for instance, is not alive:
The guy below kept pulling audience members in for his demonstration of various medieval weaponry. At one point he pulled me in. All I did was stand there while he held an arrow up to my chest. Perhaps he was new–his attempt at interactivity seemed impersonal and a little calculated. The best, in this respect, was still to come.
At one point I walked into a room with a model sitting at a table playing cards with what looked to be another mechanically animated model. It was, in fact, a human being, who startled me by speaking directly to me when I entered the room. The only critique a person might have of the castle presentation is that it isn’t quite sure to what age it belongs. Of course, it has been in use for centuries, but in terms of display and interactivity, in one room you might find elements from a variety of different ages. But I wasn’t really distracted by this–it was fascinating on so many levels.
Sometime late in the morning we headed down to the river, where they had a dramatized jousting show (a couple of barbarians showed up to make things interesting). It was a beautiful day and the hillside overlooking the jousting show was a wonderful setting. The place was very busy, with lots of children about. The jousting show was, I think, directed at the children. It was filled with much bravado, which has never done much to impress me, but the kids loved it. It did interest me historically, however, as I’ve never been quite sure how jousting worked. In fact, I was never sure if it was a game or if it had something to do with combat. I’m actually still not sure, but I do know now that it was at least done for sport.
Later in the afternoon we sat down for a rest near a (the name escapes me) a bird of prey display with a falconer. The climax of the show was this gorgeous (and huge!) sea eagle:
I should have kept my camera ready, because at one point this giant bird flew directly at me and then just a couple of feet above my head. Alas…
By late in the afternoon we had seen most of the castle and were killing time before they launched a fireball from the trebuchet. We wandered around the castle in the direction of the mill on the river. Along the way we came across an archer taking shots at a target. No one else was around. So we approached and watched for a while and he started to tell us about the history of the bow and arrow and how it changed both battle and society. It was fascinating historically, but he also had an amazing dry wit that captivated us. A small crowd gathered, children among them. He started telling us to cheer (or make dying sounds as if we’d been struck by an arrow) when he hit the target. He’d point at a girl in the audience and say, “When I hit the target, make dying sounds or I shoot this girl.” It sounds cruel when I write it out, but by this time the guy had built up such a rapport with the audience that everyone laughed. It was top-notch and, for me, the highlight of the day.
Afterwards, we walked down to the castle mill on the river. It is still used to generate electricity for parts of the castle.
Then we went to the trebuchet show. Inexplicably, I did not have my camera ready to capture the shot, but the truth is that, while an interesting display of historical battle tactics, it seemed to be a lot of buildup for little payoff. In my view, they could improve the show by launching a couple more fireballs.
Happily, there is a video of the fireball launching on YouTube (sans the buildup):
After that, we went home to a delicious dinner cooked by Toni and an evening of relaxation and visiting with our old/new friends. It was a great day.
Toni, Chris and I at the entrance to Warwick Castle:
(More pictures in our England 2010 set at Flickr.)