When you live in a city like London, it is easy to become a little spoilt. With each blink of the eye, a new fusion restaurant dishes up an artistic sharing platter, another skyline bar lends shimmering panoramas of the city by night and a lesser known car park gets reincarnated as a cinema.
As much as I love our urban jungle with all its flaws and rewards, sometimes I yearn for the novelty of blossom-studded, open spaces, where my lungs can stretch liberally in the invigorating yet pollen-laden air and where I can amble to the rhythm of ducks wading in lakes.
That was why, on our wedding anniversary this year, Pumpkin and I once again opted against central London entertainment and travelled the short distance from London to Leeds Castle in Kent, which was little over half an hour away by car from our home.
We were welcomed by swathes of June sunlight (England is almost impossibly perfect on those rare summer days) and a few other waddling visitors quacked harmoniously as if to reaffirm we were well and truly out of the city, despite the proximity.
As we commenced our walk, it was a challenge trying to avert our fixed gazes from the majestic castle ahead of us but we tried for a few moments to do so in order to capture the tiny touches that make the grounds of Leeds Castle so endearing.
We revelled in the rainbow array of summer flowers.
As my partially scuffed pumps met with the slippery silk of the fallen petals underfoot, I recalled that this supremely photogenic castle had been on my radar for wedding venues a few years ago but due to our numbers, we had to rule it out. If, however, you aren’t having a big fat Indian wedding like ours, how picture perfect does this look?!
We had not fully appreciated the magnitude of the castle grounds and soon realised it was an error not arriving earlier for our day out. (I was not blessed with the “morning person” genes and it is to Pumpkin’s perpetual frustration that my alarm bellows the snooze sound at least half a dozen times before I finally surface.)
The entrance ticket may sound a little steep at £24 pounds per adult but the great thing about it is that it remains valid for an entire year from purchase, allowing as many return visits as desired at no extra cost, meaning late-risers like myself do not miss out.
Activities at Leeds Castle
As seasoned Brits, cynical of the changing weather, we decided to hedge our bets safely and explore the outdoor maze whilst the climate was still dry and let me tell you, it was trickier than it might look but thankfully, once you have reached the epicentre, you need not navigate your way through it all again.
Hitting too many dead ends is never a good thing in a marriage, either metaphorically or here in the maze, literally so after our half an hour of childish fun, we redeemed ourselves with a short educational video exhibit on the history of Leeds Castle, which was projected onto the floor of a darkened space.
There were a few other activities going on, including boating on the lake, and there is always something to keep you entertained such as open air film screenings, a very reasonably priced afternoon tea, falconry displays and Christmas markets to name but a few. (You can find a list of updated Leeds Castle events here but for us, the food rumbles were starting to hum so we decided to re-fuel with lunch before seeing the inside of the castle grounds.
If you are visiting the castle for the first time, I would highly recommend using the audio guide tour. It is probably best to allow at least 45 minutes to see the interiors but it gave us a much better understanding about the history of Leeds Castle over the years.
Did you know, for example, that Henry VIII once used this as a residence for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon? And its political and historical significance is not restricted to centuries gone by with this very castle being the location for an initial meeting between international leaders in 1978 that eventually led to the Camp David Agreement as well one of the G8 summits.
The Inside Scoop
A quintessentially English charm fills the high ceilinged rooms of this castle. After an entrance lined by narrow old casks, we caught a glimpse into the sumptuous four poster beds, grand drawing rooms and wrought iron doors that open up into chocolate-box courtyards.
Dining at Leeds Castle
Quite often at similar attractions that I have visited in England, there are one or two token cafes, which serve their purpose well enough, sometimes charging predictable premiums for the tourist crowds but not necessarily serving food that is memorable in any way. We certainly did not arrive here with any gourmet expectations so we were impressed at their selection of dining options.
We ate al fresco with a beautiful birds eye, waterside view of the castle and shared a hearty and delicious Ploughman’s board of cheese, sausage rolls, pork pies and a selection of salads. The food was fresh, traditional British fare and exceptionally good value for such huge portions. There was really no need to indulge in another course but dessert is rarely a question of need, especially during a special occasion!
The quirk factor of this creamy chocolate dessert put a smile on my face, served in a pot made of pastry with a dipping biscuit on the side and topped with a few marshmallow teasers. I am definitely going to try and emulate edible crockery in my own baking repertoire!
The Leeds Castle website proclaims it to be “the loveliest castle in the world” and if you visit, you will understand why it certainly ranks up there with the loveliest of them. It is a dream location for a family day out, a romantic stroll with your loved one, a picnic with friends or even a moment of solitude for yourself.
Have you been to any castles that you would recommend visiting?