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The plaintitive cat-like cries of wandering peacocks greet visitors as they approach Warwick Castle, in Warwickshire, England. Much like the omnipotent Earls of Warwick who once rivaled monarchs, the peacocks strut boldly and fearlessly along the ancient grounds.
Warwick exemplifies the romantic and fanciful image of the medieval castle. Always a great lover of these stone stuctures, my first view of Warwick took my breath away. It's reassuring to know the places you dream about sometimes actually exist.
Evolving over 900 years, the castle began when William the Conqueror placed a wooden fortification on the spot, as part of a safeguard against enemies to the north. Others claim the first fortress at this location was raised as early as 914, by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great.
Through the centuries, Warwick grew into a formidable stone stronghold for men so influential, they could make or break the King of England.
Today, the traveler to Warwick can re-live the past by attending an 1898 weekend house party, courtesy of Madame Tussand's famous wax creations. A group of rooms have been set aside to exhibit typical scenes.
In the summer of 1898, the Earl and Countess of Warwick held numerous weekend parties at the castle. On the occasion portrayed, the principle guest was the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. Other party guests and servants round-out the setting. As if somehow stopped in mid-sentence, the figures are eerily life-like, chatting over a card game, listening to a recital or commencing their chores.
The Countess stands before her full-length mirror, as her maid crouches on the floor to adjust her stunning lace and silk gown. In the next room, the Earl's valet fills his bath with kettles of steaming water. The figures in the natural setting add an entirely new dimension to the already striking atmosphere of the castle.
A somewhat newer exhibit called the Kingmaker, also by Tussaud's, adds smells and atmospheric sounds to a waxwork scene of the preparations for Richard Earl of Warwick's final battle in 1471.
Our next stop took us outside into the vast, oval courtyard, where surrounded by massive stone walls, my imagination kicked into high gear. The stage was set for mounted knights to charge through the gates, while grand ladies in voluminous velvet gowns strolled along.
Imagination turned into reality when I saw a knight on horseback heading my way. Officially titled the Red Knight, the gentleman portrays Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who lived from 1345 to 1401. He comes adorned in authentic period costume, including armor. When man and horse are fully armored, their combined weight equals one ton!
The Red Knight patrols the grounds posing for pictures and answering questions during the summer months.
Guided tours of the castle state rooms are available. One stop is the handsome Cedar Drawing Room. Intricately carved cedarwood paneling gives this room it's name. Much of the room is continental European, including a finely crafted ceiling from Italy and carpeting from France, patterned with the Warwick crest. Chandeliers of Waterford crystal and Chippendale furniture top off this who's who in elegant furnishings.
In the Queen Anne Bedroom, Delft tapestries dating from 1604 contain remarkable stitch detail and colors still vibrant after nearly 400 years. The tapesties depict a Medieval garden scene, complete with lush foliage, animals and even insects. They are considered among the most valuable treasures of the castle.
What Medieval castle would be complete without it's ghosts and haunted tower? True to form, Warwick is home to at least two popular apparitions. One female specter is said to be the spirit of a dairy maid named Moll Bloxham.
Legend says cunning Moll cheated the townsfolk with her uneven measurements of milk and butter. When the Earl finally learned of her offenses, he immediately dismissed her. Moll flew into a rage and locked herself in one of the towers. The Earl, fearing her threats, sent three priests up the tower to investigate. They broke down the door and much to their surprise, found a snarling black hound, instead of a woman. The hound dashed past them and threw itself over the castle wall in the river below.
A less dramatic, but more famous ghost of Warwick is that of Sir Fulke Greville. His spirit is usually found in the Watergate Tower, where some say he was murdered by a male servant. The servant supposedly learned he had been left out of this master's will. Yet another theory claims Greville was actually murdered elsewhere, but his ghost is partial to the study, just outside his bedchamber.
All visitors to Warwick make the trek down narrow stairs to the dungeon. Here you can see the gruesome torture devices, including a Roman rack and oubliette. The oubliette is called a "dungeon within a dungeon," where the prisoner had just enough room to lie in total darkness. Carved into the wall is a prisoner's inscription dating from the year 1642.
If time allows, venture into the 60 acres of tranquil grounds and gardens. The free-spirited peacocks may escort you along the pageant field and they've even been known to visit the local pubs for hand-outs. The Victorian boathouse on river island offers perfect views of the high walls of the castle.
The castle, locally proclaimed the "greatest Medieval castle in all of Britain," is located Northwest of London, between Coventry and Stratford-Upon-Avon. If you wish to see the entire castle and grounds, plan for an entire day. Thereare several restaurants on the premises as well as picnic areas and gift shops.