16 October, 2011

A visit to Kenilworth

Kenilworth will be forever associated with Sir Walter Scott's eponymous (always wanted to use that word) novel. There is no railway to the town so it is a case of get off in Leamington Spa and take a bus.

The day started rather badly when Chiltern Trains had a train that was late! Hardly Deutsche Gerundlicheit. This caused me to miss out on a McD's breakfast. So I had to have one in Leamington when I was rather hungry. I went to Wetherspoons (big mistake) and had the large vegetarian breakfast. Supposed to come with three sausages I only got two so had to ask the waitress for another. It arrived as I was finishing. However it was vital minutes of the day wasted with waitress service and time taken to order food. Luckily the bus to Kenilworth was just pulling in to the stop as I came out of the pub. The bus journey was delightfully provincial with the driver stopping the bus to take a mobile phone call, and when one of his friends got on to have a conversation about the friends tattoos - apparently a special ink that doesn't crack with muscular movement. Anyway these things make life worth living so the journey seemed to be over in a flash.

Kenilworth is a town of two halves with the modern shopping and residential area to the south and the more Georgian part and the castle to the North. But before we get to the castle, there is the medieval abbey to look at. Only the gatehouse and a few forlorn walls survive and this building that has been called a barn (but nobody is aware of what it really is)

I am wondering if it was a hermitage of the kind the carthusians had? The abbey was augustinian but did they have hermits?

The Church of St Nicholas (patron of fishermen as the abbey fishponds were extensive) was for the townspeople and lay brothers of the abbey. There is a wonderful porch incorporated into the tower and the church has some good stained glass including an Elizabethan window. A victorian clergyman took it upon himself to undo what the reformers had done to the church. He raised the chancel and removed the flat ceiling, no doubt making the congregation cold. There's not much more to say about the church except it was open when I called.

The next big thing is the castle. English heritage really should take some lessons in customer service. As I had approached the castle from the gatehouse by a public footpath an official tried to accuse me of going in without paying! The irony was that I was on my way to buy a ticket. I should just have walked in without paying!
Never the less the castle was an imposing love nest for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and his paramour Queen Elizabeth. Robert Dudley practically rebuilt the castle in Elizabethan style (Hardwick Hall more glass than wall)
so the Queen would only see Tudor rather than Medieval. The castle is one of the ruins that Cromwell knocked about a bit as his men demolished the 14ft thick keep wall and opened a view of the Elizabethan knot garden.
Cromwell's men also drained the mere, a semi ornamental lake on the North side of the castle by breaching the dam. That leaves the ruins we see today.
The gatehouse is set up as a gentleman farmer's home with a tester bed (Queen Elizabeth didn't sleep in it) and a fireplace from the castle carved with Robert Dudley's motto 'Droit loyal'.
The castle is inextricably knotted into the history of the monarchy - John of Gaunt the first Duke of Lancaster modernised the castle, it was besieged by the King's troops during Simon De Montfort's rebellion, and Queen Elizabeth slept there. Truly remarkable.

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