Location: Castle Green, Kenilworth CV8 1NG
History: Kenilworth is one of England’s most magnificent castles. First built in the 1120s and a royal castle for most of its history, it was expanded by King John, John of Gaunt and Henry V. In 1563 Elizabeth I granted it to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who converted Kenilworth into a lavish palace. The castle’s fortifications were dismantled in 1650, and the ruins later became famous thanks in part to Walter Scott’s 1821 romance Kenilworth.
Review: I actually visited this place over two years ago with my family for my 20th birthday – I even wrote a review about it (which you can read here).
But I thought I might as well write another one, as I really love this place!
And besides this was a different and new experience, as it was the first time that Luke had visited this place.
It was a really cute day anyway, as we had decided that as well as visiting Warwick Castle that same day, that Luke would also get to meet my grandparents for the first time!
Anyway, going back to Kenilworth Castle…
This is an English Heritage site, and the great thing about being an English Heritage member is that you get free parking. But unlike the National Trust, you need to have a sticker in your car to get this free parking.
Now, due to my inherent laziness, I hadn’t put the sticker in my car at that time (I know, I know, it’s not exactly hard to do, I just hadn’t got around to it).
Anyway, it wasn’t the end of the world, as I just explained it to the really kind lady at the ticket desk, and once me and Luke showed her our cards they just gave us a temporary parking thing. Moral of this story, if you become an English Heritage member, just put the sticker in straight away haha!
What I love about this place, is that as soon as you’ve got your ticket to enter (I think you get given a wristband thing), you can then walk up to the castle and you can enjoy the sheer size of it right from the start.
If you like, you can even take a walk all around the castle and enjoy seeing it from afar.
As you can see, this place is huge! This is along one of the walks around that you can do, however, if you are keen to just go and explore the castle, then you don’t have to do these walks (you could save them for another day if you decide to return in the future).
Anyway, like any other glorious ruin, the most important challenge at Kenilworth is to try and imagine how this place looked in its glory days under John of Gaunt or Robert Dudley when it had the largest hall in England.
This is a serious challenge since its man-made lake is now basically dry land, unless it rains. But unlike many other ruins that I have visited, you can clearly see at Kenilworth Castle that the English Heritage are trying to help you with this challenge.
You can get a perfect idea of what this place was like if you go and visit the magnificent stables (which also is the coffee shop).
In here you will find out the history of the castle from the days of Geoffrey de Clinton who built the first castle in the 12th century up to modern times. So this can help give you just a general idea of the history of this castle.
Once me and Luke finished having a look round this place (we also stopped for cup of tea here as well, since why not) we decided to walk up to Leicester’s Gatehouse
For anyone visiting Kenilworth for the first time, I suggest that this is the first place you visit (after the stables of course).
This building was first built in the 1570s, but it wasn’t a house then, it was actually an imposing castle entrance which was later transformed into a private house after 1650.
The building you see in the photo above is exactly how the caretaker left it in 1930.
This building has so much history inside of it, and it was a really fascinating place to explore.
For starters, the first room you enter sends you straight back in time.
It’s simple, yet elegant.
But that’s not the most impressive thing about this place.
What was really great to see was the Oak room next door.
Not just the room but the fact that it contains a beautifully ornate alabaster fireplace which once stood in Elizabeth I’s private rooms.
You can also explore more rooms upstairs – there’s the Elizabethan bedroom which is quite spectacular.
There is also another exhibit at the top, that you should also make sure you check out. This exhibition is dedicated to the relationship between Dudley and Elizabeth and it includes several original artefacts and paintings.
Once we had finished looking around this place, we ended up walking over to the garden.
Now this garden is incredible – you can walk in the footsteps of the great Tudor queen through the garden and imagine the opulence and splendour of Elizabethan Kenilworth.
It was lost in for the world for almost 400 years, but now it has been recreated into a place of peace and tranquillity, full of colour and fragrant walkways.
We wandered the pathways and discovered the marble fountain, the ornate aviary and the Earl of Leicester’s emblem of the bear and ragged staff.
It was just peaceful and nice. A really beautiful place.
I could almost imagine myself being thrown back in time.
This isn’t the end of the castle though, oh no. There is so much more to it, so much more to explore.
On the left of this picture is the the tower built by Leicester to court Elizabeth I (after 350 years you can go all the way up the top of it as well, which is great). You can stand at floor lever with the queen’s private rooms, which are right at the very top. You can enjoy the same spectacular views that she enjoyed!
I have to thank the English Heritage for doing this though, because thanks to them there are staircases and platforms that take you 18 metres up into the tower, to the level of the fireplaces and windows built specially for the royal visit.
You get to see the queen’s private staircase (one that was built just for her). Although you cannot walk on them though, but oh well.
It’s a shame that this is a ruin, as I can only imagine how spectacular this would have been, I mean just imagine this tower in 1575… these rooms would have been luxurious, elegant and flooded with light from enormous glass windows.
On the right of the above photo is the castle keep – this castle keep was the heart of castle life for 500 years!
The Norman keep was a defensive powerhouse, built three stories high with walls 14 feet wide. It is still a dominant feature of the castle today.
In the middle of the picture (you should be able to make out another ruin), this is John of Gaunt’s Great Hall. The Great Hall was one of the finest of its kind and at the cutting edge of 14th century architectural design.
Here is what the Great Hall looks like… obviously the floor has disappeared, but you can still get a good idea of what it would have been liked.
For a little bit of history, this was built to reinforce Kenilworth’s position of power and wealth it played host to medieval monarchs and Tudor kings.
Pretty impressive right?
I love this place, there is so much history to it and so much to see.
I really can’t wait to be able to go back to this place, it’s one of my favourite English Heritage sites!