PUBLISHED: 23:50 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 February 2013
The town of Kenilworth has a long and noble history. The town's traffic snarl-ups have eased and it's well worth making the journey says Petra May.
The town of Kenilworth has a long and noble history. The town's traffic snarl-ups have eased and it's well worth making the journey says Petra May. Photographs by Stuart Purfield
1. The Castle. OK so it's a ruin but it's a very attractive ruin and has been described as the 'definitive English castle'. Set in the gently rolling Warwickshire countryside the castle has been linked with some of the greatest names in English history. During Tudor times the castle was a hot-bed of entertainment. Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, took possession in the 1560s and created the beautiful formal gardens which have recently undergone restoration by English Heritage (see page XX). He also built the gatehouse on the northern boundary and a luxurious set of apartments. On one occasion in 1575 the visit of Queen Elizabeth I was celebrated with three weeks of pageants, music, dancing, fireworks, hunting and feasting. The merry-making was said to have brought him to the brink of bankruptcy. He may have thought it worth the while to entertain a Queen which whom he was romantically linked, so it was said.
The castle returned to the Crown after Robert Dudley's death. It changed hands several times during the Civil War before Oliver Cromwell ordered the demolition of the Keep and the draining of the Mere so that it could no longer be used as a defensive fortress. In 1984 English Heritage took over the role of maintaining this magnificent ruin. www.englishheritage.co.uk/kenilworthcastle
2. Fireworks. The Kenilworth Fireworks Display attracts thousands of people every year. And no wonder, with the backdrop of Kenilworth Castle you don't get a much classier setting. This year's display is on Saturday 8th November. Tickets are available from www.kenilworthroundtable.com and from the following Kenilworth outlets:
Kenilworth Castle Shop, Beck Butchers, Steve Crowe Butchers, Bakers Dozen, Boothroyd & Co, plus Woolworths Warwick and Leamington and all CV postcoded branches of Coventry Building Society.
3. Abbey Fields. There aren't many towns that have this much green space so near the centre of town. Play tennis, fly kites, take the children to play, walk the dog, see the Abbey ruin. www.friendsofabbeyfields.deman.co.uk
4. The clock tower. Find it at the head of Warwick Road by Abbey End. It was presented to Kenilworth in 1906 by G.W. Turner as a memorial to his late wife.
The upper part of the clock was damaged by a landmine in 1940 which also destroyed the Globe Hotel next to the site (now Abbey End). A plaque is inscribed as follows:
"Near this spot stood the Globe Hotel,
destroyed by enemy action
on the night of 21 November 1940
killing 28 people.
Their known names are recorded
On a tablet in the cemetery chapel"
5. Little Virginia. This is chocolate box territory. The old hamlet consists of 15 of the quaintest little cottages you'll ever find. They were built by Robert Dudley in the 17th century to house the masons and builders who worked on the castle. And did you know? This area is where the first potatoes, brought to England from the New World by Sir Walter Raleigh, were planted.
6. Markets. There are two and both are well worth the visit. A general market is at the front of Abbey End every Thursday with all the usual stalls - fruit and veg, a fishmonger, bread, flowers, cheeses, meat. Kenilworth Farmers' Market is held every second Saturday of the month (8th November) 9am to 2pm.
7. Take a dip. Abbey Fields Swimming Pool is the place to go all year round, and in the summer you can take a dip outdoors. There's also a poolside sauna and caf. Contact: Abbey Fields Swimming Pool, Bridge Street, Kenilworth, CV8 1BP. Tel: 01926 855478.
8. St Nicholas' Church. Look out for the magnificent Norman porch at the western entrance - it came from the Abbey ruins. Robert Dudley ordered it to be used for church repairs. www.stnicholaskenilworth.org.uk/history.htm
9. The 'treehouse' pub. The ancient pub once known as the Castle Tavern was built around an old oak tree - the trunk still supports the building. On the main route to the castle it proved popular with Elizabethan visitors and was later used as a billet for Cromwell's troops during the siege of Kenilworth Castle. The tavern eventually became a hotel - the Clarendon House Hotel - and is about to re-open with a new name...despite local objections. Worth a look to see how the old building has been refurbed.
