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Leeds Castle (Maidstone)

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      18.10.2011 00:13
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      Very Family friendly , something for everyone of every age

      Leeds Castle

      August 2011 after doing our annual trip to Belgium for hubby's tobacco, we decided to stay over night at a Premier Inn and visit Leeds Castle the following day before heading home. Anyone that reads my reviews will know I love historical buildings and the UK has these in abundance; every year we pass signs for Leeds Castle and I have finally got to visit it.

      ~~ A little spot of history ~~

      The records of Leeds Castle dates back as far as 855 when it was known as the 'manor of Esledes' and was owned by a Saxon Royal family. Before the Norman Conquest, King Edward the confessor granted the manor to the house of Godwin, whose son (King) Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It is also mentioned in the doomsday book dated 1086.

      It was in 1090 when William II gave the manor to his cousin Hamo De Crevecoeur and it was his grandson Robert who began with building the first stone fortication in 1119 where the castle stands today. The castle went on to have six Royal Queens live inside it over the years, it went through many years of Royal residency and between 1517-1523 on the orders of Henry VIII the castle was transformed from a fortified stronghold into a magnificent Royal Palace, which he used with his first wife Catherine of Aragon. After 300yrs of Royal ownership it was leased out to Sir Anthony St Legar for the vast sum of £10.00 per annum in 1552.

      In 1632 it went through further changes when part of it was demolished and replaced with a large house in the Jacobean style. Then next major changes came in the early 19th century, when architect William Basket surveyed the castle and found that the mill and barbican were in ruins, the gatehouses were in disrepair, the Jacobean house was also in a state of decay; it was decided to demolish the main house and replace it with a Tudor style one, this was completed in 1823 and still stands today.

      The last major owner of the castle was Lady Baille and she arranged for a lot of the Art Deco design inside the castle, which during the war was used as a military hospital and it is believed that weapon research was secretly carried out here. It passed from Lady Baillie's estate to The Leeds Castle Charitable Trust in 1974, where it has been open to the public ever since.

      ~~ Our Visit ~~

      The castle opens at 1030am and we arrived about 15 minutes early and it was already filling up and there was a queue to book in and pay. It was a bit like the shops and banks where there is a line of desks with numbers above them, you know the ones when you hear a voice saying 'cashier no 5 please' etc.
      Staff were friendly and we paid our entrance fee and purchased an English guide book for £5.00, they did sell guide books in various languages. We decided not to us a wheelchair on this visit, as they only had manual ones to hire and it would have made my husband's already bad back even worse if he had to push me. The man on the till advised us we could catch the train for 50p each up and down from the castle, or we could walk one way or both ways if we wished, if we needed assistance at any time then to just ask a member of staff and they will arrange transport for us or anything else we needed. He also advised us that our ticket lasts for one year should we wish to return.

      We decided to walk to the castle as we were sure he said it was downhill, we soon realised our misunderstanding as it was definitely an uphill walk, but we took it steady and enjoyed the spectacular grounds and scenery. We walked post some very large plants and I was snapping away with my camera; the path took us past a wonderful vast lake and some luscious green gardens where families were already sitting with children who were running around and playing. The walk to the castle was very pleasant indeed and it really wasn't that far and with stopping to take photos and just going at a steady pace, I coped with it very well.

      We arrived at the Norman gatehouse which was very impressive especially as it was part of the original 12th century stronghold. We went through the Norman arch and were asked by staff if I could manage the old stairs that led to the dungeons, my husband instantly declined thinking that the old stairs would be too difficult for me to manage, so we were directed to the entrance hall which the others would eventually get to start the tour of the house. It was so crowded in the hall we turned around and sat on a bench outside for 10-15mins before trying again, apparently they has 2-3 coaches all arrive at the same time which had caused a bit of a gridlock.

      We only waited a few minutes as we were told more coaches were coming through very soon, so we joined the queue and a very kind usher let us through between groups as I am a lot slower, and this proved to be very useful as the next group soon caught me up and overtook me. One of the first things I noticed was the stone flooring and the thick stone walls, typical of a medieval castle. Some of the rooms have wall hangings, which act like a wallpaper, and some of the rooms were really fascinating to look at, but due to the horrendous amount of people going through it was hard to stop and look for long periods and some of the upstairs rooms you could only look at from the doorways. I won't go over every room with you, but there are a few that impressed me more than others, so I will mention a few things you will see on your visit.

      The Queen's room is one of the rooms that I said had damask wall hangings, these being green and a four poster bed with red drapery and a very large bed spread for the oversized state bed. The wall hangings and the draperies have the matching monograms HC which is entwined in a lovers knot to celebrate the marriage of Henry V and the French princess Catherine de Valois in 1420. The Queen's bathroom which is just off the bedroom has a semi circular chimney piece and fire, it also has a very unusual circular bath tub which is surrounded by a white curtain which is hung from a canopy, even the tub itself is covered by material, apparently according to the guide book this is to denote the rank and importance of the user. According to the book both the bed and the bath and other furnishings were designed to be easily dismantled so they could be kept safe when the Queen was not in residence.
      There is a magnificent portrait of Henry VIII above the fireplace in the Banqueting Hall; I was really impressed by this as I have a particular interest in the Tudor period.

      Lady Baillie's rooms were fairly impressive also and they were very much laid out as if she had just popped out for a few minutes. You had to see some of the rooms via mirrors as they were cordoned off by rope. I did like the display of her shoes and I did like the colours in her dressing room, cream and white. Her bedroom was done in style of French Regency from the 18th century; it was in a lovely blue colour with tiny little gold shelves each holding a crane (bird). Another thing I absolutely loved about the inside was the fact you could freely take as many photos as you liked, some people were even videoing it. I was in my element and I took hundreds of photos.

