If you have ever yearned to know what Merry Olde England was really like, spend a day at Warwick Castle. Just a short hop from Stratford-on-Avon and its Shakespearean delights, Warwick, built in 1068, was a center of power for centuries, central to the Wars of the Roses. The perfectly-preserved castle still crouches beside the River Avon like a lion guarding its prey. A photogenic wonder, it has blossomed in recent years from just a pretty pile of stone to a genuine educational experience.

For sheer beauty inside and out, Warwick Castle England is hard to beat, with beautiful grounds and an interior stuffed with rooms long occupied by royalty and would-be royalty. But the real gems are walking around outside: medieval recreators in full costume, from falconers flying bald eagles to medieval peasants drafted to wind up the huge trebuchet in the field across the river. You can sit on the bank and watch as they walk inside a wheel like hamsters in a cage, winding down the long throwing arm and raising the counterweight high. The trebuchet is the largest in the world, and even the relatively small rock thrown for the demonstration goes a long way downrange. Imagine crouching inside a Warwick Castle under siege with a bunch of these things battering away at the walls.
Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle goes all out to put you into the medieval mind and to understand the life and times of its most famous resident, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, known as the Kingmaker. He put his cousin Edward IV on the throne, then later imprisoned him in the gate tower at Warwick when Edward proved to be not the puppet king the Earl had anticipated. Well-produced films and exhibits inside the castle tell the story of the Kingmaker's battle with his monarch, including one from the perspective of a young squire on the eve of battle. Children will readily identify with that boy, and of course, they will be suitably thrilled by a trip down into the dungeon, which is a quite sobering lesson in how man treated man back then.

Talking to people who really know about distant times and places is always fascinating. At Warwick Castle England, the times are so distant, so unreal to us, and so romanticized by Hollywood, that it is a real treat to talk to the recreators and try your hand with a bow or watch how to put on a suit of armor. It's the nearest we can come to time travel, and very much worth the trip.