Newest Review: ... near Edenbridge, Kent, England. You can drive your car to get Hever Castle. There are two parking areas, the bigger one of which is n... more
Take Your Very Own Piece Of History Home With You
Hever Castle (Kent)
Member Name: Enkaypee
Hever Castle (Kent)
Advantages: Very interesting, beautiful gardens, something for everyone, a brilliant day out in general
Disadvantages: Sky-high food prices, some rooms in the castle could have been used in better ways
Hever Castle is a 13th century double-moated castle, which is most famous for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII's second wife.
It lies in picturesque Kent countryside, just 30 miles from Central London, half an hour from Gatwick and an hour from Heathrow. More detailed directions by road, train and sea can be found on their website, www.hevercastle.co.uk.
Neither the gardens nor the castle are open every day, as in March, November and December they are only open Wednesdays to Sundays. Between April and October inclusive they are open daily, but the castle and gardens are closed from the 3rd January to the 28th February. Although this may be disappointing for some as Winter would be a beautiful time of year to visit, being able to enjoy the castle and its gardens in the Summer sunshine (what little we have of it in England!) makes for a great day out.
Prices for entry to the castle and gardens are very reasonable, as Adult tickets are £13, Senior Citizens pay £11, Children aged 5-15 have to pay £7 and Family Tickets are £33. If you are disabled or need a carer, carers are admitted for free. If you wish to just visit the gardens, you still have to pay, and I think the prices for entry to just the gardens are quite steep. Adults pay £10.50, Senior Citizens pay £9, Children pay £6.50 and a Family Ticket costs £27.50. So as you can see, you may as well pay a couple of pounds more and be able to look around the castle as well.
If you're interested, Annual Passes are available, which I think is a great idea if you live nearby and want to regularly take your children for a day out and a picnic, or even if you just like strolling in beautiful scenery! Group rates are also available on request, for groups with a minimum of 15 visitors.
Once you've crossed the moat (don't lean too hard on the railings edging the bridge, they're not very stable!) you enter the castle through the courtyard. If you use a wheelchair but can walk, there is space to leave your wheelchair in the courtyard, as well as space for prams and pushchairs. If you use a wheelchair and are unable to walk without it, or are unable to climb stairs, you may only be able to look around the first two floors of the castle. Any more than that and you will begin to encounter some rather narrow, steep stone staircases, although the maximum number of steps in any one is around 15. But more of that later...
As you enter the castle, audio guides are available in English, French and German, but you have to pay £2.75 each to use them! In my experience audio guides can be quite interesting, yet a bit boring as well, but I wouldn't say that they're worth paying for. Throughout the castle, most of the interesting items and objects are labelled, and most rooms have a sign with a small amount of text explaining what the room was and a bit of background information. For me, these gave just enough of an explanation that an audio guide would have been unnecessary - and therefore a waste of money. Regarding the audio guides, what I did notice was that each of the information points had a small picture with a clearly displayed number, making it easy for anyone using an audio guide to know what to press. These pictures and numbers were very small and unobtrusive, yet were placed in sensible places. In other words, if you were looking for them they'd be so easy to notice, but if you'd decided to give the audio guide a miss, you probably wouldn't notice these information points.
However, if you want to give yourself your own tour (following the designated route, of course) and you have purchased a guide book, turning to page 6 will give you the first room of the tour, and the book will take you through the rooms in the order that you visit them.
Now, you may have noticed that I mentioned that you have to follow a designated route. Some people may find this off-putting as it can be interesting to wander around historical venues of your own accord, but the layout of the Hever Castle route didn't feel too restrictive at all. It was a well thought-out layout and felt like a natural direction to meander through all the rooms. I have to say, though, a couple of times you needed to do a bit of double-backing down corridors and the like, but often the signs to let you know this were a bit inconspicuous and people quite often block the signs, so you may end up missing a room or two. Not ideal as some of these rooms are interesting, but there's plenty of other things to see you probably won't feel too let down if you miss them by mistake.
