Shakespeare’s England

Shakespeare's England

As a small boy growing up in Warwick in the late 1950s, I used to play (they call it hanging around these days) with my friends in the grounds of Warwick Castle. It was, in those days, still owned and lived in by the Earl of Warwick who allowed ratepayers and their families free and unlimited access. Just a bike ride away was the near derelict and abandoned Compton Verney House. Here we ran riot, not just in the grounds but also the house, pausing only to watch the mighty V Bombers of the RAF taking off overhead from the adjacent base of RAF Gaydon!

As a nuclear bomber station, security was tight, though not too tight for a bunch of boys from Warwick. We spent many summer afternoons lying at the end of the runway within touching distance of Valiants and the occasional visiting Vulcans and Victors. I find it somewhat ironic that the nuclear warheads were stored in some secrecy closer to Compton Verney than RAF Gaydon.

Fifty years later Compton Verney is the home of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park. RAF Gaydon is home to Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin and the site of The British Motor Museum. And, Warwick Castle is widely recognised as one of the finest medieval castles in the world (if not the finest!).

Individually these three very different attractions are acknowledged as some of the finest places to visit in this country. These are three giants in Shakespeare’s country, and all within 9 miles of the Bards home of Stratford upon Avon and each worthy of a day’s visit.

We will start at home with Warwick Castle. No longer in the hands of the Earls of Warwick, it is part of the mighty Merlin Entertainment Group. They’ve spared no expense into transforming the castle into a major visitor attraction without detracting from its medieval origins.

If you are visiting for the first time, try and enter Warwick from Banbury Road and pause as you cross the Avon Bridge, this will enable you to in one of the finest views in England – the castle perched above the Warwickshire Avon.

There are two entrances into the castle from the town, either off Castle Hill or through the town gate. There is ample carparking near both or if approaching off M40 junction 15, brown signs take you straight to the main castle carpark and entrance.

I must be honest now, Warwick Castle is not cheap to visit but it is worth every penny! Keep an eye on their website for special deals and save money by buying your tickets in advance. You can also save your Tesco Clubcard points and exchange for tickets. If you plan on being a regular visitor there’s a fantastic value annual pass you can buy too.

Warwick Castle is open every day of the year except Christmas day and even though it may sound cliché there really is something for everyone. Not to be missed is the interior – magnificent state rooms and the huge Great Hall overflowing with historic artefacts. The somewhat scary dungeons impress and there is a fully working and truly awesome trebuchet.

There are regular shows and displays that will appeal to all. Add to this plenty of variety in eating options and Warwick Castle is a great venue for a day of family fun and… it’s still a great place for a little boy from Warwick pretending to be a knight in shining armour.

Warwick Castle, my old playground! www.warwick-castle.com

Just eight miles south of Warwick adjacent to junction 12 of the M40 is the British Motor Museum. Winner of a Gold award in the Visit England Awards for 2016.

Very much a family friendly museum, it reveals the history of the British motor industry. There are hands-on interactive zones, playgrounds and picnic areas plus the aptly named Junction 12 Café with a delicious range of hot and cold meals.

Open every day from 10am to 5pm, except for the period from December 24th to January 1st. The entrance cost is just £14 for an adult or £9 for a child aged 5-16yrs. For added value of the feel-good variety applying gift aid to your ticket it gives you unlimited admission for 12 months – fantastic value.

Amongst the vast variety of cars, I was very much taken by the Austin Healeys on display… built in Warwick with assistance from my dad! Equally impressive are the display of Jaguars, built in nearby Coventry.

Admission to the museum includes entrance to the adjacent Collections Centre, cars that were previously in the reserve collections of both the British Motor Heritage and Jaguar Trusts. Here you can learn how the cars are stored and watch restorations in progress in the workshops below, not to be missed I assure you.

The British Motor Museum – not just for petrolheads but something for the whole family, a great day out and great value. www.britishmotormuseum.com

Now it would be very wrong to say I have saved the best till last but this is my personal favourite… Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park.

For some years this has been a bit of a secret but it is now recognised as one of the world’s major art galleries and possibly the finest example of landscape genius Lancelot “Capability” Brown’s work.

Open from Tuesday to Sunday each week and bank holiday Mondays from 10.30am until 6pm (Collections, Exhibitions and Compton Kitchen from 11am – 5pm). The price is a very generous £8.50 for adults, with reduced prices for children and concessions. As with Warwick Castle and The British Motor Museum there are some terrifically priced annual tickets. The current exhibition is titled Creating the Countryside… Thomas Gainsborough to today. It runs until June 18th, displaying works by Gainsborough, Stubbs and Constable, as well as contemporary pieces by Grayson Perry, Matt Collishaw and Anna Fox. My sense of humour was tickled by the exhibit depicting the darker side of country living including a souvenir tea tray from Midsomer Norton!

Permanent exhibitions include British portraits including some from the Tudor years, the largest collection of British folk art in the UK and one of Europe’s top collections of Chinese art.

Future exhibitions include a reinterpretation of Compton Verneys Womens’ Library, The Art of Perception, Suerat to Riley and Inside Stories by Quentin Blake.

There is much for the whole family. Several events planned in the park can be seen on the website, an adventure playground is open all year, and the exciting Clearing Project sits alongside the lake. I can only scratch the surface here but the website www.comptonverney.org is full of information of what’s on, what’s going to be on and everything else you need to plan a full day out.

So, there we have it… three giant attractions in Shakespeare’s England… and we haven’t even met the main man yet.

Oh and by the way… you may, if you look hard enough, find engraved somewhere on the external walls of both Warwick Castle and Compton Verney – PEJ 1958!

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