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West Midlands Warwick

Lonely Planet listed Warwick as one of top ten places to visit in Europe in 2016. The area has been inhabited
since early neolithic times, so there is a lot of history attached to the town. A castle was built just after the Norman Conquest to subdue the north. The Earls of Warwick were powerful noblemen during Medieval times. The Great Fire of Warwick in 1694 destroyed most of the town, so most of the architecture is Georgian or later, although the medieval street plan survives.

WARWICK CASTLE standing on a cliff above the River Avon still has the original Norman motte although the formidable facade dates from the C14th. In the C17th it was no longer needed as a defensive fortress and became a luxurious country house. Even Queen Victoria stayed here. It has been open as a tourist attraction since 1900 and in 2001 was recognised as one of Britain’s top ten historic houses. It is now owned by Merlin Entertainments, who also own Alton Towers, and is now becoming much more of a theme park experience, with the ticket price to match. One of the advantages of this is that it is now the home of the Warwick Trebuchet, a reproduction of a medieval siege engine which is fired daily. Other attractions include Bird of Prey flights, archery displays, jousting etc. You can even spend a night here in one of the tower suites.

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ST MARY’S CHURCH is in the centre of the town and its tower dominates the square. It still has its Norman crypt but was rebuilt in the C14th to house the tombs of the Earls of Warwick. The Beauchamp Chapel with its rib vaulted ceiling is a wonderful example of Perpendicular architecture. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and favourite of Elizabeth I is buried her with his second wife.

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LORD LEYCESTER HOSPITAL by the original west gate into the town, is a lovely a lovely timber frame building, which has begun to sag over the years. Robert Dudley acquired the buildings and was given permission by the Queen to turn them into a hospital to house aged or disabled soldiers and their wives. The hospital is now run as a self supporting charity providing homes for ex servicemen. The chapel, great hall and master’s garden and cafe are open for visitors and the Regimental Museum of the Queen’s Own Hussars is in the old guildhall. There are often weddings in the chapel on Bank holiday weekends. It is worth ringing before visiting to check that the Hospital is open.

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Across the road is the QUAKER’S FRIENDS MEETING HOUSE with its garden which is a good place for cheap and tasty snacks at lunchtime.

There are other gardens which are worth searching out if in Warwick. The delightful MILL GARDEN is tucked away outside the old city wall and has one of the best views of Warwick Castle and its trebuchet. There are also the ruins of the old medieval bridge across the river. The gardens are informally laid out with lawns, trees, shrubs and flower beds, providing colour all year round. The gardens are immaculately kept and there isn’t a weed to be seen. It is a real sun trap and there are plenty of seats around the gardens to sit and enjoy the peace.

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HILL CLOSE GARDENS are Warwick’s hidden secret and I found them completely by accident. These can best be described as Victorian allotments. The townsfolk lived above their business and had backyards filled with workshops, wash house, privy and a stable. If they wanted to grow crops or keep animals they had to rent a plot of land on the edge of the town. These plots were once common in all big towns and cities but most have disappeared under housing or become overgrown and lost. Hill Close is a rare survivor. Sixteen of the gardens have been carefully restored to what they might have been like, complete with their sheds and summer houses. Each is different and all are beautifully kept with narrow hedge lined paths linking them.

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ST NICHOLAS PARK is an attractive public area with flower beds, children’s play area and fun park. It is a popular picnic spot in the summer months and boats can be hired then. ST NICHOLAS CHURCH is a late C18th Gothic revival and was historically the Castle church. The earl of Warwick is still a patron.

TOURIST INFORMATION is in Warwick Court House which also houses the WARWICKSHIRE YEOMANRY MUSEUM. The ballroom on the first floor is used for community events.

The lovely Jacobean ST JOHN’S HOUSE contains the social history museum with displays of clothes and toys as a well as a Victorian kitchen and schoolroom. The MUSEUM OF THE ROYAL WARWICKSHIRE REGIMENT OF FUSILIERS is also here.

The MARKET HALL MUSEUM in the C17th Market Hall recently reopened after refurbishment. This has displays on geology, natural history and early history, including the second largest early Roman coin hoard found in the country.

The SALTISFORD CANAL CENTRE is about a mile north west of the town centre and was originally the terminus of the Warwick to Birmingham Canal. The area has been restored with landscaped gardens and orchards to sit and admire the wildlife as well as moorings for narrowboats. A warehouse has been turned into a Visitor Centre with a small shop selling craft items and souvenirs.

There is also a RACECOURSE with regular meetings throughout the year.

Warwick is a compact small town and everywhere is within easy walking reach. This is a place to explore on foot.
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