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Introduction

Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A visit to Leeds Castle

Leeds Castle, black swans, Lady Baillie

A fertile imagination can run riot at Leeds Castle, which has been at the heart of English history since before the Norman Conquest and whose tagline is “the loveliest castle in the world”Leeds was once a royal castle, familiar to kings like Edward I, Richard II, Henry V and Henry VIII.  It is particularly, and justifiably, proud of its association with six queens – Eleanor of Castile, Margaret of France, Isabella the ‘she-wolf’, Anne of Bohemia, Joan of Navarre and Catherine de Valois. 

Leeds Castle, Maidstone, visit Kent

Today, Leeds Castle is a romantically attractive and immaculately maintained business and visitor attraction.  The reason it is has survived in its current state, though, is because until 1974 it was someone’s home for most of its 800 years.  And, inevitably, each owner has left their mark – particularly Fiennes Wykeham Martin in the 19th century and Lady Baillie in the 20th.  So it’s doubtful whether many of the earlier owners and historical figures associated with Leeds would recognise it now.  Equally, it’s a bit of a challenge to picture these formidable characters from our past going about their somewhat gritty affairs – but of course it’s worth a try.

Squires Courtyard, playground, Leeds Castle

If you were remaking a 1950s Hollywood Technicolor blockbuster about Camelot or Ivanhoe, full of visual effect and eye-candy, but a little short on reality, Leeds might be one place to consider filming.  Perhaps Leeds Castle is one of those places where heritage rubs shoulders with entertainment.  This is not only a place to visit, but also to attend one of the events – concerts, firework displays, dinners – held throughout the year.  The backdrop is superb and the experience could be, literally, awesome.  People spend holidays here, booked into self catering accommodation; and what a place to hold your wedding reception!  It’s also a place where people come to just to walk, have a picnic and bring the kids.  Through snippets of overheard conversation, several mums with prams and toddlers seemed to be regulars.  And I must confess to feeling a pang of jealousy when I saw the playground – the Squire’s Courtyard – and the amazing mock-castles it contains; we didn’t have stuff like that when I was small.

European Eagle Owl, birds of prey, Leeds Castle

Unsurprisingly, the castle surrounded by its lake draws the eye as soon as it emerges through the gardens.  If you’re lucky, you’ll spot one of the black swans introduced by Lady Baillie and now the castle’s symbol.  The grounds are full of birds of one sort or another and Leeds Castle also features displays by birds of prey.  This is not something I would normally go out of my way to see, but I admit to being impressed watching Mozart, a beautiful European Eagle Owl and a magnificent Harris’s Hawk from the US.  The very amusing and capable handler also showed a fairly scabby and unpleasant Turkey Vulture, which somehow reminded me of an estate agent I once knew.

Lady Baillie's shoes, Leeds Castle, a bit about Britain

Thorpe Hall, 18th century panelling, Leeds Castle

Just wandering through the parkland and gardens is a pleasant experience.  Inside, the castle is fascinating, certainly with hints of its medieval origins, but mostly and very definitely a luxurious 20th century home.  A set of chambers, the Queen’s Room, recreate what the quarters of Catherine de Valois might have looked like in 1422.  Lady Baillie’s rooms were fabulous and fascinating, though it did feel a little voyeuristic seeing her personal things laid out.

Grotto, Leeds Castle, visit Kent

Peacock, Leeds Castle, Kent

You could round off your visit off by getting lost in the maze – we did (take breadcrumbs) – and walking through the underground grotto.  After that – time for a coffee and a bun – though it’s slightly disappointing to discover the place has a Costa Coffee on site, which is rather too much like the high street for me.  But, overall, Leeds Castle is a ‘must visit’, one of Britain’s treasure houses and a great place for a day out.  It’s not cheap, and not a place to go if you have limited time: my advice is to allow several hours for your visit.  It is possible to buy a ticket that allows unlimited access for a year.