I won't go through every room you visit as you'll see for yourself when you visit the castle and I don't want to ruin any surprises, but I will point out a few things I noticed.
It's worth looking closely at all the furniture and wood panelling in all the rooms, as some of it is exquisitely made. The fine work on the tapestries in the dining room, the carving around Henry VIII's bed, and the ornate inlay on the walls of the drawing room and the tables in the morning room will all have you reeling at the beauty of them and the talent of their creators.
Anne Boleyn's bedroom was surprisingly small, and if I'm honest a little disappointing. On your tour you will walk through the bedroom, and due to the size of the room there is no room for both the visitors and the bed. Consequently, the headboard is the only part of her bed which is still in the room. I would have preferred it if they had made a bit more of a display with her room. After all, it was her childhood home, so to see the type of room she would have slept in would have been quite interesting. Even if it meant making it into one of those rooms where you can't actually enter it but just admire from the doorway, I think that would have been ideal.
On my visit to the castle, in the Long Gallery they had a 'Pampered Prince Exhibition', which explained Henry VIII's relationship with his mother, along with some details about his childhood. There was also some information about each of his six wives. Although this was very interesting, there was a lot of reading to do, and at this late stage of the tour was a little heavy-going. Furthermore, we went to Hever Castle to find out about Anne Boleyn and her upbringing as this was her childhood home, so I felt that this exhibition was a bit unnecessary and the money and space could have been better spent telling us more about Anne Boleyn herself.
One of the last sections of the castle which you will enter is the Aston Wing. The Aston family owned the castle for many years and were responsible for all of the extensions and buildings behind the castle, which can be hired out, used for corporate events and weddings, and private dwellings. There were only a few rooms making up this part of the tour, and they were all full of items, photos and information about the Aston family. It is a nice idea, to find out more about some of the other owners of the castle, but only if they were people we had actually heard of, or other members of the royal family. As it was, the Aston Wing seemed like a bit of an afterthought which was just added to the tour of the castle in order to fill up a bit of time and space. It may have been interesting for some, but it wasn't for me.
Housed in the 13th Century gatehouse is the Regimental Museum of the Kent and Sharpshooters Yeomanry (which I will refer to as the RMKSY), and on the floor below you will find an 'Armour, Instruments of Execution, Discipline and Torture' exhibition. I felt similarly about the RMKSY as I did about the Pampered Prince exhibition, in that it was unrelated to the most interesting aspect of the castle and the space could have been used for something else. The display of medals they had was quite impressive, but that was the most interesting part of the museum. Luckily it only took up one room. On the other hand, the torture exhibition was fascinating. To learn about how the Tudors tortured criminals and outspoken women was really interesting, and it's impossible to look at some of the torture instruments without wincing at what they would have felt like! This was a fun, engaging way to finish the tour of the castle.
This 13th Century gatehouse is accessed by a narrow spiral stone staircase, with steps which have different tread depths. If you have mobility problems this staircase may prove difficult to climb, and I'm not sure if the castle provides access for people who can't ascend or descend these stairs. It's worth ringing them up beforehand to find out - we did this for a different reason and the staff were very helpful and understanding - as it would be a pity to miss out this last part of the tour. However, if it is unavoidable, at least you will not be missing out on anything directly linked to Anne Boleyn!
We visited on a rare sunny day, and it happened to be the last day of most people's school holidays. As a result, it was very busy and as some of the rooms and corridors are quite small, it was often quite busy and crowded. I'd advise that you go on a day which is less likely to be busy - maybe during term-time if you can, or on a bleaker looking day - as your whole visiting experience will probably be a lot more pleasant. Even if it is busy, you will still be able to see everything that you want to, although it may require a lot of shuffling and dodging other visitors, and it may take you a bit longer to look around the castle as a whole.
