If you’re talking to a family about a visit to London during July and August, let’s add some hands-on, interactive living history experiences to their tailor-made itinerary. Our capital city becomes overrun with international visitors in the summer, and a very good case can be made for parking your jetlag in the English countryside so that they reach London, fully adjusted to Greenwich Mean Time.
The starting point for this family adventure is Royal Windsor, and the reason is very simple. Being less the thirty minutes from London Heathrow, access is easy and with the Castle opening at 10am, the Changing of the Guard at 11am, and the choice of Legoland or an afternoon cruise on the River Thames, the Royal Borough gets everything off to a very good start. Rested and raring to go, and with a focus on the south and east of England, let’s see what the region can offer.
Sailing Through the Tides Of History
Return to the ‘Age of Sail’ when the Historic Dockyard at Chatham in Kent built mighty ships that mastered the world’s oceans. Test your sea legs on HMS Ocelot, a Cold War Submarine during her 60th birthday year; explore HMS Cavalier, a Second World War Destroyer; and walk the deck of HMS Gannett, their Victorian Sloop, and embark on an historical adventure like no other. Command the Ocean and explore the Age of Sail galleries through an immersive and interactive experience. Home to rope making for almost 400 years, learn to make rope like the Victorians and explore the brand new Ropery Gallery, which opens later this month.
Discover Majestic Dover Castle
Sitting on top of the famous White Cliffs, this impregnable fortress has been the gateway to the realm for over 900 years. Experience the ultimate medieval palace, navigate your way through the winding medieval tunnels and relive the sights, sounds and smells of the WWII Underground Hospital. Be there when some of history’s most famous pirates fight at close quarters at the ‘Pirates of England’ event (30th-31st July) or at the Castle Knight’s Tournament (27th-28th August) when, with a mighty clash of swords, rivals compete in the ultimate test of strength and skill, and meet people from the Middle Ages and take part in life at camp.
Explore the Historic Battlefield Site At Hastings
I can set up another memorable day at the south coast town of Hastings, where in 1066 England’s history was irreversibly changed. Stand on the very spot where this decisive struggle was fought, and Britain’s future decided. See the Harold stone, marking the spot where the English King Harold fell, or walk the battlefield trail. With careful timing, you can be there on 25thJune when their version of the Castle Knights Tournament takes place (see Dover Castle above). Between 23rd July—4th September, you can experience what life was like during their Medieval Season with jester workshops, have-a-go archery, storytelling, squire training, and lessons in courtly etiquette.
Armed Combat At Arundel Castle
This fiercely contested event takes place between 26th-31st July when teams from Europe fight for the champions honour and trophy. The knight’s horses will thunder down the tilt rail and lances will shatter on opponents’ shields. It’s not all horses and the excitement of the joust, there will be medieval musicians to entertain you, and everyone can have a go at archery, crossbows and axe throwing or get up close to some of our country’s finest birds of prey. They also stage a couple of Medieval Weekends (18th-19th June and 9th-10th July) when the alluring scents of history are brought to life with woodsmoke, cooking and blacksmith’s forges.
The Knights Of Royal England At Hever Castle
The annual Summer Jousting Tournaments will begin at Hever Castle on 16 and 17 July, and then run every weekend until late August. This year, the Knights of Royal England will be entertaining visitors with exhilarating displays of action, stunts, falls and fights in an authentic arena complete with a Royal Box. Battling it out in the saddle and on foot in one-to-one combat, the valiant knights will then compete for points to find this season’s ultimate champion. Join Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and the Knights of Royal England in the procession to the Jousting Arena, and then watch the joust in style from the medieval spectator stands.
Travelling Through Time
The journey starts with a beat-the-crowds visit to the awe-inspiring stone circle at Stonehenge, a World Heritage Site and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe. Learn how its builders worked, walk amongst the Neolithic houses and experience how they lived. Moving through the centuries, include a detour to Old Sarum, the former site of the first cathedral, bishop’s palace, hill fort and ancient city of Salisbury—all before reaching the modern-day city and its stunningly beautiful cathedral, a medieval masterpiece and place of worship, welcome and hospitality for over 800 years. It is also home to the best-preserved Magna Carta, which dates from the year 1215.
Become A WWII Codebreaker
30 minutes by train from London Euston, Bletchley Park was once the top-secret home of the World War Two Codebreakers. Today, you can now step back in time to experience the stories of the extraordinary achievements of the men and women that worked here, and discover how it was vital to the Allied victory in WW2. A place of exceptional historical importance, Bletchley Park is also the birthplace of modern computing which has helped to shape life as we know it today. Kids can try their hand at dozens of interactive exhibits, and they can also ‘meet’ the codebreakers and listen to their accounts of this ground-breaking time.
Paull Tickner, owner of U.K-based Custom GB, is known for his expertise in creating and operating imaginative, value-added tours of Great Britain and Ireland. Visit his website at www.customgb.co.uk or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.