It never fails to amaze me how easy it is to please children. I'm thinking of the birthday parties my mom used to throw. She cobbled together household items and made games out of things like tablecloths and my friends and I thought those parties were SO FUN.
I think back on it now with my grown-up eyes and can't help but laugh at how ramshackle it all was! Sure the table was set nicely (like a tea party of course) and the cake was delicious, but the games themselves were simple and no fuss and thrown together without an eye towards style or finesse. The kids didn't care. We ate it up. (There's a lesson to be learned here, but my brain is foggy and tired, so please find it yourself and maybe even leave it in the comments!)
Last week I took the kids to a completely random little town in Texas (it may be that most little towns in Texas are completely random and I just haven't lived here long enough to learn that) to visit an even more completely random Medieval castle. I knew four things about this place going into it: one, that it was a castle; two, that it was somehow associated with Newman's Bakery & Deli, also in Bellville; three, that the guy who built it actually lived there; and four, that the children get to reenact storming a castle. The first and last things alone justified a visit. I'll admit, the fact of the guy living there puzzled me. I just couldn't imagine what kind of place this was! The puzzlement never really cleared up - this place remains one big (amusing) puzzle to me.
It starts at Newman's Bakery and Deli in town. I'm not sure if it's because this is where the cash register is or because they want to entice you to buy some of their pastries and cookies but both seem equally likely. The cost is reasonable ($20/adult and $10/kid) given that it includes a tour and bagged lunch. You drive over to the castle a little outside of town - it's a bit hard to find and I suspect that's on purpose. The owner, Newman, assembles the group outside of the castle. He has the children choose from a collection of (heavy, cumbersome) wooden swords.
He goes on to introduce himself, give a brief personal history, and then a sketch of the castle. Here's the thing. Newman is just not at all what you would expect of someone who has turned his house into a tourist attraction for little kids. To be fair, an over-eager, super-friendly, animated man who invited little children to tour his real life play house might have set off a few alarms. I'll be honest, I was on alert and was ready to leave if I got any weird vibes. But there weren't any. I mean, the whole thing was a little hard to believe, but no weird vibes if you know what I mean. As far as I can tell (from what he said), Newman is the owner of a bakery who at some point in the late 90's decided he was going to build himself a medieval castle as realistically as he could. When he completed it many years later he realized it was a thing people wanted to see and he basically couldn't keep them away! So he has it open for one tour a day, six days a week. He built the castle on his own with scaffolding and cement and runs the tours with minimal help. It's a very low-key, simple operation. The entire time my predominant thought was, "Is this place for real?"
After the pre-tour talk, he creates a little make-believe for the kids to participate in. He names one of the children head of their army, leads them over to the REAL LIFE trebuchet, which he actually SETS OFF, and then they storm the castle. Their goal is to find and loot the kitchen of the cookies and sandwiches inside (the lunch that the bakery provides.) So then the children run off in all directions, free to explore any and all areas of the castle.
By the way, how Newman gets away without having guests sign a liability waiver is beyond me. There are a dozen places where children could get seriously hurt, either falling down precipitous staircases or falling off bell towers. I'm pretty relaxed when it comes to letting my children climb around and take risks but I would follow any three and under child pretty closely here.
But children thrive on that kind of exploration. Climbing up rickety ladders into 30 ft bell tower lofts with window openings carelessly guarded by just two slack chains is probably the most thrilling, adventurous thing the average child is allowed. Their imaginations GO WILD.
So even though Newman is incredibly subdued and even a bit under-animated and, well, sounds like he's giving the same speech he has given every day for the past six years, the children were totally sold. They bought it all, hook line and sinker. They didn't question a castle in the middle of Texas. They thought nothing weird of a middle aged man building himself a medieval castle complete with trebuchet and drawbridge. Nothing seemed weird to them, only magical and incredible. My boys are usually pretty moderate in their praise of things but when we got into the car to leave they both said emphatically, "We loved that!"
So I would definitely recommend this place to anyone looking for a kid-friendly day trip near Houston, but with qualifications: go with the eyes of a child; and keep your eyes on your child.