All in all it took us about an hour and a half to look around the entire castle. This seemed like just the right length of time, as any more may have been a bit boring and tiring, yet any less and we would have felt a bit cheated. As it was, I think we got our money's worth.
As a whole, the castle was much smaller than I was expecting - both from the outside and the inside. It was very interesting and provides a real insight into an intriguing woman who most of us know very little about. I did, however, feel that a little too much time and focus was on Henry VIII and the rest of his six wives. Of course, they had to be mentioned as they play an important part in history, but this was Anne Boleyn's childhood home and I felt that more attention should be paid to her. Nevertheless, it is definitely worth paying those extra couple of pounds to be able to look around the castle as well as the gardens, as you will get your money's worth.
The gardens are absolutely beautiful. I understand that there are 30 acres of landscaped gardens, plus a 38 acre lake! You can spend hours in the gardens alone, just walking, taking in the views, sunbathing, having a picnic or playing with your children and dogs.
We must have spent 2 or 3 hours in the gardens, yet didn't even see half of them! Some of the beautiful features they have include the Half Moon Pond, the Walled Rose Gardens and the Boating Lake. The Boating Lake is stunning, if not a little windy and chilly! You can hire a traditionally built rowing boat, which I think can seat 6 people, although I'm not entirely sure. This boat hire costs £10 per hour, which I think is a fair charge as it's a beautiful and enjoyable way to spend an hour of your day.
There is a Lake Walk, which will take you all the way around the lake, passing features such as a waterfall and the Deer Pond. This walk should take you approximately 1 hour, although obviously depends on how quickly or slowly you amble your way around. We didn't go on this walk, but from what I saw of the rest of the gardens, the Lake Walk is probably magnificent.
The gardens also include two mazes: the Water Maze and the Yew Maze. Both seemed to be a popular choice with the children and adults alike, although we didn't try them out for ourselves. I prefer to know where I'm going and how long it will take me! Both of the mazes are only open April to October, weather permitting, so you won't be able to try them out if you visit during Winter.
The Yew Maze is a traditional hedge-style maze, which has a quarter of a mile of pathways within it. It is suitable for wheelchairs so can be enjoyed by anyone. The Water Maze, on the other hand, is made up of a series of stepping stones poised above water, so I'm not sure of how easy it would be for wheelchairs to try it out. Be warned, when you step on some of the stepping stones they tilt, sending out a jet of water to get you all wet. The aim is to keep dry, but it's very difficult, so if you don't fancy risking getting a soaking it may be worth giving the Water Maze a miss!
---Places To Eat---
Aside from taking your own picnic, there are three places to eat within the castle grounds. The Moat Restaurant is next to the shop and the disabled parking area; the Pavilion Restaurant and the Pavilion Café are behind the Walled Rose Gardens and just down from the Boating Lake.
The Moat Restaurant offers a selection of fresh sandwiches, crisps, and hot meals, as well as some hot, cold and alcoholic drinks. We tried the sandwiches and drinks: the sandwiches were well made and tasty. We did not visit the Pavilion Restaurant, but the Pavilion Café sells the same selection of drinks, crisps and sandwiches, as well as some huge, mouth-watering, castle-baked cakes and muffins. Being castle-baked, these were very moist and fresh, and the slices of cake (often triple layered cakes!) were big enough to share between a family!
The one big downside to the food sold in these Restaurants and Cafés is the price. At the Moat Restaurant we had 3 sandwiches, 2 bottled drinks and 1 coffee...all of which came to over £19. All of the sandwiches which we saw were £4 each, and although they were fresh and tasty, they were nothing special. There were no exciting flavours, and just tasted like something I could make at home. The simply served them with a pile of rocket on the side which was difficult to eat, and as a result we all felt that £4 was very much on the expensive side for these sandwiches. In my opinion, you'd be better off taking your own lunch, as it'd be a lot cheaper and you could make yourself any flavour you like!
