Europe: England - Medieval Honeymoons
For some couples, a trip to the beach and a dip in the sea is honeymoon enough. For others, only a trip back into the mists of medieval time will do. They want to experience the age of chivalry, with castle keeps, moonlit walks on crenelated walls, flagons of mead, and knights in -- yes -- shining armor. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair. Much of what you imagine to be medieval -- King Arthur, Lancelot, et. al. -- is British. So England is the perfect place for a medieval honeymoon.
Pride of Britain Hotels offers a tour back into the days of yore. It's arranged by the masters of unique touring possibilities -- Abercrombie & Kent, (800) 323-7308 -- and offers stays at hotels in London, Sussex, and the Cotswolds.
London is home to a variety of medieval haunts. The most famous is London Tower, where Yeomen Warders of the Tower, commonly called Beefeaters, lead hourlong excursions into all the nooks and crannies of this stony prison.
The citadel was actually a live-in palace for generations. William the Conqueror, who built the first tower and lived here -- so did his more famous -- and infamous -- descendant, Henry the VIII. The Crown Jewels are stored in Jewel House, and the Royal Armouries contains hundreds of antique weapons and suits of armor. Next stop: Westminster Abbey, the Gothic masterpiece where nearly every King and Queen of England has been crowned and, later, buried.
Wanna tour a true medieval city? Take a scenic two-and-a-half-hour train ride north to York, where you can take a "ghost walk"and explore the last standing section of a royal fortress that was built around 1000 A.D.
Kimberly Castle is less than 90 minutes from London by car. Guests enter through the ancient oak portculis of the 900-year-old stronghold, between two stone towers. No roughing it here, though: Each room has its own whirlpool and is decorated with sumptuous fabrics and furniture, with point-arched windows to gaze out of. It's sort of Laura Ashley gone gothic.
Nearby is the seaside hamlet of Brighton, if you want a dip in the English Channel. But perhaps a more interesting day trip is Arundel Castle. The grounds are open to the public, and a visit to the castle's interior reveals a keepsake of gruesome interest -- including the rosary and prayer book used by Mary, Queen of Scots, at her beheading. Not far away is Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, a group of buildings from the medieval period, staffed by men and women in authentic costume and Olde English voice.
Pay your respects at Winchester Cathedral, and stop at the Great Hall nearby. This is where King Arthur's round table hangs on the wall (what happened to the legs?).
Spend another day or two exploring Salisbury and Stonehenge. Salisbury's cathedral was constructed whole in only 38 years, an engineering marvel. The clock in the nave, dating from 1386, is the oldest mechanical timepiece in the world. The cloisters are the largest in Britain, and Chapter House contains one of only four original copies of the Magna Carta -- the medieval English bill of rights. About five miles away, the vast openness of the Salisbury Plain dwarfs the ring of stone slabs and lintels called Stonehenge. An early morning visit is best, as the crowds are smaller and the light enlivens this monument built 2,800 years ago for a still-unfathomable purpose.
Thornbury Castle, approximately six miles north of Bristol, features paneled walls, heraldic shields, and large open fireplaces that greet newlyweds as they enter through stone walls, past the courtyard. The rooms are sumptuous, several with fireplaces. Many have four-poster beds and elaborately decorated ceilings. You're echoing fabled footsteps. Henry VIII stole away to this Cotswolds love nest with his (then) beloved Anne Boleyn for ten days.
North along the Severn River rises Berkeley Castle, vying with Windsor to claim title as the country's oldest inhabited keep. The rooms are packed to the vaulted ceilings with antiquities, history, and violence -- it was here that Edward II was murdered in 1327.
Bristol and Bath, both cities still alive with the ghosts of days gone by, lie to the south while Glastonbury Tor is to the southwest. This gentle knoll rises 520 feet and is said to be the funeral mound for none other than Arthur and his bride, Guinevere. At the foot of the mound is the Chalice Well, legendary burial place of the Holy Grail, the chalice used to serve wine at the Last Supper.
Indeed, couples traveling this part of England often say, and truly too, they have felt the magic pull of Camelot.
Photo: Britain on View