Weekend guide to… Warwick and Kenilworth

Make your weekend a tale of two castles while visiting a town that shaped English history. By Caroline Greene

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FRIDAY – ARRIVAL
Warwick is a small town, but the fact that the county bears its name reflects the enormous power held by the earls of Warwick in the 15th and 16th centuries. The tourist information centre in Jury Street provides a map of the Town Trail, but on arrival you will undoubtedly be drawn straight towards Warwick Castle.
Viewed from the outside, it is the quintessential boys’ own fortress. It has a fantastic history and entering it today you could feel that its character is still unresolved. Amid scenes of medieval battle re-enactment, actors in Victorian costume and various television tie-in exhibitions, you may not be sure quite which ‘theme’ you are looking at. However, the visit is worth it for the treasures in the state rooms alone – look out for a portrait of Henry VIII that fills the frame.
After being surrounded by so many centuries of history at the castle, you’ll be ready for refreshment, so head for the centre of town to the Rose and Crown in Market Place, a pub-restaurant that happily mixes the old and the new.

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SATURDAY – BEARS AND GARDENS
If the castle is the big brash jewel in Warwick’s crown, then the Lord Leycester Hospital is the town’s little gem. Established as a home for retired soldiers by Robert Dudley in 1571, today the building leans towards you at the top of the High Street, inviting you in. Its chapel, guild hall and great hall are all fine examples of their kind, but the galleried courtyard has a special charm.
The decoration here has theatrical exuberance. Facing you are two heraldic devices – the bear and ragged staff adopted by the earls of Warwick, and a spiky blue porcupine, symbol of the Sidney family. Under the gables is a playful series of bears. You will see bears all over Warwick; to devise your own town trail, just follow the bear.
It is a short walk to some remarkable gardens at Hill Close. Several years ago, this spot was overgrown, but the remains of brick summerhouses were discovered and now more than a dozen plots have been restored. These ‘detached gardens’ were popular in Victorian times, when houses in the town had no outdoor space.
Walking back into the town, you will see the church of St Mary’s ahead. Its tower is well worth climbing for the views. Inside, the Beauchamp Chapel is a marvel; outside, turn left off Church Street into a narrow alley called the Tink-a-Tank (so named, it is said, because it echoed the sound of hobnail boots) and then right, to the foot of Castle Hill.
Here you’ll discover pretty Mill Street, with its half-timbered houses stretching round the foot of Warwick Castle. Walk to the end, because tucked between the last cottage and the river is the Mill Garden, which has delightful planting schemes and affords stunning views of the medieval bridge, the castle and its old mill.
Drink it in until it’s time to head for Kenilworth where you’ll receive a warm welcome at the Queen and Castle, a pub with a view of another fortification.

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SUNDAY – KENILWORTH
Kenilworth Castle is the perfect romantic ruin. Set on a rise in the ground and now ‘moated’ by grass, its red stones beg for exploration. If you are staying in Old Kenilworth, then you can stroll through Abbey Fields to the castle grounds – or you can drive to the car park.
Inside the gates, the impressive half-timbered stable block houses a café and an exhibition explaining the castle’s history. Besides being an important defensive structure and symbol of great power, Kenilworth is testament to the long-running love affair between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. An exhibition in the gatehouse tells more of the story, but nothing demonstrates Dudley’s desire to please Elizabeth more than the apartment wing and garden he built especially for her visits.
Outside the castle, you can walk around the once-watery ‘mere’ (first, take a slight detour to the south-west of it on to the attractive raised track for a short way). Or you can strike out to the south, beyond the car park, and join the merging Centenary and Millennium Ways. A six-mile walk across farmland will take you to Warwick Castle at the other end. Or, diverting to the north of Warwick, you will pass Guy’s Cliffe, a site associated with Warwickshire folklore. However, a shorter stroll along these bridleways from Kenilworth Castle is equally rewarding, as you mingle with sheep and listen to the songs of skylarks.