Leeds Castle - Kent, England
Leeds Castle was built in 1119 by the Norman Crevecoeur (meaning ‘break-heart’) family. The site was formerly the Saxon manor of Esledes which dated back to 879 AD. Since then Leeds Castle has survived the English Civil War, bore witness to much of the private life of Henry VIII, and even hosted a concert by Elton John in 1999. Today Leeds Castle is one of, if not the best, example of a medieval castle in the UK, making it a key UK attraction for the British and foreign tourists alike.
Leeds castle became a royal palace in 1278, under the orders of Edward I – serial castle builder and keeper. During this time many additions were made to the existing structure including the barbican, drawbridge, gateway and portcullis. In 1321 these improvements were put to the test when King Edward II’s wife, Queen Isabella, was refused entry to the Castle leading to the King storming it with the aid of ballistas and springalds.
In Tudor times Henry VIII had Leeds Castle modernised for his first (but not the last) wife Catherine of Aragon, while a painting of Henry’s meeting with Frances I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 still hangs there to commemorate the occasion. Later, Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, was held here for a time prior to her coronation in 1558.
However, turbulent times lay ahead for Leeds Castle, which only escaped destruction during the English Civil War due to the political guile of its owners, the Culpeper family, who sided with the Parliamentarians, and later the Royalists.
Leeds Castle was passed onto Lady Baillie in the 20th century and she spent a lot of time and money refurbishing the interior and turning the living quarters into a cornucopia of ceramics, paintings, furniture, and tapestries. Lady Baillie established the Leeds Castle Foundation, which has administered the castle since her death.
Leeds Castle today is a popular UK attraction for visitors from both home and abroad. Set among 500 acres of picturesque Kent countryside, the park is divided up by many streams and lakes that are home to over 30 different types of waterfowl, including graceful black swans that swim effortlessly around the moat surrounding the Castle.
The Duckery provides the perfect home for nesting geese, swans, and of course, ducks, and sits amidst a quintessentially English woodland garden that becomes bejewelled in spring with daffodils, bluebells and narcissi. There is an aviary too, which is home to many rare and endangered species of bird from around the globe, and a vineyard which is once again producing grapes for wine production after a five century hiatus. And if this wasn’t all so terribly, terribly English enough, there is also a nod to the nation’s favourite animal with the UK’s only antique dog collar museum.
Leeds Castle also plays a central role in Kentish country life, with an annual balloon race taking place here, Christmas, and Bonfire Night celebrations, classic car meets, varied children’s’ activities, weddings, open-air classical music concerts and even the odd visit by a well-known queen, although the last time was by Elton John in 1999.
Adults £16.50, concessions £13.50, and children (4-15) £9.50
Winter opening times
Open: 10am daily
Last ticket sold (last entry): 3.00pm
Gates close at 5.00pm
Leeds Castle Opening Times
Last entry to the castle is at 3:30pm
Getting to Leeds Castle
By car: 7 miles east of Maidstone, Junction 8 of the M20 motorway just 1 hour from London, 30 minutes from the Channel Tunnel and Channel Ports. Dartford River Crossing 30 minutes. Clearly sign posted from all routes - following the brown and white tourist signs
By National Express coach: Coach 021 departs from Victoria Coach Station at 9am stopping at various pickup points in South London - to arrive at the castle at 10.25am - departing the castle at 3.05pm to arrive at Victoria Coach Station at 4.50pm.
Leeds Castle Events
Run 10k Leeds Castle 27th of September 2009
Tudor Flower Festival 07-11th of October 2009
Half Term Heraldry 24-30th of October 2009
Leeds Castle Fireworks Spectacular 07-08th of November 2009
Festive Fair 21-22nd of November 20009
Christmas at the Castle 01-24 of December 2009
Fairy Tale Trail: 26 December - 04 January 2009/10