It’s no big secret that I like castles, they’ve been a passion since childhood. It’s a passion I’m passing on to Monkey. I want him to realise that history isn’t boring, it’s not just about memorising a load of dates. It’s real, it’s our past, it’s important. He is constantly surprising me these days, the shy boy isn’t always as shy as he’d lead me to believe. Recently I spent an afternoon exploring Oxford Castle Unlocked with a not so timid child. I was mightily impressed.
Monkey and I had enjoyed lunch at the Castleyard Cafe and were booked on a tour of the Oxford Castle, which is right next door. All very convenient.
I was a little hesitant of how the afternoon would unfold. As a rule I avoid guided tours like the plague, I’ve always been concerned that Monkey wouldn’t be engaged and would cause chaos. A guide in a costume was another concern. How would Monkey react? The tour was going to last one hour, this could all go horribly wrong. I took a deep breathe, held his hand and we headed to the Castle.
I was assured that there was nothing too scary in the tour and our particular tour was being guided by Robert d’Oilly, a knight no less, and the builder of the original motte and bailey Oxford Castle.
I have to say that our guide for the tour was excellent. He kept my 6 year old enthralled for the whole hour, I was quite frankly amazed. At no point did Monkey shy away, whether it was climbing the 101 steps to the top of St George’s Tower, or walking down into the crypt. Nothing spooked him at all, exploring Oxford Castle Unlocked with a not so timid child was turning out to be a bit of a revelation.
Our guide explained that the castle was built in 1071 by d’Doilly, although it’s believed that St George’s Tower (the only remaining part of the castle) was built earlier than this. The castle protected the city of Oxford and must have looked wonderful in its original state.
We got to meet a couple of the other guides along our tour, including Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I. We learnt how she’d set up her headquarters in Oxford Castle in 1141 in her attempt to win the crown of England. She was under siege and in the escaped, dressed in white, climbing down the tower on a rope of white sheets. She escaped into the snowy Oxfordshire countryside and skated down the river on skates made of animal bones. The story telling was excellent.
It was time to climb St George’s Tower and I’d fully expected Monkey to refuse but no, he happily joined our group and we climbed the 101 steps in single file. He didn’t feel rushed and was having a great time. You do stop in the middle to learn a little more about the history of the castle before making the final ascent. Once at the top, there a small viewing tower offering panoramic views over the city. Monkey climbed that tower too! I was so impressed.
The castle was destroyed during the English Civil War, but the tower remained as a prison for many years. From the tower we headed down in to the Crypt. This had remained undiscovered for a long period until the Oxford prison was being built, adjoining the tower in the 1700’s.
From the crypt we moved on into the Prison and walked from one cell to another learning about the inmates over the years. It’s hard to believe that the prison was still in operation until 1996, without any running water or sanitation in the cells.
Monkey coped really well, learning about Ann Green, who survived her own hanging and Mary Blandy the murderess who poisoned her husband. We learned about the privileges money could buy as each inmate had to pay to stay in the prison. Those with money could live fairly comfortably, those without ….
Monkey was learning about history in a way I love. Seeing it up close, feeling it, and you could see him taking it all on board. Exploring Oxford Castle Unlocked with a not so timid child, was a great way to spend an afternoon.
The guided tour ends as you reach the prison museum, and you can retrace your steps, excluding the tower, if you so wish. By this time Monkey was eager to get outside, and I wasn’t going to push my luck any further. He’d been a star and we’d both thoroughly enjoyed the tour. Recommended by both of us.
Entry into the Oxford Castle Unlocked experience also gives you access to the Castle Mound. Monkey needed no prompting to run up the man-made hill to continue his adventure. He knew that this had once been part of the Castle and that a tower had stood up high above the city from the summit. He told me as much, you were listening to the tour guide then Monkey.
He ran on ahead, climbed to the ‘top of the castle’ Mummy I’m the king of the castle! before climbing down to see the well within the mound. The smile says it all. Exploring Oxford Castle Unlocked with a not so timid child had been a wonderful experience for us both.
If you are in Oxford in the next month or two it’s worth knowing that from Monday 25 July – Thursday 1 September Kids go FREE at Oxford Castle Unlocked. This offer is valid on weekdays only from Monday 25 July to Thursday 1 September (for one free child when accompanied by a full paying adult. Online booking only).
For more information about opening times, booking tours and pricing pop over to the Oxford Castle Unlocked website. You won’t be disappointed if you do decide to visit.
disclosure: we were given free tickets for this tour in exchange for an honest review