      After the castle we walked alongside the lake towards the courtyard where the restaurants were. There were lots of tables and seats dotted around the courtyard which we noticed as we walked through to the restaurant. We popped inside to see what was on offer and a main meal of a couple of small pieces of lamb; about 4 small potatoes and 1/2 dozen baby carrots cost £10.00. We were both disappointed with the menu choices and also with the cost, so we decided to back track and go to the little shop which offered refreshments like sandwiches and drinks, actually apart from sweets and ice-cream that's all it sold and a sandwich like the ones you get at petrol stations and not served with little extras was £4.00 which I thought was extremely over the top.

      Feeling a little peckish we took a look at the card with the map on which was given to us with our tickets and we noticed a place called Maze Market Grill which was by the children's play area and the maze, so we walked a little further and made our way there. We discovered that they only did burgers or sweets and ices, again the burgers were £4.00 each (a popular price it seems), a cup of tea or coffee was £2.00 ea. We decided against a burger and settled for a drink and we shared a Twix which although was lovely was not worth the 7 syns on my diet. As we were close to the end of our visit we thought we would look for a country pub in the village of Leeds at the end of our visit (we did find one and enjoyed a lovely lunch).

      Hubby took some more pictures for me whilst I had a rest, as the children's play area was here, with a knight's realm playground which is a small wooden scale model of the castle. After resting hubby asked if I wanted to take the boat over the lake to the far side (which costs 1.00 ea person for each way), but I fancied walking that short distance to have another look at the black swans and have a look at the aviary and the gardens again (more photo opportunities).

      I really enjoyed the lovely leisurely stroll around both as we made our way back towards the courtyard and then the castle, where we took a few moments to rest on one of the benches looking over the moat at the castle where we could still see people queuing to get in. We then continued our walk over to the train shelter and waited for around 5 minutes for the train to arrive, we paid 50p each and it took us around the far side of the lake giving me the chance to take more pictures and see both the castle and the lakes from a different angle, it then dropped us off by the entrance/exit.

      I did nearly forget to mention that we saw a sign for the 'Dog Collar Museum' in the courtyard and we did wonder which kind of dog collar it meant, whether it be the ones vicars wore or the ones dogs wore, so we popped inside to find out. It was only a small exhibition, but I did find it very interesting; it was a display of animal dog collars which the owners have used over the years, some of them were very large with spikes and looked dead uncomfortable and horrific to be honest; they also had some black and white photos of some of the collars being worn by their pets.

      As we are a pair of old gits we didn't experience some of the family areas, but from what I could see the families all around us were having a fantastic time. They also supply activity sheets for your children to look out for things as they walk around; I did notice a couple of parents/grandparents helping the siblings as they walked around.

      The maze looked a good size and we saw a large group of young people sitting on whatever was in the middle of it. There is also a mythical grotto you can walk through too.

      There is a large gift shop by the entrance/exit which sells all the usual stuff plus a selection of scarves and jewellery, and a couple of little shops around the grounds to encourage you to part with your well earned cash. They are all as usual a tad on the expensive side, and I noted one little shop was selling outdoor toys and games for children, as there are a lot of places where they could play to their hearts content; but it may be a lot cheaper if you went to pound stretcher or another store and bought stuff with you.

      ~~Other items~~

      Disabilities - I have already mentioned about the transport available for people with mobility problems, and they do have parking for blue badge holders and specially adapted toilet facilities which are for people with disabilities and they double up as a baby changing room as well. People with disabilities get in on a concession rate and their carers can visit for free.

      You can also get a family audio guide if you want.

      They have a 9 hole golf course; bed and breakfast facilities if you wish to stay over; as well as this they also let out holiday cottages, pls take a look at their website for further info www.leeds-castle.com where you can also take a look at other things they offer like hot air balloon rides or even a high wire forest adventure.

      They hold various events throughout the year like practising archery, a jousting tournament, concerts, fireworks, Christmas etc. So it is worth having a look to see if you want to tie your visit in to match one of these events.

      No dogs are allowed on the grounds, unless it is a guide dog.

      You can also host your wedding here, or any kind of celebration or conference, just contact their hospitality team on 01622 767813,

      ~~ Prices and Opening Times 2011 ~~

      Adults - £18.50 ea

      OAP/Students/Disabled - £16.00 ea
      (Remember carers go in free)

      Children age 4-15 years - £11.00 ea

      Grounds are open from 1000hrs daily

      The castle opens from 1030hrs to 1800hrs from April to Sept; with the last admission being @1630hrs and between Oct - Mar last admission being at 1500hrs with it closing at 1700hrs.

      ~~ Where is it ~~

      Well it's not in Leeds, although the village is in Kent where it is set is also called Leeds. The address is Leeds Castle, Maidstone, Kent, ME17 1PL.

      It is sign posted from Junction 8 of the M20 between London and the channel ports. If you live in the London area there are companies that offer tours, the website will have the details. By train you can plan your journey by looking at www.leedscastlebytrain.com and they offer a shuttle service from the station to the castle at a price of £5.00 per adult and £3.00 for children; to tie this up with your train schedule take a look at the web site for www.spothire.co.uk.

      It is approx 25 miles from the Euro tunnel and 38 miles from Dover.

      ~~ Overall ~~

      We really enjoyed our visit and the castle has a lot to offer for every member of the family. I do feel that a lot of effort has been given to entertaining people and meeting their needs, although I do feel that they exploit the captive audience when it comes to their food prices and I would recommend that you take your own picnic.

