Written by Tim Freed, April 2019
Today we visited one of our favourite places for a family day out – Warwick Castle. We had been invited to review their new bird of prey display – Falconer’s Quest, which is a fantastic addition to the activities and shows available.
If you haven’t been to Warwick Castle, it’s an amazingly well-preserved, ancient place. Unlike most castles, which are now little more than ruins, Warwick Castle was inhabited by its owners, the Greville family (the Earls of Warwick), until 1978 – relatively recently, considering its grandeur and history (there has been a settlement on the site since the 10th century).
But I won’t give you a history lesson – you no doubt want to know what it’s like as a family day out! And the short story is, it’s great!
Operated by Merlin Entertainment (think Legoland, Sealife Centre etc), they have made an historic castle into a really fun family day out.
On arriving, we were greeted by character-actors, dressed in medieval finery, welcoming us to the castle.
We then wandered down the path towards the castle, but were soon distracted by the Horrible Histories Maze, into which the children ran with little care about whether they might actually get lost or not. They had to collect stamps from the 6 different areas of the maze and then find their way out to claim a prize-badge – which they dutifully did.
We then hurried through the castle to see the live trebuchet demonstration. Trebuchet are huge catapults used for attacking and beseiging towns, and they can throw large boulders up to 600 metres – so they are impressive instruments of war! Sadly, it was too windy today to see the trebuchet in action – but we have seen it before, and it is amazing to witness. Instead we were treated to a talk about how trebuchet were used in medieval warfare – which I found interesting and amusing, and was delivered really well. And we still got to see the huge trebuchet, which the children enjoyed.
After this we wandered around the grounds, watched some children trying out archery (only £5 for 12 arrows), and found ourselves in the Peacock Garden, which was delightfully full of beautiful peacocks, displaying their amazing plumage. We enjoyed a Costa coffee from the orangery and then went back to the river to watch the main event we had come for – the Falconer’s Quest bird show.
And it was SUCH a good show.
I have seen several bird shows and, in truth, I always love them – as do the children. But this one stood out for me. They only showed us 3 birds, which is fewer than most shows I have been to – I’m guessing this was again due to the high winds as the website talks about seeing up to 70 different species of bird – but even still, the birds were truly amazing and they performed so so well for the crowd. We loved it.
The first bird was a Peregrin Falcon – the fastest animal on the planet. The handler demonstrated the incredible speed of these birds by getting the falcon to dive at some bait that he swung around his head. It was truly something seeing just how fast it could go.
Second up was a Harris Hawk – a much larger bird, which flew fast and low over the crowd repeatedly, causing many exclamations of joy. It was so close that the bird’s wings touched the heads of many people – it was a fantastic experience.
The third and final bird was a White Tailed Eagle – the largest bird of prey I have ever seen and, apparently, the biggest in the UK. It is a majestic bird, and amazing to watch it flying overhead and swooping for food. The handlers even got it to ‘go fishing’ and retrieve food from the river, showing what skilful flyers these birds are.
Once the Falconer’s Quest was over, we went into the castle proper – at last! The castle itself is an amazing building – with several towers. We enjoyed the Time Tower – a short and entertaining ‘tour’ of the castle’s history, with a couple of video presentations, ending in a display of portraits of former owners that our children likened to the moving photos from Harry Potter.
After a short picnic on the castle lawn, we climbed down into the dingy castle Gaol, (we gave the Dungeons a miss – they looked too scary for our lot!) and then went outside the castle walls again to watch the Bowman, who gave an enjoyable talk on how archers were trained and used through history – whilst shooting arrows at a target across the moat (with impressive accuracy, given the 40 mile-an-hour winds!)
Back into the castle after that, we went straight up the Princess Tower, which is a lovely attraction for the younger children (it’s recommended for ages 8 and under). Up in the tower, a ‘Princess’ tells an interactive story for the children, who sit in front of her on the floor. It’s quite a short show, with plenty of props and talking pictures – and all the children seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.
We then went into the Great Hall, where there were impressive suits of armour and exhibits to look at, set in the most recently inhabited part of the castle. We wandered through rooms which showed waxworks of previous owners and historic visitors to the castle, and saw the bedrooms and living quarters. It was really interesting to see this part of the castle.
Finally we rounded off our trip by climbing the tower steps to the top and walking along the castle wall battlements – hard work on the legs, particularly for the elderly or little ones – but a lot of fun.
By then we were exhausted, and decided to head home – but there was plenty more that we didn’t get to see! We’ll certainly be returning to Warwick Castle again – it’s a fun and educational day out that has something for everyone, and I heartily recommend it.