Bolsover Castle – The Greatest Show

You would have to have been living under a rock to have not heard about the hit film – The Greatest Showman. The music has been playing on the radio and almost everyone I know (including my Gran) has seen the film. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a musical film that shows the success of P.T. Barnum while assembling his circus of lovable misfits and working his way up to making it a successful business. Definitely give it a watch if you haven’t seen it! Bolsover Castle is our local English Heritage property and they run some absolutely amazing events, the latest being ‘The Greatest Show’ which is an after-dark experience which saw the courtyard filled with circus stalls, musicians, stilt walkers, jesters, contortionists and fire breathers. Alongside this, visitors were treated to see this Derbyshire castle lit up with multicoloured lights while the variety of circus-style performers entertained the crowds. Each performer brought something new to the table that I thoroughly enjoyed so this was certainly an event for all ages! 

Despite this being a really popular event, we managed to source parking easily. Bolsover Castle is set on a hill, as most historic properties are, but Bolsover Council run a free car park at the top of this hill to prevent you having to wheel or walk up the slope. This free cat park is directly adjacent to the entrance to Bolsover Castle and contains two dedicated Blue Badge parking spaces. Obviously, there are many other spaces in this area and double yellow lines also which you can park on for three hours when correctly displaying your badge. We parked up and had a short wheel to the entrance. There were plenty of dropped curbs here to help us along the way. The pathway entrance to the castle is compacted earth so can get a little bumpy at times but was perfectly fine for my wheelchair to go over.  You pay for your ticket at the gift shop for Bolsover Castle. The gift aisles were wide enough for me to get my wheelchair through easily and the staff were really friendly here. You do get a free carer ticket for the majority of English Heritage properties so be sure to ask about this if you genuinely are a carer or have a carer. Special events like The Greatest Show are all listed on the English Heritage website under the ‘events’ tab and these may cost slightly more than the conventional entrance price. Check out the website on (https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/bolsover-castle/prices-and-opening-times/) for opening times and current prices.  

 There was a block of temporary toilets that you wheeled past to get into this event but there wasn’t a dibbled stall that I saw. I did ask a couple of staff members who seemed unsure as to where the disabled toilets were but we managed to find them in the end.  Upon entering the main courtyard, your senses are hit with a cacophony of different exciting things; the walls are lit in vibrant colours, you hear children playing the vintage carnival games, can listen to music played by a stilt walker on an accordion and see all the fun stalls ahead for you to explore. A real treat!  There was a fancy dress booth with various props that represented different characters within The Greatest Showman and there were plenty of children (and adults like me) that were excited to try different props on! Alongside this, there were a set of three vintage carnival games so you could try your best to knock coconuts off of racks and throw beanbags into holes. A thoroughly enjoyable experience for adults and children alike! The English Heritage were selling hot mulled wine, hot chocolate, other hot drinks and food such as toasted marshmallow skewers. This was some good relief to the frosty Autumnal evening weather.    

 This event held different performances in different locations in the castle. This was great as it meant that some were in slightly warmer indoor areas and some enjoyed the atmospheric backdrop of lights colouring the castle walls. We arrived slightly after the event had begun due to a large traffic accident and diversion so I would have benefitted from one of the events staff just letting us know where the performance was actually taking place at that time. After we joined the first performer in the courtyard area, we were guided by ‘the Ringmaster’ as to where the next performance would be taking place so that was really helpful! Since we arrived a little late, there was a significant crowd around the first act who was a Jester who also breathed fire. It was a real shame as I missed most of his performance in my seated position. Perhaps if English Heritage had a section where prams or wheelchairs could pull into and still see then that would be great for future events. Saying that, the Jester was absolutely amazing! He had the whole crowd in stitches with his slapstick comedy routine. The children in particular were really enjoying his  performance. Whilst standing on stilts, the Jester asked for audience members to   aid in his comedic routine and also breathed fire!  

  The next performance was Colette the contortionist. Her act was in the historic riding stables building and the commitment to access here was amazing!  English Heritage had set a tiered seating arrangement up but there was a ramp to access this and a special, level-access area reserved for wheelchair users. Richard, my partner, was given a fold-out chair to sit on during the performance so I wasn’t sat alone. Colette was fantastic! She weaved her body into unimaginable positions to the sound of the accordion’s music. The real show-stopping trick was when she fired an arrow from a headstand position, with her feet! Absolutely astounding and the    crowd’s cheer just showed how impressed every single person was with her show.

The final piece of the show allowed each of the night’s performers to come outside and showcase one of their amazing talents. This was a great finale to a wonderful night.  This was a standing viewing set up but, since we arrived in the location early, we were able to get a front-row view to this section of the show so I was unobstructed by a crowd when seated in my wheelchair. I really enjoyed this section as it gave you an overview of all of the amazing acts that performed that evening. All of the performers were really talented and most of them had hilarious interactions with audience members, keeping the crowd’s energy up high throughout this thoroughly   enjoyable night! 

 Overall, I had a truly wonderful time at Bolsover Castle. I have always found their events very well planned and perfect for the time of year that they run these in. The only improvements they could make from an accessibility standpoint is having staff have more awareness of the location of disabled toilets and perhaps implementing a viewing area for disabled visitors. If this is unachievable, they could have staff clear the crowd slightly so a wheelchair user could have an unobstructed view when the crowd is stood. Despite that, we had a really fun night and could see this appealing to both adults and children alike. Each of the performers should be commended for the amazing shows that they put on and the way they interacted with audience members. It was such a fun evening that I’m sure you’ll hear more on my blog about upcoming events at Bolsover Castle! If you’d like to see about events at your local English Heritage property then there is a map of their locations at the foot of the page here https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/. If you are local to Bolsover then you can find more about their events through this link https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/bolsover-castle/events/. Enjoy your visits if you decide to go; I definitely enjoyed mine!