IT’S joust the job for the school summer holidays – a chance for the kids to watch knights on horseback knocking six bells out of each other. And, hey, it’s educational too.
After a year in pandemic exile, Wars Of The Roses Live returns to historic Warwick Castle tomorrow (Saturday July 24) for a summer season of noisy mayhem, squeezing the 32-year conflict into 32 minutes.
It’s 1455 and the House of Lancaster holds the English throne but King Henry VI’s crown is challenged by the House of York, and the rival houses clash in battle and bloody war.
Re-enactors from The Knights of Middle England tell the tale in an action-packed half hour boasting spectacular stunts, tricks and showmanship, plus the odd puff of smoke machines.
There are jousting contests as riders from each House test their skills, spearing hoops (some of them on fire), whacking mace-wielding knight models and riding up, on and under their mounts.
They up the ante with horseback battles between riders, swashbuckling sword fighting and head-on charges. Watch those shields splinter as things get up, close and personal.
They’re cheered on (or booed) by the families in the grandstands erected on the castle’s river island. You choose which side to support, and take your place in the appropriate stand.
Throughout the action, a carefully scripted family-friendly play is acted out, telling the story of the enmity between Lancaster and York, and the events which led to the Tudor dynasty.
There are marriage proposals spurned and accepted, good guys turned bad, and just as peace is brokered, war has a nasty habit of breaking out all over again.
For those in need of a clue: Richard’s “a horse, a horse – my kingdom for a horse” doesn’t end well.
Here’s a tip. Get to your time slot early because queues can build up at the concession stands, especially the one selling ice creams and bottled water, particularly during sunny weather.
Stock up before you grab a place in the stand, ready for the start. Smaller children will get the best views down the front. There are no seats, rather steps on which to sit.
Although most kids will love the show, younger children may find the music and action a little overwhelming so take ear defenders if you think they might come in handy.
Don’t forget, too, the sunscreen, bottled water and baseball caps if we experience another heatwave. The sun can be unforgiving down on the river island. Those knights must be hot in all that armour!
So is it worth the money? Advance tickets bought online are currently £20 a head, and that’s for anyone over the age of three, so it can make a dent in your wallet.
Wars of the Roses Live runs twice daily, meaning you can catch a repeat show during your visit – I guarantee you’ll miss some of the action first time around as you take in the spectacle.
If that was all you get from the price of admission, then think twice. But consider this: the ticket also includes a host of other attractions in and around the castle that can make a full day out.
These currently include Zog & The Quest for the Golden Star, reviewed here; twice daily birds of prey display The Falconer’s Quest; expert archers in The Bowman Zone, and the Horrible Histories Maze.
And the kids will be impressed by the huge trebuchet just outside the Wars of the Roses stadium. It’s one of the world’s largest replica siege catapults, and a must photo opportunity.
Kids tend to love ghastly facts, so tell them that as well as flaming rocks and boulders, they used to fire off animal carcasses, sewage to spread disease, and even body parts of prisoners, too.
And then, of course, there’s the castle itself, perhaps the mightiest in the land and everybody’s idea of what a castle should look like, with towering walls, battlements, moat and drawbridge.
The great hall is just as impressive with its high ceiling and displays of armour. It’s used occasionally for banquets, too.
Off the castle green (ideal for picnics) there are exhibitions including The Kingmaker – a walkthrough experience as knights prepare for battle – and Royal Weekend Party, which recreates a Victorian high society soiree in one of the state rooms.
If you want to delve into the Castle Dungeon, however, it’s an extra £10 admission for a ghoulish interactive experience that’s laugh out loud funny but definitely not for younger children.
It’ll also cost you £5 a go if you want to try your own hand at archery, and be warned that the gift shops are peer pressure paradise for the kids. They will want swords and shields at the very least.
Unlikely in the the current heatwave, there’s also a rainy day promise. If it rains persistently for more than one hour during your visit – and you booked in advance – you could return for free. Check the terms and conditions.
Current admission is by advance booking only with one-day entry for over 3s at £20 online. There are also short break packages in The Knight’s Village from £47 per glamper.
A Merlin Discovery Pass allowing admission to Warwick Castle and 29 other of the chain’s attractions costs £89 but excludes school summer holidays and special events. See www.warwick-castle.com.
Still images are from last night’s preview performance of the 2021 show, which was open to annual pass holders and special guests.