I now resume my account of my summer vacation in England. Our last episode ended with my arrival in Kenilworth and being welcomed into the home of my dear friends Paul and Christian for a week’s stay seeing the sites of Warwickshire.
1) Today’s destination was Warwick Castle, family seat of the Grevilles (who became Earls of Warwick) from 1604 until 1978 when it was sold to a . . . to an entertainment concern. We caught the train from Kenilworth to Leamington Spa, where we were to transfer to another train to Warwick, but alas, there was some sort of track or signalling issue, trains were slowed, and we missed our connection. Which was just fine, because there was a good old-fashioned doubledecker English bus going our way after only a short wait, and I had my very first ride on the top of a doubledecker bus in England!
2) Once we disembarked in Warwick we popped into a little Portuguese bakery for flat white coffees and a bit of pastry. I bravely withstood pressure to get some tee-tiny Portuguese pastry in favor of the black and white sponge frosted with chocolate. This little pause strengthened us to press on to the castle.
3) I’d been warned that the castle was run a bit along the lines of ye Ylde Renaissance Fayre, so I was prepared for That Sort of Thing. But en route I suddenly remembered (and why would I have forgotten?!) that this was the site of Daisy Countess of Warwick’s super-elaborate weekend house parties that often included Edward VII . . . and where Lady Randolph Churchill (née Jennie Jerome) met her handsome, much younger husband George Cornwallis-West, so I was all for it.
4) On site, we immediately bypassed all that jousting and dungeons and medieval meat pasty business and went almost directly to the interior tour (mercifully self-guided). This was divided into two sections: what I would call the “state rooms,” formal chambers with some grand portraits as well as a state bedchamber including furniture belonging to Queen Anne (and the bed she died in!); and the Royal Weekend Party, a suite of rooms in Victorian/Edwardian style representing of Daisy Countess’s house parties - complete with piped in music and commentary, and wax figures of all the famous guests.
5) After that, we explored the grounds and the beautiful gardens a bit. I noted how the peacocks tended to confine themselves behind hedges . . . where the tourists couldn’t get at them.
6) We left the castle and wandered a bit until Paul (or was it Christian?) discovered an almost-abandoned restaurant in an inn, very severe, very minimalist. But good sandwiches and good wine added to the already good company!
7) After what felt like aimless wandering through many twists and turns, we ended up at the Collegiate Church of St. Mary, which was more interesting than Warwick Castle in some ways. My Dimmick cousins might (or might not) care to know that this is the ancestral church of our distinguished cousin George Washington. It’s also the final resting place of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and his redoubtable second wife Lettice Knollys, mother of that deranged but beautiful hothead Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.
8) At this point we drifted back into some square that included - oh joy! - an independent bookstore! The boys were very patient as I browsed, waiting outside as I found the perfect book to buy on this trip: a paperback of James Pope-Hennessey’s official biography of Queen Mary! (You’ll recall that I prepared for the trip by reading The Quest for Queen Mary, Pope-Hennessey’s interview notes with most of royal Europe.)
9) Flushed with this triumph, at this point we headed into a pub on the square, the interior all purple and shudder gilded exposed brick. That was a bit taxing even for my love of the garish!
10) Train back home, and at this point I forget what we did for dinner, but it was low key and at home and perfectly delightful.