Another gloomy day of snow and freezing rain sets me to dreaming of warmer, more pleasant places such as the lovely estate of Leeds Castle in Maidstone, Kent in England. I have visited at least three times, possibly more, and could easily go there again. Beautiful grounds with ponds, a moat and streams, plentiful gardens, wild wooded places and open grazing lands surround a jewel of a stone castle right out of an old romance.
The castle is fairly easy to reach by road or train. A path leads from the parking lot and follows a large brook through a wildflower wood and across a vast field to the buildings. Peacocks and other tame and wild birds roam the grounds. A couple peacocks are always on hand to greet visitors. The entrance to the main building is through a gate house and over a bridge.
Leeds Castle was built over 900 years ago on an island in the river Len, so it is surrounded by a large natural moat. A Norman structure was erected by a baron of Henry I, William the Conqueror’s son. The land was originally the site of a manor belonging to Saxon royalty that was taken by the Normans.
The castle became a royal residence of queens for several hundred years before returning to private ownership. During WWII it served as a hospital and site for development of secret weapons. The castle continued as a home and became a center for lavish entertainment of important personages until the 1970s when the estate was made into a charitable trust. Over the centuries the land and buildings have been re-organized and updated, but the outward appearance of a Tudor stronghold remains.
The Culpeper and Fairfax families owned the castle during the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries. A lord born at the castle emigrated to Virginia in the mid-1700s to assume governance of his family’s huge estates in America.
Open year-round, Leeds is one of the most visited castles in England. In addition to delightful walks in wooded parklands, or a picnic by the river, a visitor may enjoy various activities such as strolling the gardens, greenhouses and vineyards, navigating the large maze and grotto, boating on the moat, viewing the falconry, or touring the Gatehouse castle history exhibits or the unlikely Dog Collar Museum. The present collection contains over 130 rare and valuable examples of canine neck attire.
Of course there is a restaurant and gift shop and a guided tour of the sumptuous interior of the castle. Two modern castle-themed playgrounds have also been built to entertain children.
I have been to Leeds Castle with my mum and her husband and my daughter. One day I hope to take my grandkids to see this wonderful English sight.