10. Parliament Piece. A piece of olde farming England. The 14-acre parkland is managed traditionally with a hay crop being taken in early summer followed by grazing cattle. Its name originates from the belief that Henry III's parliament met there in 1266.
11. Stoneleigh Abbey. Founded by Cistercian monks in 1154 the place fairly groans with history. Reading the visitor book (if there was one) would be like reading a Who's Who of England. Charles I came here when the gates of Coventry were closed to him. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert came in 1858. Jane Austen used descriptions of the grand state rooms and gardens in some of her novels. Humphrey Repton worked on the landscaped parkland surrounding the abbey. You'll see all types of architecture - Gothic Revival, medieval, Elizabethan ...oh, and there's a pretty decent tearoom too.
Jane Austen tours are every Sunday at 1pm (tickets 6.50). Abbey opening hours are 10am to 5pm (admission 6.50 for adults). Tel: 01926 858585; www.stoneleighabbey.org
12. Shopping. Kenilworth has suffered recently due to the rebuilding works and traffic problems. But it's getting back to normal. It's always been a great place to shop because it has plenty of small independent retailers. The new development at Talisman Square, which includes the long-awaited Waitrose, is opening for business. Time to go!
13. The Theatre. There are two theatres in Kenilworth. The Talisman Theatre & Arts Centre seats 156 people at its theatre in Barrow Road and there are about 10 house productions a year. This month why not go and see The Accrington Pals by Peter Whelan, which contrasts the experiences of soldiers in the Great War with those they've left at home. Box Office: 01926 856548; www.talismantheatre.co.uk
The Priory Theatre on Rosemary Hill is a community theatre and looks great fun. There are no productions in November as the company is gearing up for panto season and its run of Jack & the Beanstalk. Box Office: 01926 863334; www.priorytheatre.co.uk
14. Raquet sports. Tennis, squash and croquet players should contact Kenilworth LTSC which has beautiful facilities on the edge of town. There's a growing croquet section with two well-maintained lawns. Racketball is also available. Contacts for tennis: www.kenilworthtennis.co.uk; squash: www.kenilworthsquash.co.uk; croquet: www.kenilworthcroquet.co.uk.
15. Knowle Hill. The place to head for butterflies (in the summer) as the grassland, scrub and woodland mix is ideal for the 25 species that have been recorded here.
16. Restaurants. Too many to mention by name but Kenilworth has for many years had a Michelin-starred restaurant (Simply Simpsons). The former owners have moved and it's now Petit Gourmand and chef XXX is doing his best to reclaim the star! Also check out The Orchard on Glasshouse Lane.
17. Crackley Wood. This was once part of the ancient forest that blanketed the whole of the West Midlands. It's a haven for wildlife. The wood is traditionally managed by coppicing. There's a hard-surface path to allow for disabled use. Follow the path to Berekswell Green and you'll have soon notched up four miles.
18. Stoneleigh Park. It's months until the next Royal Show but this is a park that Kenilworth can be proud of - the home of British agriculture. Outside show season the park is used as a conference venue.
19. Golf. Kenilworth Golf Club is a private members club but it does welcome visitors so if you're itching to get on the fairway why not give them a call? Tel: 01926 858517; www.kenilworthgolfclub.co.uk
20. Beat the bounds. If you're in Kenilworth on Rogation Sunday why not join in the 20 mile walk around the parish boundaries? The ancient custom of beating the bounds originated to show the youths of the parish the boundaries and to bless the crops for the coming harvest. Youngsters had to name the parts of the boundary - fields or other landmarks - and if they didn't know the name would be beaten with a stick. A good olde English custom which some may say should be revived complete with beatings!!
21. Barbershop singing is alive and well. Silver Lining is a Ladies' Barbershop Chorus based in the town and judging by the photos on their website they have a lot of fun! Tel: 024 7641 8102 or visit www.silver-lining.org.uk