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Leeds Castle a pleasure to visit
Leeds Castle (Maidstone)
Member Name: arnoldhenryrufus
Leeds Castle (Maidstone)
Advantages: Very Family friendly , something for everyone of every age
Disadvantages: Its a bit far for me to benefit from a ticket that lasts 1 yr .
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.
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 )
Summary: Very Family friendly , something for everyone of every age
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