May 11, 2015. My day four in England. My sister, her family and I visited Leeds Castle, a small but beautiful medieval castle in Kent, southeast of London. The castle can be reached by a combination of the Southeastern train to Bearsted Station and from there a short shuttle ride to the castle. From my sister’s house in Sidcup, Kent, the castle was just 30 minutes away. May 11 is my Mom’s birthday and so this blog post is dedicated to her. 🙂 My mother knows all about the kings and queens of England and if she were in London as well that spring, she would be ecstatic about this castle visit as well.
Although the Leeds estate (known then as the manor of Esledes) has been around since the 9th century, it was only in 1119 that building the first stone castle has started. Over the centuries the castle has served many purposes such as a private residence of six queens and a palace for King Henry VIII and his wife, Catherine of Aragon. I took a particular interest in the life of King Henry VIII after my visit to Leeds. Henry VIII was known as the king who had six wives who ended up either dead, divorced or beheaded. Catherine of Aragon was his first wife whom he divorced after 24 years of being unfaithfully married to her.
The last family to have lived in the castle was that of Lady Baillie’s. Lady Baillie was an Anglo-American heiress who bought and lived in the castle from 1926 up till her death in 1974.
From the ticket counter at the main entrance, we took the mini train up to the hill where the castle stood. Visitors could walk but we decided on taking the train because we had a one-year-old in tow.
We had just gotten out of the train and had not entered the castle yet but I was already in awe, giving out a lot of ‘Ooh’, ‘Wow’ and ‘Gosh, look at that!’
The hill leading up to the castle was dotted with blue bells, tulips and wild daisies. I think that was actually the first time I ever saw that many blue bells and tulips. The sight of those flowers was overwhelming. I could really just stay there for the rest of the day and not get tired looking at them.
We walked further up the hill and there it was, the castle. It was a peaceful sight. It was not big but it was lovely and made even more beautiful by the moat that surrounds it. The moat feeds from the nearby River Len. The flowers were in full bloom when we visited. And so instead of going inside the castle at once, we toured the grounds first to see the gorgeous garden and have lunch as well.
The castle has a few buildings – the New Castle, the Gloriette and the Maiden’s Tower. We entered the New Castle and Gloriette (which I generalized as ‘the castle’ throughout this post) through the cellar at the basement and made our way up to the many rooms on the 1st and 2nd floors. The castle had undergone a number of restorations and renovations through the years but its history was intact. Parts of the castle are being used and in fact, the Maiden’s Tower was turned into an elegant, and probably one-of-kind, bed and breakfast. In 2004, then Prime Minister Tony Blair even hosted the G8 summit meetings in the castle.
After touring the inside of the castle we headed outdoor again, fed some ducks and laid down our picnic blanket to watch the owl show. Anton, my one-year-old nephew had a grand time feeding the ducks. Kim and I went to the maze, which turned out more challenging than I thought, and which took us 20 minutes to get out of.
And here are some more pictures of the beautiful castle grounds (and me, sorry) as we make our way out.
That’s me after getting some souvenirs like my husband’s reindeer cufflinks (he asked if they were Christmas cufflinks hahah), fridge magnets for the house and some history books for myself.
The following days I spent in London were mostly about art (lots of it), musicals and food.