Great British Castles… ah, the stuff fairytales are made of. And after a year of pandemic-related lockdowns, a day trip to a Castle outside of the M25 felt like a very sweet dream indeed. The reality? A visit to Warwick Castle, was even better than hoped – the sun shone and the sky was blue, providing the most perfectly elegant backdrop to a day of fun and adventure.
It didn’t matter that the Castle (indoors) was still closed to visitors when we visited in early April, because in-and-among the gloriously green grounds, there lay an activity trail: Zog and the Quest for the Golden Star. This is what we were here for; some serious toddler-point-scoring. The idyllic location was an added bonus for us grown-ups, which, thanks to the weather, felt like a trip abroad. Sweet freedom (with excellent safeguarding measures thrown in)!
Zog – showing that practice can make perfect…
The brand new for 2021 adventure trail is based around the Julia Donaldson-written and Axel Scheffler-illustrated tale of the little dragon with a lot of willing. If you are familiar with the story, then you probably know the words by heart, after multiple bedtime-reading sessions. Safe to say, the kids love this mighty little puffball, and I also enjoy the tale of perseverance and courage.
Our daughter, aged three years, was entranced from the moment she arrived at ‘Madame Dragons School’, mesmerised by the giant versions of the characters she had seen in her book. Also spurred on by the promise of winning a ‘golden star’ after she had completed the challenges of all five years, which are laid out in obstacle courses and ‘lessons’ around the Castle grounds.
First up, ‘learning to fly’ and a chance to pose with the main attraction. A great photo opportunity for us, proud parents, and a magic moment for her – double tick! Onwards we roared, kitted out with a foam sword and shield (from the entrance gift shop) and our card to collect stamps on as we went round completing the challenges. The challenges are laid out the way you would naturally walk around, anyway, but have obviously been planned with care in a way that wouldn’t be overly intrusive if you weren’t here for all things ‘dragon’. In between challenges, we also tried the maze, which is Horrible Histories-themed, so great for teaching children about historical events, in a rather amusing way.
In year two, the challenge set was to learn to ‘roar’. The challenge for us grown-ups was to be able to jump on the pads hard enough to make that much-anticipated sound appear. I was later told that the pads are being made more sensitive. Though, honestly, our toddler was just happy to be jumping without anyone telling her to ‘stop!’ The colours of all the challenges are so lovely and bright, and stay true to Axel’s famed illustrations. Child-friendly and classy.
Warwick Castle is run by Merlin entertainment, the same company that owns Chessington World of Adventures and Thorpe Park, and lots of other entertainment attractions UK-wide. You can feel that sparkle in the manicured-look of the grounds, the merchandise-laden pop-up shops and zippy food outlets. Personally, I would recommend bringing your own picnic, as the food options are currently limited/a bit unappetising. And the picnic spots at Warwick Castle are endless/come with incredible views!
Year three – learn to breathe fire!
The music from the Zog television show plays on the breeze as you wander from challenge to challenge. Nowhere is too far, and it is all a manageable walking distance, including for little legs. Even with the Merlin magic polish, you can really feel the history steeped in the walls, and we had some great chats with the toddler abut the big gates and the reason castles are built on hills. Her face was a picture when she spied the brave knight sat atop a real horse rounding the corner. Moments like this, really hit home just how many visceral experiences our little ones have missed out on this past year, and how exciting it is to think of all the adventures yet to come. Keen to explore, we followed her lead to walk all the way to the top of the mound, and were rewarded with stupendous views over the English countryside.
There are 64-acres to explore around Warwick Castle. We stayed for 5 hours and had a great day – this was adequate time for us before toddler/pregnant mum-related tiredness took over. In that time, we completed all the Zog challenges, wandered up to the top of the mound, had our picnic and perused the Peacock Garden – my personal favourite area, which also housed a beautiful afternoon tea parlour.
The day was rounded off with a stepping stone course to complete (which she ran around no less than 10 times), and a trip to ‘knight school’, where she was finally rewarded with the much-coveted ‘golden star’ from Sir Gadabout. A socially-distanced (sign of the times) photo with Zog himself, and it was us, not her, that was asking to go to the car.
And what was her favourite bit? “At the beginning, when we came through the entrance“, apparently. When the thrills of the day ahead were still to come, it seems…
A successful family day out post-pandemic? Dare to dream – ours was a ‘roaring’ success.
Note: We were offered a complimentary visit, as a family, to Warwick Castle to review for this website. Thank you to Warwick Castle and White Tiger PR.
Warwick Castle, Warwick, Warwickshire, CV34 6AH
Open 10am to 4pm
www.warwick-castle.com, 01926 406610
Child tickets from £8 and Adults from £12, when booked in advance.
Special Parent & Toddler ticket (toddler – children up to 5 yrs of age) £12 – when booked in advance. Available on Mon-Thurs between 19th April – 13th May
Zog © 2010 Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler. Licensed by Magic Light Pictures Ltd.
2021 schedule of reopening times:
12th April: Outdoor activities, including the brand new Zog and the Quest for the Golden Star trail are open. Single household stays at Knight’s Village Woodland Lodges will return. Each Lodge sleeps between five and seven people and features its own self contained bathroom and toilets.
30th April: Glamping Tents are set to return. Each tent sleeps between four and five people, with communal toilet facilities.
1st May: Return of The Falconer’s Quest, the UK’s largest birds of prey show.
17th May: Planned date for full attraction reopening, in line with government guidelines.