      I think that everyone will take a pleasant memory away with them after visiting here, it is a wonderful place to visit and well presented, steeped with history to feed the enquiring mind. A historic building that we should be proud of and I would highly recommend a visit here.


      Thanks for reading
      Arnoldhenryrufus (Lyn x )

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        01.02.2010 18:11
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        Get your key to the castle today!

        Leeds Casle is a a public attraction in Maidstone Kent (not Leeds further North as some get confused by the name). It is a castle built by Henry the VIII accompanied by a lot of well kept land. The Castle and grounds are open to the public, for a fee. The best thing about Leed's Castle is once you pay once you get to come back for a whole year for free, so if you make the most of this, it makes superb value.

        The castle itself is fully furnished and modelled to different eras. It is incredibly interesting seeing all the furnishings, reading all the history and seeing how people lived. It is decorated on top of that according to the season, and it is unmissable in Christmas time.

        The Castle is not all that there is to see. The grounds are beautiful, and have a huge moat. There is an avary with regular bird shows, these are great and not worth missing out on. The birds really act up and do incredible stuff and the owners are great with them.

        There are different evens in the castle and grounds at different times. The best way to check out whats on in so check the website:

        http://www.leeds-castle.com/goto.php?ref=y&sess=u0|p0|n0|c0|s0|g1|d0&

        Certain events may cost a little extra. I have been to an ice rink, and a christmas fair, both have been amazing.

        I would encourage you to visit Leeds Castle. It is fantastic in appearance, there is so much to do, and it represents great value for money. At present adults are 16.50 and children are 9.50.

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        10.09.2009 12:23
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        A great day out for the whole family

        Leeds Castle, near Maidstone in Kent, is reputed to be the most beautiful castle in England. I'm not sure if I would agree with this statement as I think there are many beautiful castles in this lovely country, but it is certainly beautiful and well worth a visit. I have been fortunate enough to have visited Leeds castle 3 times within the past year and have enjoyed it every time. The great thing about the entry tickets is that they are valid for an entire year after purchase:
        Adults ticket: £16.50
        Concession ticket: £13.50
        Child ticket: £9.50
        Audio tour: £3.00
        There is plenty of free parking available.

        Leeds Castle was built in the 12th century and has been continuously inhabited since then. It has also frequently been rebuilt with bits being added on every so often, the last rebuilding took place in the 1930's. Leeds Castle is not very big and is surrounded by a beautiful lake. The entire castle has been decorated to take you on a journey through the castle's history.

        There is more to the castle than the buildings. Leeds Castles has a programme of activities running throughout the year (see the website for details) ranging from flower shows, to jousting tournaments to half-term activities focussing on children. I visited the castle during half-term last October with my friend and 3 children . . . there were so many activities and shows for the children to see and participate in that there was barely enough time to visit the castle itself! Leeds Castle also has the most spectacular children's play area which I have ever seen . . . you could definitely set aside a couple of hours for the kids to enjoy themselves here!

        Leeds Castle is surrounded by beautiful immaculately kept garden with streams and ponds filled with ducks, geese and swans. The castle also has world famous aviaries with an active breeding programme. It is lovely walking through the aviaries looking at all the beautiful birds and parrots. They also have daily falconry displays which are a great favourite among children.

        Leeds Castle maze is a bit of an enigma to me . . . I have tried finding my way through it many times and mostly I seem to end up back at the entrance. I have managed to get through the maze twice before and to exit you have to make your way through a fantasy grotto.

        Another attraction at Leeds is the 9 hole pay-and-play golf course.

        When you are feeling a bit peckish the castle's Fairfax restaurant does great lunches and teas. Alternatively there are a couple of café's which sell refreshments.

        Opening times 10am - 6pm.
        For more information visit www.leeds-castle.com

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        29.05.2009 08:29
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        Certainly worth a visit.

        A lovely idyllic place to visit lurks not too far from London. From the M20/M25 junction you can get to this place in about half an hour without breaking the sound barrier.

        I'm a tad more fortunate as I can get to this place in around 5-10 minutes from where I live.

        Leeds castle is set in the heart of Kent. It's a splendid little attraction and on a clement day can be a most pleasing experience. It lies next to a village called Leeds (not the city up in Yorkshire) and is very well signposted.

        Upon arrival you will be directed to an appropriate parking bay by a friendly steward. A brief walk among the grounds soon brings you to the kiosk/payment desk and you can begin your day.

        Payment seems steep at first at £16.50. However, this is a year long pass which for me is very good value for money. Any time I wish to roam about the castle I am at liberty to do so within that year (provided there are no special events on). I think this is an excellent idea and more attractions should certainly follow suit.

        The grounds/gardens around the castle are festooned with a great variety of botanical gems. Sometimes you can forget about the castle altogether and just spend your time ambling along in the gentle Kent countryside, especially on a Summer's day.

        After a goodly walk you arrive at the gatehouse proper. The castle's heritage travels back into the time of 1278 and also became a favourite haunt of King Henry VIII a couple of centuries later.

        In the castle itself you follow a pre-determined path and a host of guides are available to answer questions or offer advice. A word of warning though. If a coachload of tourists are around (quite a common occurence) you tend to find yourself hastening along. Alas it does spoil the ambience somewhat but I'm sure the owners of the castle won't complain too much!

        I would guess it takes a good half hour to an hour to look around the castle and the interior has more the air of a stately home than a military base. There are plenty of paintings to gaze upon as well as a moat outside which adds to the scene.

        Upon finishing the tour of the castle there is the Culpepper Gardens which feature an array of herbs/flowers. The scent in the summer is extremely aromatic. Nearby is the dog collar museum which holds surprise, surprise dog collars! An unusual collection is on offer but it certainly makes a change from the normal displays you might expect.

