Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live like royalty? Do you like learning about medieval history? Do you like to explore new places? If you answered yes, then you might consider taking a day trip out to Bellville, Texas to Newman’s Castle and Bakery.

The tourist attraction is about two-hours east of Austin and offers a one-of-a-kind adventure. I recently visited Newman’s Castle and while it wasn’t what I expected, it turned out to be a fascinating experience.

 

Reservations

The Newman’s Castle website instructs visitors to call ahead and reserve a spot for Saturday tours. Earlier in the summer, I called and tours were booked up for several weeks. The fall season is much less crowded, but I recommend booking a reservation a few weeks in advance. Newman’s doesn’t offer online booking, but calling in was fairly easy. I just gave my name and number of visitors in my party. I was instructed to meet at Newman’s Bakery at 10:30 am on Saturday.

 

Newman’s Bakery

Newman’s Bakery was easy to locate and finding parking wasn’t difficult. While modest on the outside, the bustling bakery is a staple for the town of Bellville. The shop featured a quaint, down-home atmosphere and an eclectic mix of old and new. The huge display at the counter showcased a mouth-watering variety of fresh donuts, quiche, cinnamon buns, croissants, pigs in a blanket, and more. The bakery should come with a warning label: Prepare to drool! 

I tried to focus on the goal, but I wasn’t sure where to confirm my reservation. I asked one of the bakers at the counter. She confirmed I was on the list and then I paid the $15 admission fee. She then gave me the address of the castle and said I could go now. I was expecting to take bus or shuttle, but was fine driving on my own. The whole process seemed a bit mysterious.

 

Newman’s Castle

The actual castle is on Old Highway 36 and even with the given directions, it wasn’t easy to find. The castle is settled far from the road and the driveway is squeezed between two other houses. Keep an eye out for 1041, because it sneaks up on you.

The driveway is an unpaved, gravel road that demands a slow speed. I parked and was immediately greeted by the friendly Irish Wolfhound known as Avalon. She is a big, scrappy dog with a heart of gold.

I got out of the car and surveyed the property. Newman’s Castle is an incredible structure and a beautiful site. I walked toward the shed outside the castle and was greeted by the owner, Mike Newman. The eccentric world-traveler and bakery owner sported a Burger King-like crown, a simple plaid shirt and jeans. He carried a sword and said I could spar with wooden swords while waiting for the rest of the tour to arrive.

After about 15 minutes, Mike assembled the group and explained the story of his unique private residence. In 1998, he took the phrase, “A man’s home is his castle,” quite literally. Mike purchased 20 acres of land and constructed a 3,400 sq ft legitimate castle. He built the castle himself in true historical fashion with a 3,000 lb working drawbridge, 62 ft bell tower, five round turrets, a courtyard, central keep, dungeon, chapel and moat.

Mike lives alone in the castle (with the exception of Avalon) in air-conditioned living quarters. He continually works on expanding the castle and plans to add additional guest quarters.

After a brief knighting ceremony, cow encounter and dog scuffle, we began the tour.

 

The Castle Tour

Mike began with a catapult demonstration and battle simulation. He appointed an  audience member to lead the siege on the castle. The invasion started with the  counterweight trebuchet flinging a giant rock into the moat. The theatrics were geared more toward the children, but it was interesting to see medieval weapons in action.

The siege continued across the drawbridge and a few brave knights stormed the castle. We had to wait for them to return from battle and raise/lower the drawbridge. A human-powered hamster wheel operated the drawbridge which was fun to watch.

The battle ended with the captured enemy locked in the dungeon. The dungeon was a small room that was too crowded for the entire group. At this point, I was eager to climb the high towers. I followed the other half of the group that dispersed throughout the rest of the castle.

I was surprised that the interior of the castle was rather bare. The courtyard had a few benches, but the rest of the castle was a construction zone. Tools were scattered throughout the empty guest quarters. While that portion was not technically part of the official tour, it still was distracting from the historical vibe.

Next I climbed to the top of the bell tower which was both exhilarating and intimidating. Climbing four stories on narrow wooden ladders is not for the faint of heart. The view was definitely worth it and the bells chimes were lovely.

I eventually noticed that the tower portion of the castle was deserted. I went back to the courtyard and searched for the other half of the tour. Everyone had gone to the air-conditioned wing of the castle for lunch.

 

Lunchtime

The dining hall and living room areas were an interesting juxtaposition of modern amenities in a medieval environment. The kitchen featured custom wooden cabinetry and counters. Paper sacks, donuts and potato chips bags covered the counters.  Leather couches with polka dot pillows created a comfy lounge area and a huge wooden table filled the dining hall.

I went over to the kitchen counter and had the choice of a plain turkey sandwich or a ham and cheese sandwich. I chose the ham and cheese which also included, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles on fresh bakery bread. The bread was thick and a little overpowering, but still tasty all the same. Sides included potato chips, donuts and cookies from the bakery.

I enjoyed taking a break from the heat and relaxing during the light meal. During lunch, Mike told another interactive story with audience participation.

 

The Verdict

After lunch, Mike invited the group to stay as long as we pleased. I moseyed around the grounds a bit more and took some pictures. Before I left, Mike gave me a tiny nugget of gold from a miniature treasure chest and thanked me for visiting.

Newman’s Castle was a peculiar experience.  We technically only toured half of the castle and it felt weird galavanting around someone’s private home. However, the architecture is impressive, the history is fascinating and the scenery is beautiful. If you’re in the mood to just hang in out in a castle for a day, it’s worth the trip.

 

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