Each of the Restaurants and Cafés has spaces to eat both inside and outside. Although the inside spaces looked nice, clean and well-lit, it was a sunny day so we chose to sit outside instead. Big mistake. The wasps are a huge problem around the restaurants at Hever Castle, and as long as you're sitting outside, you are guaranteed to be surrounded by two, three, even more as you try and eat your food. They are such a nuisance and it's clearly a problem that the staff have realised, as if you look around there are many wasp traps all hanging up. They are all full, but for each of those trapped wasps, there are many more flying about.
I have 3 suggestions for you to combat this. Firstly, sit inside instead. You may miss out on a bit of sunshine, but at least you can eat in peace. If you're allergic to wasps, this may seem like a very appealing option. Secondly, if you have a hot drink the sugar comes in the form of cubes. Place one of these on the other end of your outdoor table, or just underneath on the floor, and all the wasps will flock to it, choosing to eat that rather than have a bite of your food, leaving you to eat in peace. Lastly, and probably my biggest recommendation, would be to take your own food. Not only would you save money, as I have mentioned before, but you could sit anywhere in the beautiful gardens and eat it, well away from the pesky wasps. They tend to hang around near the restaurants as they know that that's where the food is, so take your food somewhere else and you should be safe from them.
Near the Pavilion Café and Restaurant there is a Potting Shed and Shop. There are many beautiful plants available for you to buy, all of which have been grown in the castle gardens. You can take your very own piece of history home with you! We didn't actually enter this shop, we just saw it from the outside, so I can't comment on what else it sells - if anything.
The Moat Shop, next to the Moat Restaurant, also has a few plants for sale, but I gather that it sells more in the way of souvenirs than the other shop. Just more than half the shop was taken up with items for sale which are totally unrelated to Hever Castle, its owners, the Tudors or history. There was a lot of glassware and jewellery on sale, where I would have preferred to browse through historically related items. After all, it is a historical attraction! They did have a few Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII related items, postcards and books, though, which were all reasonably priced.
Situated right next door, there is also a Children's Shop which you can visit - should you be able to get through the door and past the crowds. This does sell some Hever Castle souvenirs, as well as some other toys and books, the same kind that you find at any gift shop. Either way, there'll definitely be something in there for your little ones. :)
There's not really a lot of other things I can talk about (yes, I hear your sighs of relief that we're nearly at the end), except that throughout the year they have loads of different entertainment and events. Throughout July and August they had jousting tournaments, which I'm sure they'll put on again sometime soon, and they have organised lots of special Christmas events. I've seen some of their events a few years ago, and they really are quite special. Apart from being interesting and teaching you a thing or two, they're lots of fun for the whole family. There are things going on all year round, so it's worth checking on their website and co-ordinating your visit with some of these other special activities.
So we've made it to the end (finally!) and it's time for me to sum up my thoughts on the Hever Castle experience as a whole.
Hever Castle is definitely a place to visit, whether it's because you want to soak up a bit of culture and history, to have a stroll through the gardens, or to just have a great day out.
It might sound like a cliché, but there really is something for everyone, all through the year whilst the castle is open. Children and adults alike will love to explore the gardens and the mazes, and the castle itself will prove fascinating and interesting for people of all ages. It is most certainly worth going to visit the castle as well, rather than just the gardens.
All in all we had a brilliant day out, and would definitely go and visit Hever Castle again. It's probably a bit small to visit more often than every couple of years, but if I lived a bit closer I would certainly go for days out in the gardens more regularly. I would give it 4 and a half stars if I could, but due to the high prices for the food and the few rooms in the castle which I found less interesting, I can't give it a perfect 5 stars so have to knock 1 off.
Both thank you and well done for reading 'til the end, and I hope you enjoy your visit to Hever Castle if you are lucky enough to visit it!
---More details on all aspects of your visit can be found at www.hevercastle.co.uk, or by phoning +44 (0)1732 865224---
Summary: Hever Castle should be on your list of top 100 places to visit before you die! :)
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