        There is a restaurant in the grounds (which I haven't used) and an outlet offering snacks. A word of warning, I tend to have something to eat before I visit as I found the prices rather extortionate (£4.00 for a cheese baguette if my memory serves!)

        There is also an aviary nearby. The range of exotic birds is surprising and believe me they do make quite a din for the visitors. Parrots, Macaws and even Ibis's peer back at their curious guests. It's almost worth a visit on its own.

        Further along is a maze for the more adventurous (with a grotto in the middle) and an education centre which I haven't visited. There are also various birds of prey nearby which are used for displays by the falconry staff.

        There are also pleasant walks by the river and it all adds up to a very enjoyable day. I'd recommend a visit for sure and do take advantage of the yearly pass if you are a local.

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          21.05.2009 00:49
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          An intriguing and historically rich castle with something for everyone

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          The History of the Castle
          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          Leeds Castle started out as a Saxon Manor but began transformation into a castle in 1119 by Robert de Crevecoeur - a descendant of one of William the Conqueror's lords. It grew to even dizzier heights when it switched ownership and became part of the royal estate in 1278 from which time it was held by no less than 6 medieval queens.

          Oh, and also that more interesting monarch Henry VIII visited the castle with Catherine of Aragon and their whole court in 1520 whilst on their way to the Field of the Gold Cloth Tournament in France. It was then passed to Henry's son, Edward VI in 1552 and since then has been in private ownership.

          The last private owner of the castle was Lady Baillie who upon her death in 1974 left the castle to the Leeds Castle Foundation who, according to her wishes, have kept the castle as a living house.

          And there's your brief history of the castle.

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          Picturesque Scenery
          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          To gain access to the castle you will pass through a stretch of very picturesque grounds which include a duckery, a wood garden, a cedar lawn and a pavilion lawn. Even if you are not a nature lover this walk will be very relaxing, and if you are you will probably find the duckery very informative as there is quite a lot if information on the individual ducks that inhabit the duckery dotted around - including the very rare Hawaiian Ne Ne duck (or so I've been reliably informed).

          You may even get a treat and spot a black swan - now the symbol of the castle!

          This walk will take a good 10-15 minutes and there are some land trains available to take the less able bodied or just plain lazy (there's no discrimination here) directly up to the castle entrance. One lovely feature of taking this walk is the occasional peacock strutting around completely unaffected by the tourists, something that would be a shame to miss.

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Activities
          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          When you hit the castle entrance you will be assaulted by choice. I feel that there is no logical order to enjoy all the features of the castle and the surrounding area, although many of the activities are outside so are dependent on the weather which should probably be taken into consideration - especially given the unreliable English weather!

          The great range of activities include a tour round the castle and the adjoining barbican and gatehouse, a walk round several gardens and a vineyard, a dog collar museum, an aviary, a maze, a 9 hole golf course and for the children the toddlers' play area, knights' realm adventure playground, a turf maze and a Go Ape! Forest adventure. There are also some seasonal activities which include Falconry and a nature trail.

          Plenty to pack into one day!

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          The Castle
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          The castle has an extensive range of rooms over two main floors rich with a wide variety of styles and different periods of history. You begin in the cellar where a bit of imagination is required as to how it would have used to look (the store of modern day wine used for functions may destroy the illusion a little) and quickly move onto the rest of the castle where you can stroll through each room at your own speed taking in all the delights the castle has to offer.

          I never used it myself but there is an audio guide available for hire to talk you around the castle if that is preferable to reading it from the written or actual guides available in each room.

          There is evidence of the great history this castle has to offer at every turn, whether it be 16th Century authentic fireplaces, or magnificent ceremonial bed chambers, the chance to learn about the private owners of the castle (typically the Fairfax family with a room of stunning portraits or several rooms depicting Lady Baillie's way of life) through rooms devoted to them or even just the styles and architecture used through the different periods with the different types of wall panelling and furnishing.

          This castle is just so full of history and intrigue that it stands up just as well as some of the other greats like Warwick Castle or Windsor Castle and is well worth a visit if journeying through history is of interest to you.

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          The Dog Collar Museum
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          This museum boasts the largest collection of dog collars on display in the whole of England. Whilst some of the collars were, to be fair, quite ornate, there's not much of a back story that can be given about a dog collar so I did personally find this museum a little dull. From my perspective, if you've seen one you've seen them all. However, I am a self-proclaimed cat person, so maybe unfairly dogs don't interest me all that much, so if you are a dog person this may appeal to you a bit more.

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          The Gardens
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          There are two gardens available to walk round - the Culpeper Garden and the Lady Ballie Mediterranean Garden. These are both very pleasant for a stroll around with perhaps the Mediterranean Garden having a more interesting and wider range of plants to appreciate.

          But with the potential threat of small children running around either of these two gardens would be perfect to grab a quick bit of tranquillity if you so require it.

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          The Aviary
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          This is a perfect attraction for any bird-lovers out there - in a well spaced out area there were plenty of exotic and endangered birds to see, you didn't find yourself too crowded out to be able to spot the birds as the cages where built so high the birds were practically always in sight.

          There was ample information about each bird and as one of those people easily distracted by shiny things I found myself particularly liking the brightly coloured exotic parrots. This is a nice little addition to Leeds Castle, something that both children and adults can enjoy together.

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          The Maze and Grotto
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          To me, very unexpectedly, the maze was the highlight of my visit. This maze was a very attractive looking one with walls made from yew trees and as usual I was expecting to stroll right through and find the middle before you can even say SatNav. Sadly, this was not to be, and it took a good 20 minutes and bumping into the same 5 couples later before that elusive centre was found. But boy was it worth it. The exit from the maze can only be sought by entering a slightly underground grotto, with some amazing wall artistry. The story behind some of the sculptures is from Greek mythology, combined with an almost macabre atmosphere created by some swirling music and eerie poetry recitals which really gave this grotto and fascinating feel to it.

