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In the southeast corner of England, just over 70km from London, one of the loveliest castles I have ever visited lies surrounded by a serene moat and utopian parklands. This is important to know because, confusingly, Leeds Castle is actually situated in county Kent, and not in the city of Leeds as you would reasonably expect. Leeds (the city) is, in fact, in the midlands of England close to York, almost 400km northwest of Leeds Castle.
Like Stratford-upon-Avon, there are multiple companies offering combination day tours to Leeds Castle from London, also taking in Canterbury Cathedral and the white cliffs of Dover. Some even include a visit to Greenwich in London itself. While this is fair and good if you’re short of time, I would highly recommend spending a bit more time enjoying Leeds Castle and its surrounds – either a dedicated trip there, or an overnighter in the southeast of England, taking in some of the other sights while you’re there.
If there is one thing I feel I should impress upon my readers, it’s this: far better to visit fewer places but visit them well, than to tick multiple places off a list but struggle to remember them later.
Construction of Leeds Castle was begun by a Norman baron around 1000 years ago during the reign of William the Conqueror’s son, Henry I. Since then, it has passed through several hands and been both a royal residence as well as a private stately home. You can read more of the history of the place at the official website. The moniker of “loveliest castle in the world” was bestowed by Lord Conway. But I’ll let you be the judge of that. Just excuse the scaffolding necessary for preservation works that was present on the day that I visited.
Built on an island in the middle of the River Len, part of the magic of Leeds Castle is in being able to capture its reflection in the still waters.
Then there is the drawbridge that you pass through to get into the grounds, and several portcullises throughout the estate. Like being in a fairy tale!
You can even circumnavigate the castle by going punting on the river. I did not attempt this, but imagine it would be quite some fun trying to squeeze your boat through archways like these ones.
Of course you should visit the castle interior.
But I think the best bit is just wandering all over the expansive parklands studded with age old twisted trees, weeping willow and well tended flower beds as well as decorative vegetable beds. These are complemented and enhanced by the surrounding body of water. Water, I find, always adds tranquility to a beautiful landscape.
In the grounds, there are ducks, swans and peacocks freely roaming together. I love this next photo, which reminds me of the story of the ugly duckling.
Apart from the castle, there are also 2 playgrounds, a maze and underground grotto, a gatehouse, falconry displays, and somewhat out of left field, a dog collar museum.
You can stay on the castle grounds in stables that have been refurbished to the highest standards. The venue can also be hired for weddings.
The easiest way is probably to drive here – 1hr on the M20 motorway from London.
If you’re taking the train, it’s just over 1hr from London Victoria to Bearsted, where you can take a coach shuttle service to the castle. See here for details.
Open daily except 8-9/11 and 25/12.
April to Sept – 10.30am-6pm, last admission 4.30pm.
Oct to March – 10.30am-5pm, last admission 3pm.
£19 adults, £16 senior citizens/students, £11 children 4-15 years, free for infants under 4.
For an extra £5, you can upgrade to an annual pass.
Tickets can be bought online here.
Do you agree that Leeds Castle is one of the loveliest castles in the world? As I have princess syndrome, I am always on the lookout for great castles to visit. Where else would you recommend, both in the UK and elsewhere?
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