February half-term is usually the worst. It is too cold for the children to play outside so there are no outdoor activities planned. Trying to book anywhere like the wonderful Harry Potter Studios or Cadbury’s World is futile. Everywhere is full. But we did find somewhere to go. Not totally adult orientated but I enjoyed it immensely.
Yesterday we visited Tamworth Castle. It is built in the area that has been home to the ancient Mercian king Penda, his son Peada and his father Pybba. As we enter the city of Tamworth there is a sign informing us that it used to be the capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia and bears the old flag of a gold cross on a blue background. So far so good.
The castle itself is quite a dinky one. Now it stands as a Norman motte and bailey castle, altered over the years to include Tudor and Victorian elements. With the bay windows to the side, it is evident that the castle was a stately home during the Tudor period. A very nice one at that.
But being half-term it was destined not to be a normal visit. The characters from yesteryear were there in period costume, to set clues and quizzes for the castle quest. At least we got the chance to have a go of the Anglo-Saxon swords, try on Georgian wigs and see the story of the Staffordshire Hoard – complete with replica treasure.
As a writer of Dark Ages stories set in Mercia, it was a pilgrimmage. The castle grounds now play host to leisure activities, tennis and playgrounds, but were the lands where the great King Penda the Strong once roamed. It was here Penda planned his campaigns against Kings Oswald and Oswiu of Northumbria, King Anna of East Anglia and others. This place was his engine room. I felt very insignificant.
There was an artist’s impression of the palace of the most famous Mercian king – Offa. It was far more elaborate than I imangined it would have been, with sculptures of horses heads along the roof beams and fancy torches lighting the way. How my mind whirled. Tamworth castle, on the site of the Mercian fortresses and palaces of great Dark Ages kings. Mnd boggling.
So the children excitedly ran around the castle on their quest looking for clues. Once again that day, I felt very insignificant. I do every February half-term.
Tamworth Castle (20)
(c) 2014 A.J. Sefton. All photography by A.J. Sefton