2nd September 2019
Leeds Castle in Kent - The Complete Day Out
Whoever you are, an individual, a couple, a family, or a group Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent offers the perfect day out.
At the beginning of the twelfth century Leeds Castle was created on the site of a medieval wooden keep into a fortified castle surrounded by walls and a moat. This beautiful castle has served as a private residence for six of England’s medieval queens and is often referred to as the Queens’ Castle. Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon stayed here. It was a Jacobean country house, a Georgian mansion. After Lady Baillie bought the Castle in 1926 it became a retreat for the rich and famous. In 1974 Lady Baillie created a charitable foundation ensuring the castle was preserved as a place everyone could visit and enjoy.
Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
Getting Around the Grounds of Leeds Castle
Leeds castle stands proud in the centre of around five hundred acres of gardens and parkland. Lovely walks have been created to discover the gardens and the woodland area but for those who prefer not to walk there are other modes of transport. Elsie the Castle Train runs from the main entrance to the castle throughout the year. There is a small charge to use this service. During the summer the Black Swan Ferry Boat makes regular crossings across the Great Water from the castle drive to the maze and play areas. A small charge also applies for this service. Complimentary transport is available for those who have difficulty walking. Punting on the lake is also offered during the summer. An elegant wooden punt conveys its passengers through the ancient arches that span the moat as they circle the castle on a guided punt tour. For the more adventurous segway tours are also available. I chose to walk from the main entrance to the castle and I found plenty to distract me on my way.
Black Swan Ferry Boat on the Great Water at Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
Wildlife at Leeds Castle
The woods, parks and lakes fed by the River Len are a natural habitat for birds and in particular water fowl. These include the rare black swan. It is believed Winston Churchill gave some black swans to Lady Baillie (the last private owner of the castle) for her collection of birds. It is thought these birds were originally a gift to Churchill from the Australian government. These rare swans can still be seen on the lakes in the castle grounds.
Black Swan at Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
Princess Alexandra Gardens
There are several beautiful gardens around the grounds of the castle and I was soon in the midst of the Princess Alexandra Gardens alongside the River Len. Six individual gardens are currently being created within these gardens and I spent some time exploring the Oriental Garden. I was impressed by the carved wooden mythical creature that gazed down at me from the top of the tree trunk that supported him – reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. And I crossed to and fro over the bright red bridge spanning the river enjoying different aspects of the garden.
Princess Alexandra Gardens at Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
The Woodland Walk
A signpost to the Woodland Walk was too tempting to pass by and I set off to explore the woods. It was a lovely walk through the trees passing by a small lake. Reeds stood upright around the perimeter of this lake and a bed of yellow water lilies floated in the middle of it. Further along the path I found a plant that looked as though it might have escaped from the set of a science fiction film. The wood is also the place where visitors can Go Ape amongst the tree tops.
Woodland Walk at Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
Inside Leeds Castle
I emerged from the woods close to The Pavilion which faces a large lawn surrounded by beautiful borders of brilliant flowers. I walked around the garden and crossed the bridge to enter the castle. Audio guides of the castle are available but I was happy to wander on my own reading information boards and chatting to the room guides. There are two museums at Leeds Castle. The Gatehouse Exhibition is inside the ancient gatehouse of the castle. This exhibition relates the nine-hundred history of the castle. The Dog Collar Museum is a short distance from the castle. This unique collection of historic dog collars is the largest collection of its kind in the world.
The Chapel Inside Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
The Lady Baillie Mediterranean Garden Terraces
After leaving the castle I strolled through the Lady Baillie Mediterranean Garden Terraces. These terraces were created on the site of Lady Baillie’s aviary. Visitors can relax on one of the benches and enjoy some of the best views of the Great Water from here. I walked the full length of the terraces which took me to the play area.
Lady Baillie Mediterranean Garden Terraces at Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
Play Grounds at Leeds Castle
Children (and adults) are well catered for at Leeds Castle. The Knights’ Stronghold Playground is modelled on the design of Leeds Castle. Children between the ages of six and fourteen and climb walls, turrets and fireman’s poles, scramble up giant cargo nets and whizz down zip wires. Younger children will be delighted to find zip lines, sand pits and slides in the Squires’ Courtyard Playground before joining their parents for some crazy fun on the Leeds Castle Adventure Golf. Or, maybe dad has already been tempted to indulge in a round of golf at the Leeds Castle Golf Club.
