Last time Wendy Hargreaves visited Kryal Castle, she was put in the stocks for having red hair. She braves a return with her kids…
What is this fascination for stocks? Not the metal sticks that help you ski. I’m talking about ye olde shackles for keeping scoundrels bound by the neck and wrists.
My eight-year-old daughter is itching to jump into the old timber stocks at Kryal Castle, a faux medieval kingdom carved into a hill on the Melbourne side of Ballarat. As she wriggles her neck into place, mummy is having one of those Nina-Proudman-from-Offspring moments.
I’m flashing back to the ’80s when a jaunty Kryal Castle knight locked me in the stocks for the heinous crime of being a redhead (witches are rangas, apparently). I was already on a date from hell – a super-daggy cabaret with buxom wenches, drunken knights and an occasional flogging. Needless to say, that bloke’s history.
Now my youngest child is in those stocks, laughing at my slack-jawed stare and asking why it’s taking so long to take a photo. She’s keen to meet the in-house wizard and give sword fighting a crack down by the jousting field.
She does all of that and more on our family trip to Kryal Castle, which reopened its drawbridge in March after a $10 million zhush to restore a long-lost reputation for family fun.
It took more than a year to renovate the site, more recently known as a venue for throbbing all-night raves. When the castle went on the market a few years ago, there was even talk of turning the old girl into a super-posh brothel.
But Kryal Castle has shrugged off more grown-up pursuits and gone back to her roots with roving knights, wizards and all sorts of magical dust for kids of all ages. Illusionistas behind Universal Studios in Singapore and the Gold Coast’s Movie World have been let loose on the joint and their handiwork is obvious.
Their timing is perfect as Game of Thrones fires our fascination with flying lizards (Kryal’s legend is built around a royal family’s run in dragons living under the hill). There’s also a dose of Harry Potter with a dab of The Hobbit, thanks to Kryal’s very own Wizard in his bizarre workshop, right next to the maze. And let’s not forget those dashing knights meeting at the round table before demonstrating their sword and jousting skills on horseback. It’s all there to see.
And there’s more to come. Castle bosses have plans for a dragon rollercoaster, graveyard animatronics and a tethered hot air balloon, along with fancy new on-site family accommodation. There are already 17 luxury suites in the castle (from $169/night).
At present, Kryal Castle is open daily during the winter school holidays, then at weekends only. From September 9 2013, it will be open daily.