Google+ Followers

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Kent Castles - Day 2

I arrived for breakfast at 0830 hrs this morning where they had laid on a very good spread. We left the hotel at 1000hrs, destination Leeds Castle.

Leeds Castle is in Kent, 5 miles (8 km) southeast of Maidstone. A castle has been on the site since 1119. In the 13th century it came into the hands of King Edward I, for whom it became a favourite residence; in the 16th century, Henry VIII used it as a residence for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The castle today dates mostly from the 19th century and is built on islands in a lake formed by the River Len, to the east of the village of Leeds.

The last private owner of the castle was the Hon. Olive, Lady Baillie, daughter of Almeric Paget, 1st Baron Queenborough and his first wife, Pauline Payne Whitney, an American heiress. Lady Baillie bought the castle in 1926. She redecorated the interior, first working with the French architect and designer Armand-Albert Rateau, who oversaw exterior alterations and added interior features such as a 16th-century-style carved-oak staircase), then with the Paris decorator St├ęphane Boudin. During the early part of World War II the castle was used as a hospital where Lady Baillie and her daughters hosted burned Commonwealth airmen as part of their recovery. Survivors remember the experience with fondness. Upon her death in 1974, Lady Baillie left the castle to the Leeds Castle Foundation, a private charitable trust whose aim is to preserve the castle and grounds for the benefit of the public. The castle was opened to the public in 1976.


An aviary was added in 1980 and by 2011 it contained over 100 species, but it was decided to close it in October 2012 as it was felt the foundation could make better use of the £200,000 a year it cost to keep the aviary running. The castle and its grounds are a major leisure destination with a maze, a grotto, a golf course and what may be the world's only museum of dog collars.

It is a Grade I listed building (first listed in 1952) and recognised as an internationally important structure. In 1998 Leeds Castle was one of 57 heritage sites in England to receive more than 200,000 visitors. According to figures released by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, nearly 560,000 people visited the castle in 2010.

The castle was a location for the 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets where it stood in for "Chalfont", the ancestral home of the aristocratic d'Ascoyne family.

It was the set for the Doctor Who episode The Androids of Tara.

Lorraine and I had planned to go to Tenterden from here, just to stop for an hour to try and add a little more interest to the day, but only two days ago, there was a major fire in the centre of the high street. It is only a small place and so this devastation would have taken out half the village so that idea was scrapped. Instead we stayed at the castle all day but offered an early return to the hotel for those who wanted it because it is only 5 minutes down the road.

After we had done the first run back to the hotel we went straight back to the castle and went into the maze and the grotto. The grotto was amazing. The highlight of the day for me! 

You descend into the grotto at Leeds after finding your way through the yew tree maze, down a dark flight of steps, your feet gingerly feeling for the next flight down as your eyes take in the rather impressive underworld. The world you find is submarine rather than subterranean, an undersea cave decorated with shells and corals and Nereids, sea nymphs, stand in niches along the walls.

A tape loop (or the modern digital equivalent) plays the sounds of the sea - waves, wind, seabirds – and a fruity, actorly voice intones ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’. Ariel’s song from “The Tempest” seems more appropriate:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

We took the remainder of our group back to the hotel at 1600hrs. Plenty of time for a jacuzzi before dinner. Our meal this evening, once again was very tasty and it seems I am not the only one enjoying the food. After dinner I briefly chatted to some of our group before making my excuses and disappearing off to bed. Sleep well everyone. Goodnight x