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I only ever come to Maidstone when i am down visiting my parents who live in Kent. I would say that it is a good place to go out for the night as it has lots of pubs and clubs that you can visit. A visit to the Bishops Palace is worthwhile. I would say that, that is probably the only place in Maidstone with any cultural value. Perhaps a visit to Tunbridge wells would be more appropriate if you are looking for a cultural day out. There is obviously a cinema and all the other aminities that you would expect from a large town. The river running through the town does make it a little bit nicer to visit. If you do go for a night out in Maidstone make sure you have your wits about you because there are alot of aggressive people kicking about. It is not that bad though all in all, eventhough it really isn't my favourite.
As recently as 25 years ago Leeds castle was still used as a private home. After the death of the owner a charitable trust was set up and this now enables people to visit the castle and its grounds. It is probably due to it only having recently become an attraction which you can visit and possibly also because it is not a National Trust or English Heritage property that it is not marketed as extensively as other castles or stately homes. Although the property was relatively recently in private hands that does not mean it does not have a long history to it. The castle was started soon after the Norman conquest of the 11th century. It remained a property of the Kings and Queens of England until it fell out of favour with Henry V111 in the mid-16th century. The castle did fall into relative disrepair until the last owner spent a fortune restoring it. It is the fruits of that restoration that the visitor is able to see. The castle itself is a beautiful one and the rooms have been restored in the style of different periods particularly being influenced by the 18th century French chateau style. There are also many items which had been collected by the last owner - Lady Baillie and this includes some excellent old tapestries as well as fine chinaware, art works and periodic furniture. As well as the house your entrance ticket will give you access to the extensive gardens which are split into areas developed in different styles. There is a relatively uncultivated natural garden in the woods leading to the castle which is complete with pond and ducks. Then there is the large cottage garden and finally a fabulous garden with lots of plants showing a French and Italian influence. If you've not had your fill of matters horticultural there are still the greenhouses which sells plants in the adjacent Plant Centre. For bird fanciers there is an aviary and for wine buffs even a vineyard which produces grapes for a wine sold in the omnipresent gift shop. This shop sells the usual range of products to keep as a souvenir of your trip including many inspired by the artefacts collected inside the house. Finally to satisfy the inner person there are Tea Rooms and restaurants which can serve everything from a cup of tea through sandwiches to full meals. There is ice cream and drinks on sale also from the kiosks in the grounds. Leeds Castle is a wonderful day out and it is about 30 miles east of London. It is easily reached along the M20. It is also a useful stopping point if you are travelling to Dover for a trip across the Channel. There are many attractions in the grounds themselves and it is an ideal place for a picnic. Good weather would help particularly if you get lost in the huge maze as we did. On a wet day there is still much to see but it will curtail your visit considerably. The charge this year is a reasonable £10 for adults and that does include all admission to the castle and the grounds, for children it is £6.50 with a family ticket saving a bit at £29 for 2 adults plus three children. For wrinklies and the great unwashed (OK - Senior Citizens and Students) it is £8.50. Leeds Castle has its own web-site on www.leeds-castle.co.uk
Maidstone, the County Town of Kent is unfortunately not what you would imagine a county town to be. The potential for so much more is there, but it seems the motivation, interest and hard cash funding is not! Situated approximately 40 miles from London and about 30 miles from the Kent coast (and Channel Tunnel) the location is ideal for a thriving County Town. Shopping in Maidstone is fine as long as you are happy to browse the run of the mill shops found in most town centres. The main shopping street is a pedestrianised area in which you will find Littlewoods, M & S, and Maidstone's only Department Store, Army and Navy, amongst other shops. The High Street has Argos and Jessops and the added feature of nearly getting run over by lunatic cabbies and bus drivers as you cross the road. The main shopping centre, The Chequers, has a reasonable selection of shops including BHS and Boots, both of which have large 2 level stores, but if you are looking for designer labels and exclusive boutiques then forget it. The shopping centre itself lacks design and finesse. Concrete stairwells and dirty lifts let it down. It also boasts a multistory car park, though you need to arrive in Maidstone quite early to avoid long queues for it. If you are hungry that's fine, as long as you are prepared to eat burgers and queue for an eternity to get them. With the choice of two Mac D's, Wimpy and Burger King what more could you ask for? You don't like burgers, well there is Pizza Hut, Pizza Express, Domino Pizza and 3 or 4 Kebab shops too! If you fancy a stroll in the fresh air you could head to Brenchley Gardens. A nice little park with well kept flowerbeds, where you will most likely encounter Maidstone's drunks and homeless who frequent the benches and the public toilets. Or you could take a walk along the banks of the River Medway but the scenery is very limited to trees, bushes and factory buildings and more often than not the footpaths are impassable due to the muddy residue left when the river floods. I have perhaps been a little unfair in my description of Maidstone so far. It does have some good features such as the newly built Lockmeadow Complex which houses a cinema, nightclubs and a couple of restaurants. There is also a bowling centre and two Museums which do have some very interesting exhibitions and artifacts to view. Public transport is adequate with quite frequent train services running through the towns 3 stations. You can get trains to Maidstone from both London Victoria and Charing Cross and your journey will take around an hour. If you're starting out from the Kent coast (Dover or Folkestone for example) you’ll need to head for Ashford International and may have to change trains there. Journey time could be up to 2 hours, depending on departure place. Buses in and around the Maidstone area are rife during the daytime. The majority of services are provided by Arriva and it’s not an unpleasant experience. But these service becomes less frequent in early evening and most stop all together well before midnight. That is maybe not too much of a problem as Maidstone at night becomes a playground of drunk teens, aggressive adults and boy racers so you wouldn't particularly want to be there then anyway. Maybe the saving grace of Maidstone is the close proximity of the many picturesque villages it lays among. If you are looking for quiet country walks and pleasant scenery you will find these just a few miles outside of the Town Centre. Take the A20, Ashford bound, and you will easily find your way. Bearsted, 3 miles from the town, has the traditional village green on which cricket is played on a sunday. There is a nouveau cuisine restaurant 'Soufflé' overlooking the green if you want meals of superb quality, but expect to pay high prices for the experience. If you want traditional pub grub you have several ch oices such as The Royal Oak, The Bell or The White Horse (Beefeater) and they offer enjoyable food at more acceptable prices. The village of Leeds, just a mile or so on from Bearsted, has a very popular tourist attraction Leeds Castle, a stately home in landscaped gardens. The grounds play host to an annual firework display in November, and throughout the year to open air concerts (Elton John and Pavarotti have performed there), and events such as hot air balloon festivals. Hollingbourne and Harrietsham are near by too, and have many quaint public houses for a quiet drink in traditional style village surrounds. Sadly though, the high speed rail link for the Eurostar is being constructed through much of the Kent countryside and many of the once exquisitely beautiful views have been lost forever only to be replaced with complete devastation. Despite the many downfalls of Kent's County Town, Maidstone is worth a visit. As long as you do not expect too much you should enjoy yourself. Perhaps as a long term resident of the area I am over critical of the bad points and under appreciative of the good. It is just very frustrating to see so much potential wasted.