I’m going to make a promise – there will be no bad Halloween puns in the following article*
I spent many years in local journalism reading stories about ‘spooktacular’ nights out and ‘ghostly goings-on’ so there’ll be none of that here (except those two *)
With leaves falling, a bitter wind getting up and needles of rain spattering the fence panels we weren’t likely to favour a long drive. In previous half-term holidays we’ve been to Liverpool and London, to Fife and to Anglesey.
This time we decided to stay closer to home. We stayed within Staffordshire. Tamworth Castle was recommended by friends and a quick browse of the website highlighted plenty of half-term activities and perhaps drama. We left Stafford for a scenic drive through the Trent Valley. Cannock Chase is beautiful in autumn and we drove beneath a canopy of tumbling russets, ochres, coppers and custards.
Tamworth Castle is built, as castles usually are, close to the town in an easy to defend elevated position close to a river (in Tamworth’s case there are two rivers – the Anker and the Tame). Family tickets are usually priced at £19, but due to ongoing building works this was reduced to around £15 which was excellent value.
The building work didn’t affect or interrupt our visit at all. We began in the Great Hall (pictured). The boys had a go in the stocks and learned about the executioner’s art – whether the head was cleaved from the neck with a sword or an axe.
The staff were very knowledgeable and discussed a giant Spanish broadsword and the knack and strength needed to handle a Claymore. I nodded and tried my best to look like an authority on medieval sword-fighting in much the same way I pretend to have a grasp of electrical wiring when my Dad visits.
A Tudor staircase (pictured) led up to the Day Parlour and Dining Room. The staircase was wonderful and creaked and tilted one way then the other as if we were aboard a ship. In the Day Parlour we saw the Tudors had fun with playing cards, poetry and story-telling. There was no sign of a DS or plasma TV. In the Dining Room the boys prepared poultices from bread and herbs – the smell of cloves was powerful. They handled witches’ brooms, made spells and sprinted up to the Tower.
The Black Lady
I wouldn’t want to give much away for other visitors, but there were plenty of surprises and shocks on the way around the castle. The staff told stories, shared secrets from centuries past and caused us to jump on more than one occasion. The cloaked Black Lady told why she haunts the stairs.
The Castle has some wonderful stories and little known facts. One of the great stories of recent years has been the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard. This Saxon gold was found nearby. It has focused attention on the ancient kingdoms once more. Tamworth was an important settlement in Mercia. At the time of King Offa – famous for building the defensive dyke between Mercia and Wales – Mercia was the most powerful kingdom. Offa was one of the few rulers to be treated as an equal by the mighty Charlemagne. There are details of Offa’s requirements when he visited Tamworth, including barrels of Welsh ale, dozens of pigs and sheep and light ale. It all sounds like quite a party.