The World's Loveliest Castle: Leeds Castle
by Cheryl Pendry, PassPorter Featured Columnist
The world’s loveliest castle. It’s a bold claim to make, but that’s how Leeds Castle in the southeast
of England has been known
for many years and with good reason.
Built nearly 1,000 years ago in the heart of Kent, about 40 miles
away from London, the Castle sits
on an island in the River Len and it really is everything you ever imagined a
castle to be. As you drive up to the car park, you wonder when you’ll catch a
glimpse of the castle. The answer is not until you’re well inside the grounds,
which just adds to the sense of anticipation.
first area you come to along the visitor route through the grounds
is the Duckery. If you’re lucky, you might spot some of the black
make their home here. They’re not the only wildlife that makes
beautiful photos, with peacocks also strutting around the castle
you continue to wander down towards the castle, you’ll pass the
Cedar Lawn and Pavilion Lawn and it is here that you get your first
view of the castle
itself. Even now, after many visits, the sight of Leeds Castle still stops me in
my tracks. It’s been said that “breathtaking” is a word that’s used too often
nowadays, but it certainly applies in this case.
So what’s the history of this magnificent building? The castle was built
in 1119 and then moved into royal hands just over a hundred years later.
Perhaps the most famous visitor was King Henry VIII, famed for his six wives.
He was a regular visitor, once arriving with his then Queen, Catherine of Aragon, and their entire
court on the way to a tournament in France. Now, that must
have been a sight! When he died, his son, King Edward VI, granted the castle to
one of Henry’s courtiers in return for his service. Since being in private
ownership, Leeds Castle has had something
of a checkered past, having been used as a
garrison, prison and even a convalescent home.
A lot of what you see when you visit today is due to the work of one
woman, Olive Wilson Filmer, who later became Lady Baillie. She took ownership
of the castle in 1926 and had big ambitions for it, wanting to see it restored
to its former glory. As you wander through the castle, many of the furnishings
you see are due to Lady Baillie. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed
inside the castle, but take a leisurely pace on your walk through the castle
and the memories of the beautiful rooms will stay with you for a long time.
As you come out of the castle itself and pass back through the Gate Tower, don’t miss what
must be one of the most unusual museums in the world, dedicated to dog collars.
Yes, you did read that right! Although it doesn’t sound that interesting, it’s
a fascinating collection, spanning more than five centuries, and is well worth
Once work inside the castle was completed, Lady Baillie turned her
attention to the grounds. Under her direction a golf course, tennis courts, and
a swimming pool were added. It must have been quite some family home!
Today the golf course remains, as does the aviary she founded in the
1950s. Originally home to a few Australian finches, today you’ll see toucans,
parrots and even kookaburras. It’s quite a collection and one that certainly
keeps children’s interest, but there’s nothing more appealing at Leeds Castle than one of the
final areas you come to.
maze is about as far away from the entrance to the castle grounds as
possible. No doubt that’s been done on purpose to make sure that
it’s the final
thing visitors come across. Made from more than 2,000 yew trees, it
deceptively simple from the outside, but once inside, it’s only
you’re lost and desperately struggling to find your way to the
center of the maze. Once you do – and it can take some
time – it’s worth it, as you descend into a shell grotto, a
suitable reward for
all the running around you have to do to get here.
These days, a visit to Leeds Castle is about much more than just the
castle, but there’s no denying it’s still the main draw and rightly so. It’s
certainly one of the finest examples you’ll find of a medieval castle. To see
it sitting on its own island, surrounded by water, perhaps even with a black
swan floating past - you really can imagine King Henry VIII setting up court
here all those centuries ago. After nearly 1,000 years of history, the castle
still looks to be in perfect condition and resembles a picture postcard. I challenge
you not to come here and take a lot of photos! Yes, it’s a bold claim to say
it’s the world’s loveliest castle, but you know, I don’t think they’re that far
off the mark.
Leeds Castle is open throughout the year, except on Christmas Day
and is closed to day visitors during the major classical concert in early July
and the fireworks displays during the first weekend in November. Entry to Leeds Castle and its grounds costs £14 for adults and £11 for senior
citizens, students, visitors with disabilities, and children between the ages
of four and fifteen. Children under four get in for free. All entry tickets are
valid for a year. For more information, visit http://www.leeds-castle.com
Related Links: London's Globe Theatre
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