          It is definitely worth sticking it out through the maze to be treated to the unexpected delight of the grotto.

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Facilities
          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          There are 4 toilets dotted around the grounds at all the main attraction sites which were very clean and with baby change and disable access toilets available.

          As I mentioned before, there is a land train to take those unable to cope with the longish walk to the castle to the main attractions. It is also possible to organise for a carer to enter free with a disabled person to allow them to experience as much of Leeds Castle as possible.

          There are picnic areas set aside if you have brought your own lunch with you located at the main entrance (quite a distance away from the castle) and in the children play areas, there is a snack bar and some seasonal catering outlets available for a light lunch, or there is a restaurant available near the dog collar museum if you wanted to have a more substantial lunch.

          This restaurant has a waitress service (hope I'm not being politically incorrect), a nice range of hot and cold lunches all at a very reasonable price. The waitress service was very friendly and quick and the food was served to a high standard, so overall I was very impressed by the restaurant.

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Prices
          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          Adult £16.50
          Senior Citizens/Students/Visitors with Disabilities £13.50
          Children (4-15 yrs) £9.50

          These prices may seem a little high, but considering the vast range of activities and the fact that your ticket is valid for as many entries as you want for a whole year after the initial date of purchase it wouldn't take many visits to get more than your money's worth!

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Conclusion
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          Leeds Castle is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining attraction, with literally something for everyone. I believe it to be a great place for parents to take their children with lots of activities for them to do and green space to run around in, or as a great place for those interested in history to absorb some of the splendours Leeds Castle has to offer.

          I think you get great value for money especially with the chance to return again for free for another year and would recommend it to everyone.

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            08.01.2009 15:11
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            Lovely castle with wide ange of activities to interest a whole family

            Leeds Castle

            Leeds Castle is not in Leeds, which may come as a surprise to some people, but is near Maidstone in Kent. It is known as Leeds castle because way back in Saxon times it was The Manor house of Esledes which became a fortified castle in about 1119. The name Esledes became shortened in speech to Ledes which in turn became Leeds. This castle has had a long and interesting history from this time forward.

            How to get there:
            By road: Junction 8 of the M20 between London and the Channel ports.

            Combined coach and castle entrance tickets with National express www.nationalexpress.com

            By rail: Trains daily from London Victoria to Bearsted Station. Then a coach shuttle service operates by Spot Hire from Bearsted Station. £5 return trip adults and £3 for children. See www.spothire.co.uk

            A Potted History:

            In Tudor times Henry VIII often visited, the most memorable time being with his wife Catherine of Aragon as a convenient place to stop on the way to the Field of the Cloth of Gold Tournament which took place in France in 1520.

            The castle has been in private ownership since King Edward VI gave it to one of Henry VIII's courtiers for services. It has seen many changes of ownership and has been used as a garrison, a prison and a convalescent home. The last private owner, an American heiress, Lady Baillie restored the castle (some feel not too accurately and with rather more Hollywood than true English castle) and then founded the Leeds Castle Foundation in 1974. The description in the guide book of Lady Baillie's restoration is,
            'the interiors carry the indelible mark of Lady Baillie, who used the finest French architects and designers to create an elegant 20th century country retreat.'


            The Key to the Castle:
            Tickets are:
            Adults £15
            Senior Citizens/Students/ visitors with disabilities £12.50
            Children (4 - 15 yrs) £9.50
            Wow I hear you exclaim that is a lot. Certainly that is what we thought when they said £30 for two adults but this price allows you entrance for a year. Now that probably won't be used by us coming from Derbyshire but if you lived nearby you could go every day except 3rd July, 8/9th Nov and Christmas and it would be a real bargain. If you are disabled then a carer can go with you for free and most of the castle and gardens are easily accessible to all visitors. The grounds open from 10am and the castle at 10.30 and it closes at 5pm in winter and 7pm in summer.


            Once you have you key:
            You enter the grounds, our parking was free (part of the £30 we paid to get in) and the first thing you see is a notice offering a 'train ride' to the castle. This is actually a 4 wheel drive vehicle pulling a train-like carriage which would be useful for those unable to walk reasonable distances. We didn't bother and opted for the path walkway through the gardens and water bird area.

            Hiflyer Balloon:
            On the left as you enter the grounds is a huge tethered helium balloon. They call it the Leeds Castle Hiflyer balloon. You apparently get a bird's eye view of the castle from 400 feet above. It takes 15 minutes and is dependable upon weather conditions. It certainly didn't look very active while we were there so maybe it doesn't work in winter months. We visited in late December 2008. There is an extra cost - not included in your'key' I'm afraid. You can pay £14 adult, £11.50 concessions and £8 for children for the flight or get a combined Hiflyer and Leeds Castle ticket for £26 adult, £23 concessions and £16 for children.

            Go Ape:
            Another exciting part that was not open in December was 'Go Ape' which is a hire wire forest adventure which opened in March 2008. There are rope bridges, high wire slides and zip wires. There is a special website for this section www.goape.co.uk but we didn't go to this part of the castle grounds at all. I'm not sure of prices for this activity and assume as it has a special website that this is extra.

