For the first two weeks we were in England, we lived in hotels. That’s fun for about 3 days when you have 4 kids and 23 bags crammed into two rooms. So we went looking for outdoor adventures at every possible opportunity.
One of the first things we did when we arrived here was to join the English Heritage Trust, an organization that maintains important historical sites across the UK. As a member, you get free admission to many of the sites and discounted admission to many more. It’s definitely worth the price of a family membership since we intend to visit as many cool historical sites as we can while we’re here — including Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge, and Dover Castle.
Our first English Heritage excursion was to Kenilworth Castle, an epic and sprawling ruin of a castle, parts of which date back to the 12th century. It was just over an hour away from our hotel, and it was our first road trip in our new car, too.
The castle itself was just immense, and you could touch and climb on everything. There were new, modern staircases built in to many of the towers so you could walk up and get these amazing views of Queen Elizabeth I’s personal rooms and beyond that, through the massive windows, to the landscape so picturesque it was almost unbelievable.
But, even cooler, many of the original stone staircases are still intact, and so you can climb down into the cool dark of the lower floors on stone stairs grooved from a thousand years of footsteps.
The gift shop at the entrance to the castle provided the children with a map for a scavenger hunt, and at different points they had to solve a puzzle to find the answer to a question. In the end, they received stamps saying they’d conquered the castle. It was the perfect way to keep them engaged, although to be honest, the castle itself was so amazing, it didn’t need any assistance.
There were also tents set up in the open areas with demonstrations of medieval doctors, weapons, and clothing. Obviously the kids loved trying on the outfits.
We had lunch from the tea room and then explored the Elizabethan Gardens that were recreated based on how they would have looked hundreds of years ago.
The most amazing part about the entire day was that there basically wasn’t anywhere you couldn’t go — the entire castle was accessible to the public. The children could climb the walls, go to the very tops of the towers, cartwheel through the courtyard, and touch anything and everything.
So often places like this allow you a glimpse of what something was once like, but at this castle, you could just completely immerse yourself. You didn’t have to imagine how amazing the views were from the Queen’s chamber, because you could stand there and look out the window yourself. You didn’t have to imagine what it looked like when the castle was under siege and massive rocks were hurled at the walls, because the holes are still there and you can climb the wall and touch them.
You could walk through the garden and smell the flowers. You could wear the clothes. It made it all so much more real and accessible.
This was a place that brought history alive and made my kids ask questions and come away with a better understanding of a different time. Combine that level of learning with the amount of walking, running, climbing, jumping, twirling, and exploring we all did, and it was the perfect outing for us.