Adventure Playground at Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
The Bird of Prey Centre for Falconry at Leeds Castle
This small centre is open to visitors who can wander through it admiring the hawks, falcons, vultures and owls that live there. Flying displays take place in the Falconry Arena and are free of charge. It is also possible to book a private session to learn how to fly a bird of prey. One such session was taking place as I left the centre and I watched an owl being put through its paces before moving on.
Owl in flight the Falconry Field at Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
The Maze and Grotto at Leeds Castle
I could not resist going into the maze to see if I could successfully negotiate the narrow paths between high hedges. I soon found myself back at the entrance where I had started and only managed to find my way to the centre by listening to the instructions of those who had succeeded and were now perched on a rocky mound looking down on us.
The Maze at Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
It was fun but I was glad I did not have to try and go back the way I had come. There is an underground grotto in the middle of the maze – a subterranean exit and an interesting experience being watched by eerie figures and faces carved into the rocks.
Inside the Grotto at Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
The Culpeper Garden at Leeds Castle
It was time to make my way back to the exit so I took the direct route towards the courtyard. This took me through the Culpeper Garden. This garden is named after the family who owned Leeds Castle in the seventeenth century. It was established on the site of the Castle’s kitchen garden. When Lady Baillie owned the castle it was a cut flower garden. In 1980 it was laid out as a large cottage garden by the garden designer, Russell Page. I lingered there for a long time enjoying the splendid sight of the tall, elegant hollyhocks swaying gently in the breeze. Other flowers in this traditionally English garden include roses, lupins and poppies. Some of the accommodation available at the castle surrounds these gardens.
The Culpeper Garden at Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
Accommodation at Leeds Castle
Leeds Castle has a variety of accommodation available from self-catering accommodation that includes historic cottages and Battel Hall. Bed and Breakfast accommodation is available in the Stable Courtyard Bedrooms (luxury en-suite rooms) and in the sixteenth century Maiden’s Tower. Full English or continental breakfasts made with fresh local produce are served in the seventeenth century oak-beamed Castle View Restaurant. For something entirely different Knight’s Glamping is also available. Brightly striped tents offer the comfort of a four-poster bed, wood burning stove and use of a cast iron griddle over an open fire to eat outside as the knights would have done.
Stable Courtyard Rooms at Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
Eating at Leeds Castle
There are several places to eat at Leeds Castle but the best is the Castle View Restaurant. This oak-beamed restaurant has a wonderful view of the castle across the terrace. Light lunches are served here during the day. In the evening the restaurant is transformed and patrons enjoy amazing views of the castle flood lit at night as they dine on the chef’s specials created from the finest local and seasonal ingredients.
View from the Castle View Restaurant of Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
Where to Stay Near Leeds Castle
While visiting Leeds Castle I enjoyed a very pleasant overnight stay at the “Mercure Maidstone Great Danes Hotel”: https://www.mercuremaidstone.co.uk which is close enough to the castle to walk there. This hotel is on the main A20 road between Maidstone and Ashford so it is very easy to find. There is plenty of free parking for guests and those attending conferences here. The hotel has a total of fourteen meeting rooms and function rooms accommodating a total of six hundred guests. Its facilities include tennis courts, a health club, a gym and swimming pool.
The Mercure Maidstone Great Danes Hotel near Maidstone in Kent
My en-suite bedroom was comfortable and well-equipped. It was very quiet despite the proximity of a main road but there are extensive grounds between the building and the road. Despite having walked around the castle all day I still enjoyed an early evening stroll in the hotel grounds. The next morning, I tucked into some tasty food on the hotel breakfast buffet.
The Grounds of the Mercure Maidstone Great Danes Hotel near Maidstone in Kent
As this hotel is on the bus route into the centre of Maidstone it is a very convenient place from which to explore this fascinating town – I know, from personal experience long-term parking in Kent is not easy and the traffic wardens are very quick to spot a misdemeanour.
How to Get to Leeds Castle
Regular train services operate from London St Pancras and London Victoria to Maidstone. It is also easy to get there by road thanks to the M20 that links into other motorways.
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This article is based on the personal experience of Valery, an ExperiencedTraveller.