            The Gardens:
            As we wandered along the path towards the castle we were able to enjoy the beautiful gardens. Even though it was winter they were still a pleasure to walk through and as we were there quite early on a mid December week day we were virtually alone enjoying the sound of the waterfalls and it was easy to imagine how it all looked on a summer's day with flowers on the rose bushes and rhododendrons in the woodland areas. Throughout the garden area we could see floodlights and other lights in various trees but as we didn't stay till after dark we had to imagine how they looked as well. As you wander through you are often greeted by a peacock casually pecking at the ground or sleeping peacefully beside the path.

            The path took us through the water bird area or 'duckery' where there were ducks, geese, swans (even black swans from Australia) moor hens and so many variants of each type it was a bird watchers paradise. Lady Baillie was quite keen on birds and had species brought from all around the world which have settled happily and bred here this is one way the Leeds Castle Foundation contributes to important global conservation projects.

            As you pass through from the water fowl area you get your first glimpse of the castle and it is quite magical. The tagline on their promotion is 'Britain's loveliest castle' and it does take some beating. The setting is so picturesque as it is set on its two islands on the River Len surrounding by acres of beautifully kept gardens in the middle of the Kent countryside. It really does look like a fairy tale castle of stories of old.


            The Castle itself:
            As you get closer you approach the older walls which are incomplete and the draw bridge entrance which houses a shop and very discreetly the toilets are behind out of view ( and very chilly in winter too!). They guide you round the castle so that you enter from the lake side and through the cellars. You would have to watch children here as the path is right alongside the water at this point and it looks pretty deep.

            As I mentioned we visited in December 2008 and the castle was dressed for C Christmas and very fine it looked too. Every room was dressed in a different way but all contributed to the theme of 'The Nutcracker Suite'. I have not been to the castle before so I don't know what it looks like at other times but decorated in this way for Christmas it was quite enchanting.

            I can't remember exactly how each room was decorated and the order they came but the first room I recall was a large bedroom full of mice and a couple of large nutcrackers. The mice were rat sized and were everywhere even on the bed - they looked a bit like the stuffed ones they sell at IKEA for children to play with. The dining room was pink and white with the table laid like the kingdom of sweets. Every room had a Christmas tree decorated in different colours. Lady Baillie's bedroom was shades of peacock blue and was the least Christmassy and probably the most like it usually is seen by visitors. There was a dressmaker's dummy with clothes worn by her ladyship, very showy and rather 1920's in my opinion. The next bedroom had floating pink tutus hung around from the ceiling which was a little weird.

            Everywhere we went there were decorations, even going up the stairs sets of ballet shoes hung from the banisters. I wish I had had a little girl to take round with me who was keen on ballet as she would have loved it.

            The tour took you through the entire castle and each room had a little notice or you could use a laminated page of information to find out any further things you might want to know. This sheet was handed in as you left the castle through the front door. One of the guides was in the front hall to check whether you had any further questions and ask if you had enjoyed the castle before opening the door for you to exit.

            The Dog Collar Museum:
            Yes you did read it correctly, and we had to go and see what was in here. As we left the castle we followed the path up and round to the restaurant and courtyard area. We came across the Dog Collar Museum, which has to be the strangest collection I have come across in a small museum. It is a unique collection of over 100 collars spanning 5 centuries. It was presented to the Leeds Castle Foundation by Mrs Gertrude hunt in memory of her husband John Hunt. Some of these collars looked more like medieval instruments of torture than collars. It was very bizarre, but nonetheless interesting in its own way.

            The restaurant:
            Just opposite the Dog Collar Museum was the cafe or restaurant which looked warm and welcoming so we decided to go and have a cup of something hot and wet. It was very empty, only a few people of similar age to us enjoying a quite cup of coffee or simple lunch. We only had a coffee so I can't really comment on the food but the ladies serving were very pleasant and friendly and it was nice to sit and look at the castle from the other side.
            End of our visit
            We decided we had seen enough and most of the other attractions were not open anyway so this was the end of our visit however there are many other things available to do in summer months and also things specifically aimed at children.


            The Castle Today:
            I was impressed that the castle is not just there as a tourist attraction it is used for many events which you can see if you go to the website. For example in 2008 there was a Easter Kite Festival from 21st - 24th March, Leeds Castle Horse Show from 26th-27th April, a jousting Tournament from 27th May - 1st June and there were many other such events. As well as those type of events Leeds Castle grounds were used for concerts and Shakespeare plays then in the winter months there are Firework Displays and of course the Christmas activities.

            At special times there are dining events, weddings can take place there and they have conferences and banquets there. I think that it is nice to know that a building is still useful as well as decorative, it keeps it alive more.

            There is also a pay and play golf course set in the grounds so if you live locally that would be a very special place to play golf but I am not sure of the cost or what the course is like.

            There are falconry displays at specific times but I'm not mad on birds of prey in captivity so I'm afraid this was something we passed on visiting. The same with the Aviary, so not sure what was on offer there.

            There are of course gift shops offering such quite pricey gifts and souvenirs as well as luxury food items and wines made from the Castle vineyards. Nice to look around but not cheap and tacky, in fact quite expensive.


            For Children:
            There is an adventure playground for children designed as a model of the castle. There is also a proper big maze for adults and children with decent sized hedges that you really do need to spend some time in. If you make it to the centre then you come out through a grotto with mythical beasts. Younger children can enjoy a toddler play area and a low maze of turf.

            The brassrubbing trail
            As we followed the path towards the castle there were a number of posts with brasses stuck on them. These were part of a trail for children to follow and collect the rubbings either on their own paper or they could buy a booklet for £1 from the shop. There is also an activity book with information, pictures to colour and quizzes which is £3.50

            Summary:
            We had a very pleasant visit although £30 was quite steep for a day. If you went with children in the summer months when the days are light longer you would be able to get a lot more out of the visit. If you are lucky enough to live nearby then you should certainly get value for your money. I am sure there are more interesting things that I am not aware of or that I missed. The prices were accurate for December 2008 as was the information about transport but it is probably safer to check. There is also a website for the castle that has other pictures and full information if you are thinking of visiting.

