There is very little left now of Mortimer's Tower, which stood at the entrance through the castle curtain wall, at the end of the Tiltyard. The archway (above) and the two arrow slits (below) are remaining interesting features. The view through the arrow slits today shows grass and trees, but when Kenilworth was a lived-in active castle, the view would have been of water, because the castle had more than a moat - it was surrounded by a great lake.
As you walk along what was the Tiltyard from the car park to the castle, you pass over the former lake and dam. The Tiltyard, now just a path, was the area used for jousting contests. They must have been spectacular entertainments against the background of the lake.
Small streams like this one were dammed to make the great lake. The dam was breached and the lake drained after the Civil War, as part of rendering the castle useless as a military stronghold. The streams now are culverted so that they can pass through the remaining bits of the dam. The water lying in the grass beyond the stream is not a vestige of the lake. There had been heavy rain for weeks and many fields in the area were waterlogged. In other parts of the country rivers had burst their banks and towns and villages were flooded. Warwickshire was spared the worst of this.
This whole low-lying area, seeen from the Tiltyard, would have been under the castle's protecting lake. When the castle was less of a military establishment and more of a palatial home, the lake was used for recreation. As Queen Elizabeth I arrived at the castle to visit her favourite, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, elaborate water pageants were staged on the lake to greet and entertain her.
The lake was made in the early 13th Century when King John made extensive alterations to the original Norman castle, which was protected by a ditch and earth wall. The Norman castle had consisted of the keep and a roughly circular wall with towers enclosing the courtyard, with some smaller buildings within the wall. The curtain wall, which you see clearly in this photograph, was added by King John. It surrounded a much bigger area than the original castle, and had towers at intervals. Much of it survives today.
The lake came almost up to the curtain wall on the side of the castle visible in the photograph. On the side furthest away it was narrower, like a traditional moat.
Just before 1400 John of Gaunt made extensive changes to the castle, and added domestic buildings which made it a palatial home. John of Gaunt's Tower, seen here, is a survivor of this period, along with other domestic chambers. The photos below show some of the details from buildings of this period. There are the remains of a spiral staircase, in what was once a circular tower which housed it. The fireplace is in one of the ground floor chambers. What appears to be an arrow slit in the third photograph is, in fact, a window made to look like an arrow slit, even to the extent of widening it at the bottom to match the slits in the Keep. But the surrounding stonework leaves far too narrow a gap for an archer to get close to this slit and shoot through it. It is decorative, not practical.
John of Gaunt's most spectacular addition to the castle was the Great Hall, which is featured on the next page.