As the hospitality sector begins to welcome visitors once more, Natalie Bowen finds out whether a family holiday post-lockdown can still be fun.

Hand sanitiser, check; mask, check; excitement mingled with anxiety, check. A trip in the time of Covid-19 is different to pre-pandemic packing.

My family would be among the first to stay at Warwick Castle's reopened Knight's Village lodges, which started welcoming overnight guests from July 4, when restrictions for overnight stays eased in England.

I have to admit I was nervous. While throwing waterproof jackets and sun cream into our suitcase (can't trust the British weather!), in the back of my mind lurked a worry I was putting my young daughter in harm's way by choosing to travel.

Yet this was one of the safest options. We would be staying in a single-family lodge that had been deep-cleaned and had plenty of outdoor space.

After weeks and weeks at home, we were longing for a change of scene, and one night away would ease us out of lockdown life.

A royal welcome

We arrived expecting swords and shields, but the first bit of 'weaponry' was a temperature gun pointed at our foreheads by entrance staff in masks, who needed to check neither my husband nor I were over 37.5C. Beyond this line of defence, two princesses in colourful velvet dresses were waving to welcome the children. No cuddles for photos, but we were happy to smile and wave back.

As it turned out, my unvoiced fears were unfounded. A prominent map by the entrance shows the new one-way system operating in the grounds, reminding people to keep two metres apart and encouraging them to use the picnic areas. Contactless sanitiser dispensers are dotted around as visual prompts to keep your hands clean.

The guides, shop cashiers and cafe staff all wear face masks indoors, but the knights and princesses in the open air don't, which helps maintain a bit of magic for kids running around a 950-year-old castle. Besides, playing with bows and arrows requires a bit of distance anyway!

Previously the royal actors would enthral youngsters with tales in Princess Tower, but as it's too small for social distancing, they are now told stories in the courtyard.

Step back in time (and back inside)

Warwick Castle reopened its 64-acre grounds in June, but indoor attractions such as the State Rooms, Kingmaker and Royal Weekend Party exhibits and Horrible Histories maze were closed until July 4.

One-way systems actually make these places easier to navigate and enjoy, although guests must be patient with slower families. The Kingmaker dungeon is suitably smelly and filled with waxworks showing an army preparing for battle in 1471, while the Royal Weekend takes you to a party thrown for Victorian high society by the Countess of Warwick.

Other things have changed, too. The Conservatory, built in 1786, was previously a cafe, but now there are distancing stickers on the floor and only takeaway food on sale.

Outside in the beautifully laid out Peacock Garden, the birds seemed aggrieved to have to share the space with people sipping coffee and eating sandwiches once more. But a heavy shower at lunchtime exposed a lack of shelters - it was a good thing I brought the raincoats.

A good Knight's sleep

When it was time to check in to the Knight's Village, I was reassured by new safety measures. Masked receptionists waited behind clear plastic screens and made another temperature check before they gave us our key card, and signs asked guests to keep left on the raised walkway that connects the 28 cosy, medieval-themed Woodland Lodges.

Dinner (burgers or fish and chips ordered in advance) was served outside at spaced-out picnic tables, protected from the rain by leafy trees.

While the adults relaxed, more knights entertained the children with a treasure hunt and a wooden sword lesson - followed by a knighting ceremony that had everyone laughing. It was refreshing that after a few minutes, everything seemed normal; only masked staff members reminded us to keep our distance.

Breaking our fast

Things were less normal the next morning. The buffet breakfast in the fantastic Banqueting Hall has been replaced with table service, which is necessary but more awkward. Tables are called up one at a time to order and collect hot food, but bread is toasted by bar staff who also serve hot drinks. It requires orderly behaviour as each family has a time limit, so their tables can be cleaned for another group to use.

Overnight stays come with a second day ticket to the castle, which meant we got another chance to see the highlight of the weekend: The Falconer's Quest. It had everyone gasping as a humongous condor and bald eagle swept low over our benches by the River Avon.

During lockdown, the trainers continued to work with the birds of prey and they were clearly delighted to be showing off their magnificent owls, falcons and eagles once more.

We clapped and cheered, and in doing so felt, for the first time in months, a communal experience with strangers. We'd all shared a performance, bonded in awe as an audience. It was great to feel that again.

How to plan your trip

Warwick Castle (; 0371 265 2000) offers semi-detached Woodland Lodges (sleeping up to five) and Knight's Lodges (up to seven) on a bed and breakfast basis from £212 per night. This includes two-day Warwick Castle entry tickets, themed evening entertainment and car parking.