            ©Catsholiday

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              09.11.2004 12:17

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              • "Too Many People"

              Leeds Castle Grand Firework Spectacular - Advantages: Good Display - Disadvantages: Overpriced Food, Took Hours To Exit Car Park, Too Many People

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              21.09.2001 21:35
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              I saw lots of beautiful castles in different countries of the world but Leeds Castle is the most beautiful one have ever seen. As they say, Leeds Castle is the most romantic castle in England. It is located in south-east England. The castle is built on two islands in the river Len. You can enter every part of the castle. I think in some part of the castle, there are some aristocrats living in there. It is a bit confusion that Leeds Castle is not located in Leeds. Like my friends, I thought it was in Leeds as well. And till somebody told me, I thought it was there and I was about to head to north instead of south. A tour of the castle will give an idea about how a life in a castle like that could be. it is absolutely a beautiful building, well worth seeing. There are interesting places in the castle area. The most interesting one probably id the dog collar museum. It sound funny, isn’t it? There are lots of dog collars there. It is not a big place. It just one big room. There are over more than 100 antique dog collars at Leeds Castle. Some of them are from 16. century. I am not into dog collars J but maybe you may like it. Additionally, There is a very interesting maze in the castle’s garden. You can entertain yourself there. We really enjoyed it. Although we got some help from the guy at the top of the hill at the middle of the maze, we could not find the way to the hill. In the middle of the maze, there is a secret entrance underground which is exit of the maze. If you go to castle, you should absolutely see this maze. There is also a huge vineyard in the castle’s area. You may want to buy wine from the vineyards at Leeds Castle shops. You may also play golf in the castle’s area but I don’t know about the details. But it looks like a wonderful place to play golf. it is also used as a corporate conference centre. Therefore, if you are still looking for pl
              ace for your next board meeting or maybe wedding, you should choose Leeds Castle. But I do not have any idea about the price. You will also find the section where the rare birds in danger are. There are so many unbelievably beautiful birds there. As far as I know, If you are disabled, you may not be able to enter some parts of the castle anytime. Also , there were so many ducks and swans living in the castle area. It was really fun to watch them chasing the man feeding them. Price: Castle, Garden and Attractions:£10 for student £8.50. Garden and Attractions £8.50 for students £7 As far as I am concerned, this price is ok for such a beautiful castle with lots of attractions. You should absolutely see Leeds Castle. How to get there : About six miles southeast of Maidstone, on the A20, you will see the Leeds Castle. The signs will help you find the way. We found our way easily.