Leeds Castle, grounds, gardens

You can read a bit about the history of Leeds Castle at “The loveliest castle in the world?”


You can learn even more from the Leeds Castle website

24 comments:

  1. Oh yes, it is one of many I believe! What a treat this was to read, we almost stayed near there, on our last trip to England, and had we, I sure would have tried to visit it. Your tour here was more than pleasing, as your stories and visits to places always are for me. Thanks for sharing this, and such lovely photos. The children's playground is very nice as well, lucky for the children living near and around me, we have lots of these beautifully designed playgrounds, which further a child and adult's imagination!

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  2. Thanks for this follow up to your first post on Leeds Castle, This fabulous place deserves two posts.

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  3. Hello Mike,

    How could I have missed Leeds Castle....We were in the neighbourhood several times, but did not visit. Such a shame. It looks like an impressive place. Love those shoes :-)

    Have a good week!

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  4. Thanks once again, Mike. Another good one.

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  5. Costa is not bad, a lot better than Starbucks. Your right about the play area, nothing like itwhen I was a kid. Something I could only deam of

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  6. A magnificent, beautiful castle! I'd be inclined to say hello to that owl. He looks like quite a character.

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  7. Pity the vulture, I mean the estate agent. :-)

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  8. Time always seems to be the issue when you are holiday. Looks like I would need a whole day here.!

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  9. This followup was equally entertaining.

    Don't like turkey vultures, eh? Florida is a buzz with them in the winter.

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  10. Thank you for another look at Leeds Castle, which I loved very much too. Lady Baillie was very interesting, and what a great shoe collection! The statue in the garden looks perfect, and who can forget the peacocks and swans. Great post.

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  11. Good God - I hope they never show my shoes, Mike! But then, I don't live in Leeds Castle.

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  12. I thought it looked familiar. And you thought we weren't paying attention, didn't you. That's a gorgeous owl, and we have turkey vultures in our neighborhood, including the bird type. Lovely place to visit, I'm sure. Those shoes look uncomfortable. Pointy-toed shoes will never live in my closet. It hurts my feet just looking at them. I'll stick with my round-toed Danskos.

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  13. This one is the same, but different--right? (LOL?)

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  14. It looks as though you had a great day out! That is quite an array of shoes isn't it!!

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  15. It's always a joy to ready your posts and see your stunning photos. As an added bonus I always leave feeling better informed too.

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  16. Fabulous post Mike! Those photos are wonderful. I especially love the first one with the swan and the historical read is always fascinating.

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  17. A gorgeous and majestic castle, Mike! Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful and fascinating tours!

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  18. A lovely tour of the castle and its grounds. The maze is tough one, we struggled with it. On my visit, the day started with a flurry of snow.

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  19. i always love your tours! just beautiful! i would definitely invest in the year pass if i lived nearby!

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  20. awesome! my type of place to go, NZ doesn't have that sort of history it's just not an old country so britain fascinates me

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  21. Oh how I would love to visit a castle but I don't know if there are any down under so that makes it a bit difficult I have told Tim I would love to go somewhere that has an old castle but he isn't that interested oh well maybe one day. I will leave by telling you I loved the post and enjoyed trying to picture myself on the tour

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  22. I take the owl didn't eat your breadcrumbs... It was wise of you not to use mice!

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  23. Looks like Leeds Castle has everything going for it, some nice shots that you have taken of it too, I love the owl and the fact that you can photos inside.

    It's one of those places that I have often seen photographed and wished it was a little nearer my zone. I never seem to get past London in the South East and even that is infrequent these days.
    It's a great idea for individual Castle owners to allow visiting on one ticket for the year. I had the opportunity to purchase such a ticket back in April at a similar location and unfortunately haven't been able to return during the year, hoping for early opening next year !!

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  24. There is a humbling feeling you receive as you go to venues like this. A sweeping era of romance was born here, and it's clear why. One of the most beautiful vow renewal location I have visited anywhere in God's beautiful World and I have been nearly everywhere imaginable!

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.