Leeds Castle is self-described as “the loveliest castle in the world”, which is a big call, but it is certainly a beautiful day out in all seasons. There’s just something so romantic about a castle on an island…
With 500 acres of beautiful gardens and parkland, as well as the castle which has enjoyed a rich and varied history, Leeds Castle is definitely worth visiting if you are touring the south of England or as a day trip from London.
Just to avoid any confusion, Leeds Castle is not in the northern England city of Leeds, it’s actually in the southern county of Kent. There is a village called Leeds nearby but that is a red herring. Leeds Castle is named after a chap called Led who was powerful in the court of King Ethelbert IV of Kent back in the late 9th century.
He built a wooden stronghold on two islands in the River Len and the subsequent structures built on the same spot was known as Led’s Castle.
It has been rebuilt multiple times over the intervening centuries and you must watch the film in the gatehouse (just after you have crossed the moat) to really understand (through a clever visual reconstruction) how this place has developed over the centuries from Saxon stronghold to private 20th century retreat for the rich and glamorous (peek over the hedge to see the gorgeous swimming pool where you can just imagine posh types and movie stars drinking G&Ts).
The castle is one of those buildings where if the stones could speak we could hear many, many extraordinary stories. For nearly nine centuries this place has been part of the social, royal and political fabric of the country.
Along the way it was used by Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, and no fewer than six medieval English queens have owned the property as their private retreat.
One of my favourite things at Leeds Castle is the semi-formal Culpeper Garden. Part kitchen garden and part mass of wildflowers, it has been designed by Russell Page to show off beautiful flowers with all their varied colours and shapes as the seasons change.
Further afield there is a fun maze to explore and an area where regular falconry displays are held because there is an excellent Bird of Prey Centre here. If you are visiting with children there are adventure playgrounds and a mini train to carry tired legs about the grounds.
There are many beautiful walks through woods and gardens, look out for the rare black swan population.
There are also plenty of options for eating and drinking from formal through to completely relaxed. Look out for special events throughout the year, such as summer theatre and concerts.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you visited Leeds Castle? What would you say is the loveliest castle in the world?