Knight School: Castles, Battles and Birds of Prey in Great Britain

Visit Britain

Chivalry isn’t dead. At least, not in Great Britain, where weekend warriors can re-enact battles, fly falcons and even attend Knight School at a ruined stronghold looming over Loch Ness.

Students — or, rather, squires — aren’t required to duke it out at Scotland’s Urquhart Castle, which hosts daily lessons on the chivalric code (11 a.m.–4 p.m., included in castle admission of $11.50 adult, $7 child). Instead, they learn about courage, honesty and loyalty as well as the long path from a chain-mail-polishing, stall-mucking page to a knight thundering into battle.

For a more hands-on experience, glove up and go hawking like the medieval nobles who hunted with falcons and other raptors. Fly an American bald eagle in central England at Bedfordshire’s Birds of Prey Centre (2 hours, $100, April 1-November 1). Or complete your quest at Leeds Castle in Kent (3 hours, $115) or the National Falconry School in the Peak District (2 hours, $80, one child free per adult).

Families can ramp up the make-believe at Tintagel Castle, the Cornish cliff-top ruins rumored to be the birthplace of King Arthur ($9 adult, $5 child). English Heritage staff members at this site on Britain’s southwestern corner have crafted a short DIY play around the legend of the sword and the stone. Download the script to magic up your best possible performance. Just be forewarned: For this Excalibur play, “You will need a wooden sword. Or a long stick. Or a biro [pen]. Or a twig, or something.”

Intrepid souls seeking a more authentic look at life in the Middle Ages will head to Warwick Castle’s re-enactment camp, 90 miles northwest of London, in May. The official description gives a glimpse into the era’s darker side: “Re-enactors will spend three days eating, sleeping and living as Mediaeval village dwellers” in conditions mimicking the “tough and grueling” nature of life back then. While the camp is not everyone’s idea of a vacation, hard-core larpers (live-action role players) might find it a welcome challenge.

Like many of Britain’s castles, Warwick offers plenty of towers, ramparts and dungeons — along with guided tours and programs — even on normal days ($21 adult, $13 child with winter specials until March 22).

For a blast of pageantry, gallop an hour east of Warwick to Rockingham Castle (a popular haunt of Charles Dickens, who modeled Chesney Wold in "Bleak House" on this estate). Each June it revives once-heralded skills in a Jousting & Medieval Living History Village (adult $15, child $8.50).

Ready to slip on a helmet but lacking a king’s ransom? Enter the Visit Scotland “Brave” competition by March 1 to win a four-person, five-night trip, including flights. The winner’s just rewards will include archery lessons, rooms in a 16th-century tower house, and a private viewing of the Scottish Crown Jewels and the legendary Stone of Destiny.

By Amanda Castleman

A man dressed as a medieval knight is ready for battle at the jousting event held at Rockingham Castle, Leicestershire, England. (Photo by Grant Pritchard/Visit Britain)

A boy dresses up as a knight in the courtyard of Warwick Castle in central England. (Photo by Martin Brent/Visit Britain)

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