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Leeds Castle

 

Visited August 2015

Location Nr. Maidstone, Kent
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby Bearsted, approx. 4 miles
Parking Yes
Facilities Cafe, Gift shop, Toilets
Map

 

Castle Historian Lord Conway once described Leeds Castle, which is in Kent, not Leeds in Yorkshire, as 'The lovliest castle in all the world'. Looking across the lake to the castle early on an August morning you could certainly see what he meant. 

 


 

 


Review

 

The trouble is that everyone else wants to see the lovliest castle too. The first clue that the castle was going to be busy was the massive car park, followed by the cordons at the ticket office, designed to keep the queuing throngs in neat order. We have never been to a castle yet that had so many people waiting to get in. Due to its distance from London, it makes a convenient day out from the capital so there are many coach loads of tourists arriving each day. The entrance fee was also the steepest we have ever paid, at £70 for a family of four. For that price I was expecting the lovliest castle in the world with bells on!

 

The walk from the car park to the castle takes about ten minutes, and luckily there is a large expanse of grass en route which means all visitors can spread out a bit so it does not feel so crowded. This allows you your first glimpse of the castle in relative peace, ad the opportunity to take some pictures without crowds in them. 

 

You enter the castle complex at the barbican which dates back to Edward I, making it one of the oldest areas still surviving. At one point there was a mill here, and this was incorporated into the outer defences, which could be flooded if the castle came under attack. The barbican had its own portcullis and bridge leading to the gatehouse. 

 

Today the gatehouse houses an exhibition about the history of the castle, and a film showing all the different stages of development. It is computer generated and shows one phase of building work finishes and then the next one beginning. It is very well done and seems to keep the interest of younger visitors pretty well.

 


 

 


 

The actual castle interior is free flowing, it does get busy but sometimes hanging behind the main crowds for a few minutes is a good strategy, as is trying to get in front of large tour groups (a large group will take forever while everyone looks at everything so you don't want to get held up behind a coach party!) 

 

There is a lot to see inside as the castle has such a long history, dating back to Norman times, and being in the ownership of six royal queens before being turned into a luxourious palace for Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. By the beginning of the twentieth century it was in need of some repair work, and the fantastically wealthy Lady Baillie bought it and turned it into a party pad. She installed a swimming pool, which was a huge luxury at the time,  and invited politicians and film stars for lavish weekend house parties.

 

 

 


 


 

The castle interior takes about 40 to 60 minutes to view, depending on the level of interest in the displays on offer. Once out of the castle the grounds are extensive and offer many others things to do. There is a large play park divided up into areas for younger and older children which was very popular on the day we went. There is also punting on the moat, which is subject to an extra fee (We felt that considering the high entrance fee it is unreasonable of the castle to charge extra for anything else so we did not partake!) There is also a dog collar museum which we personally could not muster any enthusiasm for, and a spectacular maze with an underground grotto. The maze is very difficult, we honestly thought we would never get to the middle! Once you have found the middle you go down a passage to the underground grotto, which was really impressive and leads to the exit, so you don't have to find your way out through the maze again. 

 

There are also regular falconry displays, these are free and very interesting. They run at 2pm every day in the summer season,  in addition to the Bird of Prey Centre which is open daily to visitors. The formal gardens are also very well maintained, and quite quiet if you want some peace away from the crowds.

 

The best thing about a visit to this castle is its undeniable beauty, both the main castle building and the 'gloriette' , the castle keep built onto the island in the moat. The downside is the cost- the entrance fee is high, the cafes are pricey and not all the activities on offer are free ( see above re. punting, but also Segway tours, Go Ape) I think it is probably the sort of place where it is better value if you live locally, as the entrance ticket is valid for a year, so you can make return visits for free. Not such good value if you live further away and are unable to return. In that case try and get there early and make the absolute most of your day. 

 

 


 

 


 More info:  Leeds Castle

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