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                27.05.2001 15:52
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                Looking for something to do over the Bank Holiday weekend? Something which is still open to the public despite the foot and mouth restrictions? Suitable for the whole family, combining history, the outdoors, education, fun and also somewhat reminiscent of a fairy tale? If so, then Leeds Castle is certainly the place to come. Situated in the Kent countryside, a few miles from Maidstone, and only just over an hour from London, it’s very easy to get to. You could even leave the car at home for the day, as it’s possible to buy a combined ticket which includes either coach or rail travel. The regular admission price for an adult is £10, students £8.50 and children £6.50. You can also buy a family ticket for £29. This might seem a little on the expensive side, but for a fantastic day out, I think it’s well worth the money spent. There has been an actual castle at Leeds since 1119, built by one of the descendants of the Norman knights who had come over to England in 1066. It was built on a little island, (so you walk over a drawbridge to enter), and is connected to a fortified mill. This mill appears in the famous Domesday Book, showing that the site was of importance even before the castle itself was built. However, since 1119, the castle has undergone many changes. After the civil wars between Stephen and Matilda in the 12th century, the castle was taken over by Henry III, starting a long history of royal ownership. Extensive alterations were then made by the three Edwards, giving the castle a much more traditional, almost fairy-tale appearance, adding a barbican, gatehouse, turrets, and the wine cellar, which you walk through to get into the castle. There are no guided tours, you are left to look around at your own leisure, although there are guides in each room to answer your questions. I find some of them a little patronising, and they get a bit shirty if you actually know more than them about the period in question! I w
                ould strongly recommend that you buy a guide book – if the castle is crowded, and it can be in the summer months particularly, then it is sometimes difficult to get to the information points in each room. The most famous owner of Leeds Castle, and my main reason for visiting, was Henry VIII. As a Renaissance monarch, he spent huge amounts in extending and improving the existing structure. A castle was a visible sign of the monarch’s power, so it had to be impressive, whilst at the same time providing defence. Cardinal Wolsey also came to stay here, since in Tudor times, the ‘sweating sickness’ which broke out periodically, usually in the summer months, forced the upper classes out of London and into the country. You can walk through several Tudor style rooms here, including Henry VIII’s banqueting hall – probably my favourite room in the castle. It’s a very strange experience if you look out of the window, because you see the water surrounding the castle, and in a way, you feel as if you are on a boat, particularly if it’s windy, and the water looks a bit choppy! What irritates me a little however is that the room is not furnished in keeping with Tudor style, rather, as in all of the rooms, a collection of the castle’s furniture and ornaments is on display, from a mixture of periods. Other rooms are on a more modern theme, with very lavish furnishings, including Flemish tapestries for example. There is certainly plenty to look at in each room – adults could spend hours in here. After the death of Henry VIII, the castle passed back out of royal hands, firstly into the St Leger family, and eventually into the Baillie family. To be honest, the more modern history of the castle doesn’t interest me, although I am sure there are many people out there who would find it fascinating. Other rooms of interest include a bedroom prepared for the wife of Henry V, a chapel, and even a small dog c
                ollar museum in the gatehouse on the way out! Once you’ve satisfied the historian within you, then you can go and have a wander round the extensive grounds – if you’ve got children they may be getting a bit restless by this time! Of course, on the way up to the castle (which, by the way, is a considerable walk, and not much fun if you’re in the middle of a thunderstorm as I once was), you will have already walked through the duckery – this is really lovely, and has a varied collection of, surprisingly, ducks! If you’ve got children it might be an idea to bring some bread along with you so that they can feed them – I know I always used to enjoy this when I was small (still do now actually!) There are plenty of rivers, lakes, streams in the grounds, surrounded by the vibrant greens of the many trees, and the bright colours of the flowers. This is definitely a place to visit when the sun is shining – it really does look fabulous and I have got some great photographs – shame Dooyoo doesn’t let you add a photo to an op! The most enjoyable feature in the grounds however is the maze. Make sure you allow plenty of time for this – it may not look very large, but it is incredibly difficult to find the centre. If you get really stuck, there is a Castle employee who stands up on the raised section in the centre, and will guide you there, but it’s a lot more fun to try to find the centre for yourself. Apparently, if you look down on the maze, it resembles the shape of a queen’s crown – personally I can’t see this! The real treat is in store once you’ve arrived at the centre, as the way out is through a grotto. This is spectacular, it is underground, and makes wonderful use of natural materials – shells, rocks etc to recreate scenes from the castle’s history and from Greek myths. I was left breathless the first time I came in here – it was totally
                unexpected. I can guarantee that children and adults alike will love this! Another notable feature in the grounds is the aviary. An aviary was first established here in the 1950s, as the owner, Lady Baillie, had some Australian finches. Since then it has developed and grown, and now there are over a hundred different species, including toucans, parakeets, kookaburras and hornbills. The information about the birds is well laid out, and they seem to be in a well looked after environment. Sometimes talks are held, and you can watch some of them being fed. Finally, there is also a small collection of shops, cafés and a licensed restaurant. Prices are not particularly high (in fact, quite reasonable for a tourist attraction such as this), and the food is of a good quality. I have eaten in the Fairfax Hall, a C17th barn, which is self service. There is an extension to this, where you can get table service, but prices are more expensive. You could also take a picnic, but you would probably have to eat it in the car park, as I don’t think that picnics are allowed in the grounds. Well, I could have gone into a lot more detail about this fantastic castle and grounds, but I know people only have a limited boredom threshold, so I’ll stop here! If you are seriously intending a trip down south then it really should be on your itinerary. If you want further information, then Leeds Castle has its own website, at www.leeds-castle.co.uk which will also give you additional information about special events being held here – open air concerts and fireworks for example. Overall then, this place is well worth a visit and I can guarantee that you will find something here to enjoy, even if history isn’t your thing. My only regret is that I lived so near to Leeds Castle and didn’t make my first visit until I was 19! Still, it’s always the places on your own doorstep that you overlook. I am now hoping to get tickets t
                o one of the open air concerts in the summer!

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                  07.05.2001 03:43
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                  Last summer, we spent one day at Leeds Castle. 'The Loveliest Castle in the World' - that's what they call themselves, but I can confirm that it is indeed one of the loveliest castles that I have ever been to. In fact, it is much more than just a castle. Leeds Castle is located in Kent, near Maidstone. The best way to get there is via the M20 leaving at junction 8. From the car park, you walk to the main entrance and ticket office. It's actually not cheap, we had to pay GBP 26.- for a family ticket (castle + park) last year, but it's worth the money. First of all, you should enjoy a walk around the large park which will take you along the Wood Garden, the Cedar Pond and the Duckery, where you can watch a number of wildfowl, swans, geese, kingfishers, sparrowhawks and peafowl. The castle itself is surrounded by water, you have to enter the island via a brigde and the Gate house. The entrance to the castle is through a Norman Cellar, and it is worth to walk around inside and to see the rooms where you can find a lot of interesting art and furniture from a number of centuries. After leaving the castle - still on the island - you may want to visit the Dog Collar Museum, one of the very few such museums where you can find a collection of antique dog collars. If you then continue your walk along the Great Water, you'll come along the Fairfax Courtyard with a nice restaurant (Fairfax Hall). After that, you enter Culpeper Garden which has got a lot of roses, pinks, lupins and poppies, and the Lady Baillie Garden nearby, which is a terraced flower garden close to the Great Water. In the Aviary you'll find more than 100 species of very rare and endangered birds. But there is even more towards the end of the park: vineyards, 13 early 20th century greenhouses and a tea room (where you can get refreshments, teas and coffees). The top attraction for our kids, however, was t
                  he Maze with the secret underground grotto in the middle. It was quite difficult to find the way through the Maze, because unfortunately the normal trick (turn right every time) turned out not to be successful in this particular Maze. As you can see, it is quite easy to spend the whole day there. Leeds Castle is not only one of the top tourist attractions in the country, it is also a famous conference, banqueting and wedding venue, a hot air balloon launch site, a concert arena, and it offers a 9 hole golf course as well as a lot of special events (Kentish evenings, dining, etc.). Of course, there are also some shops where can buy gifts and souvenirs. Opening times are 10 am to 5 pm March to October and 10 am to 3 pm (last admission) from November to February. You may want to visit their website (www.leeds-castle.co.uk) where you can also find details about any special events. If you want to have a great family day out, why not visit Leeds Castle? We enjoyed it very much last summer. Thanks a lot for reading. Take care. Michael-S

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