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
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Hever Castle (Kent)
Member Name: thehonesttruth
Hever Castle (Kent)
Advantages: Fascinating objects to look at, wonderfully laid out gardens
Disadvantages: Castle itself not wheelchair or pushchair accessible, lack of interactive exhibits
We travelled to the castle from Eastbourne, heading up through Tonbridge Wells towards Edenbridge. The castle wasn't particularly well signposted from the direction we came in, though I've seen signs off the M25 from London. The entrance to the castle is up a narrow road at the side of a church, leading you onto a large field used for car parking. On the day we came, the field was staffed by stewards, who helpfully directed us to free spaces. Parking is free, and the small wooden huts where you pay your entrance into the castle are just a minute or twos walk away.
Admission prices are as follows :
Individual Rates Castle & Gardens Gardens Only
Adult £14.00 £11.50
Senior Citizen £12.00 £10.00
Child (5-15) £8.00 £7.50
Family Ticket £36.00 £30.50
(2 adults/2 children or 1 adult/3 children), not applicable to groups.
Opening times in the main season, April to October are as below :
Gardens open: 10:30am
Castle open: 12 noon
Last admission: 5:00pm
Final exit: 6:00pm
These times do vary throughout the year, and on occasion the castle is closed for private functions, so it is worth checking out the website for accurate information before your visit. The website also lists any special events held at the castle - we were lucky enough to attend when there was a joust, which was included in the admission price .
I purchased a combined ticket for both the castle and grounds. It is worth noting at this point that the castle itself is not particularly wheelchair friendly, as there are a lot of stairs. Pushchairs are also not allowed within the castle itself, so this may influence your decision on which ticket to buy.
The castle itself is full of contrasts . Stepping through the dramatic looking stone keep, ringed by two moats, you enter a small courtyard. The interior walls of the courtyard are a complete contrast to the ones on the outside, being Tudor beamed, with plenty of leaded windows. Scattered around the courtyard are a few potted plants, and some old wooden seating. There was a short queue here to enter the castle itself, around ten minutes or so.
Inside, the contrasts continue - some rooms are still decorated in Tudor fashion, although much of this is not original, but instead an expensive and faithful restoration by William Waldorf Astor, who purchased the castle in a state of great disrepair, and restored it as a family home . He was very strict on the workers, insisting they use only tools and materials available to Tudor craftsmen, and also spent a lot of time seeking out authentic furnishings from the Tudor period.
However, one can't live in a museum, and other rooms are decorated in a much more comfortable and liveable 1920s style, although there is still plenty of luxury. There were plenty of things in the castle I found incredibly interesting - portraits of Henry VIII and his family, for example, gave a real feel for the people who lived in and visited the home, and Anne Boleyns illuminated 'Books of Hours' , one of which she wrote in herself (that's where I got my title!), are simply stunning to look at. You could spend hours wondering around in here , there is so much to see, and the optional audio tour we purchased (£2 per person, available in English, German, and French) was excellent for providing additional information about various objects.
I felt like I learned a lot about the objects inside the castle - for example, there was a pair of postilions boots in the entrance hall, and I had never realised that the pair was for two men, each wearing one boot to stop his leg becoming injured if trapped between two horses when pulling a coach . I also learned that Henry VIII feared so much for his safety that whenever he travelled, he has his own personal locks installed, one of which can be seen in the Dining Hall.
However, although I learned a lot about the objects, and about William Astor, I actually didn't feel I learned much about Anne Boleyn herself - I would have liked to have known more about her early days, and how she spent her time as a child,and to perhaps have seen a layout of how the grounds would have looked during that time, as the current grounds were laid out in 1904.
Some parts of the castle were roped off displays, where in others you could walk around and get a much closer look. Sadly, photography and filming are not permitted within the castle itself, and you are not able to touch any of the objects . I also felt the castle rather lacked in the kind of interactive exhibits that children enjoy - there were no buttons you could press to have long paragraphs of text read out to you, no costumes for children to try on, no medieval crafts for children to have a try at. My daughter sadly grew rather bored with the castle itself, though I found it fascinating .
Another small personal gripe I had with the castle itself was the profusion of flowers everywhere . Specifically Lilies. I have quite bad hayfever, and Lilies are the worst for setting me off . Within a few minutes of entering the castle, I began to feel quite unwell, and I do think that this stopped me spending as much time in the castle proper as I would have liked, as I needed to get some air.
Luckily, the grounds are stunning - and there is a fair bit for children to do in the grounds. The water maze in particular was brilliant - a sort of tower, surrounded by pathways over a pond. If you stood on the wrong bit of path, the tile would dip slightly, and a huge gush of water would come up and soak you.
There is a huge lake on the grounds, and you are able to take a boat out onto the lake, although we passed on this as my daughter is a bit of a wimp around boats . The lake was populated by ducks, swans, and geese, and at the time of our visit, some of the swans were a little agressive as they were protecting the cutest, fluffiest cygnets I have ever seen.
I don't know much about flowers, but I do know that the gardens were a real riot of colour, and there was a lovely shaded grotto walkway along one side . Many or the gardens had statues and wall plaques, some of which are very old and valuable, and date from roman times . There is a small yew maze in the garden which is fun to have a look round, and many wide lawned areas where you can sit and have a picnic.
The joust we attended was lots of fun - a fellow dressed up as Henry VIII started it off, shouting out it a large booming voice as mounted riders came up to the lists . It was very engaging for the children, with plenty of chances for them to shout out and cheer, and was realistic - shattered lancers, sore bums, and a slightly tipsy rider being some of the scenes we saw.
I could say so much more about the castle and the gardens - There are two cafes (though I didn't eat in either) and a couple of gift shops, one of which sells jams produced from fruits grown at Hever. There are various walks marked out on site that help take in the sites, and a children's adventure playground and tower maze .
I feel it is a fabulous attraction, although I think entrance is expensive and it could use some interactive exhibits to interest children. I also think it is a real shame you are not able to use a video camera within the castle - I can understand that flash photography might in some way damage objects, particularly the many original portraits, but I think it would have been nice if I could have videotaped my tour.
If I could, I would rate separately for the castle and gardens . The gardens would get the full five stars , as they have something for everyone. but the castle would get a mere three, as I do feel that despite being a very impressive and beautifully maintained historic building, it could do with being a bit more child friendly exhibit wise, and could do without the flowers making me ill!
Overall, I award Hever four stars . I think it is a wonderful place to visit, and certainly one to devote a full day to, as there is so much to see an do . Recommended!
Summary: A great day out!
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