County guide: Warwickshire
From castles to art galleries and gardens to museums, there’s more to this Midlands county than Shakespeare. Here, we recommend five things you won’t want to miss
It might seem an odd remark to make about a venue established more than 1,100 years ago, but a visit to this Grade I-listed medieval relic is a surprisingly youthful and lively affair. Run by Merlin Entertainments, Warwick is one of the UK’s most family-oriented castles, with performers helping to bring history to life. There are jousting tournaments, birds-of-prey handlers and the world’s largest trebuchet (a 22-tonne siege engine that fires projectiles), while the dungeon stages a 50-minute theatrical walk-through complete with actors taking on the roles of witches, torturers and more. Adults can even attend immersive medieval banquets on select Saturdays in the atmospheric 14th-century undercroft. Plenty of more sedate pleasures can be enjoyed elsewhere at the castle, too, from the lushly decorated state rooms to the Victorian garden with peacocks both real and topiary. Options for overnight stays, meanwhile, include medieval ‘glamping’ in woodland lodges by the riverbank.
Much of this picturesque market town looks like it has been caught in a Tudor time warp, a tribute to the era in which its most famous son lived. Shakespeare’s Birthplace allows you to explore the half-timbered Henley Street house in which the playwright spent his childhood, while the former homes of his wife, mother and daughter – Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Mary Arden’s Farm and Hall’s Croft, respectively – offer a vision of Jacobean life preserved in aspic. If you prefer to experience Shakespeare on stage, the Royal Shakespeare Company has two world-class theatres that regularly stage the Bard’s classics. Highlights for the summer season include a production of Macbeth, right, starring former Doctor Who actor Christopher Eccleston (until 18 September).
While the setting is one of the Midland’s finest – a neoclassical Robert Adam mansion surrounded by 120 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped parkland – Compton Verney’s art gallery is nevertheless the pearl within this rather glamorous oyster. Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship (17 March to 10 June) heads up the spring exhibition programme, collecting together almost 500 prints, paintings and objects made by the early 20th century artist-designer and his peers, and which offer a bucolic vision of British life between the two world wars. The exhibition’s launch coincides with a rehang of the gallery’s extensive collection of British folk art. Paintings and objets d’art made by artists with no formal training will sit alongside newly commissioned pieces by folk-influenced contemporary painter-printmaker Mark Hearld.
Humphry Repton was the last great landscape gardener of the Georgian era, a worthy successor to Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. In 1809, Repton prepared one of his famed leather-bound ‘red books’ for the Leigh family, detailing suggested improvements for their Stoneleigh estate. To celebrate the bicentenary of his death in 1818, the book will be displayed alongside an exhibition of his designs. The abbey itself combines an original Jacobean house with a newer Baroque wing, and former visitors include Queen Victoria and Jane Austen – the latter is thought to have used Stoneleigh as a basis for the eponymous house in her 1814 novel, Mansfield Park.
Upton House and Gardens
As son and heir to the co-founder of Shell, Walter Samuel, the dashing 2nd Viscount Bearsted, enjoyed a level of wealth that most of us can only dream of. However, despite owning a London home, a French Riviera villa and, from 1927, this fabulous country pile, Lord and Lady Bearsted were shrewd with their money and philanthropic in their outlook. Upton House and Gardens was lovingly reshaped in their image and remains so today. Lady Bearsted commissioned pioneering garden designer Kitty Lloyd-Jones, who introduced a kitchen garden and stylish 1930s terraces, while Lord Bearsted conceived a home for his burgeoning fine art collection, including key pieces by Bosch, Bruegel and El Greco all now on display.