Explore The West Midlands and the Peak District
Pocket-sized WARWICK, just eight miles northeast of Stratford and easily reached by bus and train, is famous for its massive castle, but it also possesses several charming streetscapes erected in the aftermath of a great fire in 1694. An hour or two is quite enough time to nose around the town centre, though you’ll need the whole day if, braving the crowds and the medieval musicians, you’re also set on exploring the castle and its extensive grounds: either way, Warwick is the perfect day-trip from Stratford.Read More
Warwick CastleTowering above the River Avon at the foot of the town centre, Warwick Castle is often proclaimed the “greatest medieval castle in Britain”. This claim is valid enough if bulk equals greatness, but actually much of the existing structure is the result of extensive nineteenth-century tinkering. It’s likely that the Saxons raised the first fortress on this site, though things really took off with the Normans, who built a large motte and bailey here towards the end of the eleventh century. Almost three hundred years later, the eleventh Earl of Warwick turned the stronghold into a formidable stone castle, complete with elaborate gatehouses, multiple turrets and a keep.
The entrance to the castle is through the old stable block at the foot of Castle Street. Beyond, a footpath leads round to the imposing moated and mounded East Gate. Over the footbridge – and beyond the protective towers – is the main courtyard. You can stroll along the ramparts and climb the towers, but most visitors head straight for one or other of the special, very touristy displays installed inside the castle’s many chambers and towers. The grounds are perhaps much more enjoyable, acres of woodland and lawn inhabited by peacocks and including a large glass conservatory. A footbridge leads over the River Avon to River Island, the site of jousting tournaments and other such medieval hoopla.
St Mary’s Church
St Mary’s ChurchNear Castle Street is St Mary’s Church, which was rebuilt in a weird Gothic-Renaissance amalgam after the fire of 1694. Most of the chancel, however, remained untouched – and it’s a simply glorious illustration of the Perpendicular style with a splendid vaulted ceiling of flying and fronded ribs. On the right-hand side of the chancel is the Beauchamp Chantry Chapel, which contains the equally beautiful tomb of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who is depicted in an elaborate, gilded-bronze suit of armour of Italian design from the tip of his swan helmet down to his mailed feet. A griffin and a bear guard Richard, who lies with his hands half joined in prayer so that, on the Resurrection, his first sight would be of Christ triumphant at the Second Coming. The adjacent tomb of Ambrose Dudley is of finely carved and painted alabaster, as is that of Robert Dudley and his wife – the same Dudley who founded the Lord Leycester Hospital.
At the outbreak of World War II, COVENTRY, eleven miles north of Warwick, was a major engineering centre and its factories attracted the attentions of the Luftwaffe, who well-nigh levelled the town in a huge bombing raid on November 14, 1940. Out of the ashes arose what is now Coventry’s one sight of note, Basil Spence’s St Michael’s Cathedral, raised alongside the burnt-out shell of the old cathedral right in the centre of town and dedicated with a performance of Benjamin Britten’s specially written War Requiem in 1962. One of the country’s most successful postwar buildings, the cathedral’s pink sandstone is light and graceful, the main entrance adorned by a stunningly forceful St Michael Defeating the Devil by Jacob Epstein. Inside, Spence’s high and slender nave is bathed in light from the soaring stained-glass windows, a perfect setting for the magnificent and immense tapestry of Christ in Glory by Graham Sutherland. The choice of artist could not have been more appropriate. A painter, graphic artist and designer, Sutherland (1903–80) had been one of Britain’s official war artists, his particular job being to record the effects of German bombing. A canopied walkway links the new cathedral with the old, whose shattered nave flanks the church tower and spire that somehow eluded the bombs.