We have a date with English history and return envious of Londoners
It's a quiet Sunday morning, and we're in 16th Century England, on our way to the town of Warwick. The scenery is dominated by mustard fields and beautiful Cotswold cottages, built with the famous yellow limestone, characteristic of the architecture of that time. The more recent ones have red brick walls, and, except for a bunch of tourists, there's no one in the vicinity.
We arrive at Warwick Castle, a 1,000-year-old structure perched on a hill along the river Avon, and managed by the group that owns Madame Tussaud's. Far from being a tacky tourist trap, the castle successfully simulates life in the days of monarchy with visuals from the past.
En route to the tower, a man in archer's clothing offers kids a chance to ‘have a go at it'. Cloth tents are pitched on the green meadows leading to the entrance. Upon entry, those who aren't warned beforehand are startled by life-like wax figures in Victorian garb, surrounded by wicker baskets, playing musical instruments or just writing at their desks. Their faces are realistic too — wrinkles, laugh lines, expressions that range from the cheerful to the nonchalant.
Party like a king!
We're invited to a Royal Weekend party (in 1898) where polite, immaculately-dressed butlers introduce visitors by name, and lead them to an elaborate drawing room. Inside, Lords and Ladies (wax figures, again!) are deep in conversation. Thanks to motion sensors, they start speaking to people when approached. Eerily, a wax Lady in a flowing white gown and gauzy jewellery tells us she has “always wanted to visit India”. The other rooms — bedrooms, dining, and recreation spaces — look to outdo each other with lavish interiors, intricately-designed upholstery and painstaking attention to detail.
Peacocks enjoy a free run of the kingdom's gardens, and anyone who wants to see them is asked to follow the screeches. We do, and arrive at a lawn where a cheerful peacock shakes out its massive crop of feathers while turning around in slow motion, and after a pause, shudders dramatically. After trying unsuccessfully to capture our first sighting of a dancing peacock on video, we visit the Castle's museum. It displays medieval objects, including disturbing torture instruments and those used for executions. They tell a story of a world where unrestrained opulence and picturesque surroundings were the backdrop for unfair trials and extreme cruelty. The curator of this section sums it up as a time when there were “no laws to protect the luckless”.
At the Bard's
After leaving Warwick, we head to Shakespeare's birthplace, poetically named Stratford upon Avon. Cobblestone streets and tiny cottages exist peacefully in a time warp where lovers of literature come to re-live the days of Shakespeare. The cottage of his birth is rather humble, with low ceilings and a small garden. The real attraction, however, is the ambience of the town. Swans and ducks bob about on the river, as boats glide across the water.
Cafés are named after his famous works — there's a Food of Love restaurant, and an As You Like It café.
Bookworms are sure to lose track of time in these streets lined with books. Apart from selling everything that he ever wrote, they stock strange, interesting souvenirs — think Shakespeare-shaped cookies, bookmark magnets with his famous words!
It's evening when we return to our starting point, the garden in front of the cottage. Two actors — a man and a woman — dressed in Elizabethan attire are enacting a scene from “Much Ado About Nothing”. Perhaps it's the absence of blaring cell phones or the fact that the town is untouched by contemporary developments, neither their clothes nor the dialogue feels out of place.
Tourists are desperate to get a picture with the actors, but wait politely until Beatrice finishes her sentence — “I love thee with so much of my heart there is none left to protest”.
Back to the bustle
While returning, it feels surreal to leave behind quotable quotes and ancient castles, and make our way back to busy central London.
It's hard not to be envious of the average Londoner who can decide on the spur of the moment to go back in time, for history is less than two hours away by coach.