One of the reason why we chose UK as our holiday destination at the end of 2016 was because we wanted to see (at least) a castle. A real one! The one that was built nine hundred years ago and with a long (and maybe dark) history where real Kings and Queens and Princes and Princess once lived there.
The boy was so crazy about The Medieval Period (since he read Geronimo Stilton books…………..see, Geronimo Stilton books are actually not just the ordinary children books, they present histories facts in a fun and easy way for the children to understand). He was interested in the history facts about Kings and Queens, how they lived, how they died, the wars, etc from the Middle Ages. So, it was no surprise that he really wanted to see real castles and castle ruins during our trip.
After I searched on the internet, the nearest and most recommended castle was Leeds Castle. It was said as a family friendly castle with lots of attractions for children and adults. It is also said as the loveliest castle in the world.
Since we would visited during winter, opening and closing time were different than during summer time. Some of the attractions were also closed during winter. For more information about the castle and its facilities, you can check on its website at www.leeds-castle.com. You can also book tickets online through the website which will also be cheaper than buying tickets on-site.
The nearest train station to Leeds Castle is Bearsted Railway Station. We used direct train from London Victoria Station to Bearsted Station with some stops in between. We had to buy the tickets online (cheaper than buying on the D-day in the station) at www.southeasternrailway.co.uk. You can also search for the cheapest option by booking online (date and time of travel will effect the price) . My suggestion is to book an open return ticket so you can come back at anytime of the day.
From the nearest tube station from our hotel (Hammersmith Station), we took the tube (it was like MRT in Singapore) to Victoria Tube Station, then walked all the way (just follow the sign or ask the staff) to the National Rail Station. The staff told us to exchange our e-tickets with real tickets in the self service ticketing machine. We then asked the staff again which platform was the train going to be, and she said between platform 1 to 7. We had to look for the train that went to Ashford International Station via Bearsted Station. There were big signboards above the entry gate to the platforms, so look carefully in which platform your train is going to be.
It was quite confusing for us as first timers, so we did ask the staff or customer service several times before we finally managed to get to our train. The train didn’t stop for too long, so enter the platform as soon as you know in which platform your train is going to be. Victoria Station is huge and can be confusing for first timer tourists like us, so ask the staff or customer service for assistance if you’re not sure of what to do.
The train was clean and quite empty that day. As it was almost empty, we switched seats from one seat to another and we could enjoy the view from both sides of the windows.
We really enjoyed the journey which took 1 hour and 15 minutes. We loved the view as it was very beautiful. We saw old English houses, farms, the farmers going for work, old churches, big grass fields, horses and cows eating grass, birds flying, and even small train stations just like in Enid Blyton or Agatha Christie books.
I told the boy that the old fashioned station reminds me of The Five Find Outers and A Dog from Enid Blyton book series. It the books, the four children (Larry, Daisy, Pip, and Bets) and a dog named Buster often waited for Fatty (his real name was Frederick but his friend called him Fatty), their friends which was also the leader of the group and Buster’s owner. Fatty came home from his boarding school during the holiday by train and he would stop in a small station near the village that they lived in. There was a police officer named Mr.Goon who disliked them and they didn’t like him either. He would chase and yell and scream every time he saw the children, but he was very afraid of the dog. We always laughed when we read that scene.
Just when we stopped at a station, we saw 4 people and a small dog were waiting in the platform. There was also a policeman sat down inside the station. So I said to my boy that they were Larry, Daisy, Pip, Bets, Buster, and Mr.Goon waiting for Fatty. The boy agreed with me and we laughed together. The scene was so real and we really wanted to believe that they were the main characters jumped out off the books, hahaha………….
After more than 1 hour, we finally arrived in Bearsted Station. It was also a lovely station in the village.
To go to Leeds Castle, we just had to take the shuttle bus / or van that was already waiting for its passengers outside the station. It took about 20 minutes to Leeds Castle and we paid GBP 2.5 per person for one way journey. We exchanged our e-tickets with real tickets that could be used to enter the castle for 1 year in the ticketing office. we also got the castle maps from the ticketing office. There was no bag check so we just entered the castle grounds.
The Cascade garden was indeed very beautiful. I would love to visit Leeds Castle on different seasons (Summer, Fall, Autumn, Winter / Snow) if I lived nearby to see the different colors of the trees in the gardens.
By the way, Leeds Castle and its surroundings are really huge. It took us more than 30 minutes (including time to take pictures) to walk from the entrance door to the castle itself. And then behind the castle, there were still more super huge gardens, pond, falconry, maze, grotto, playgrounds, food court, and museum. So prepare to walk and walk and walk with your most comfortable outfit, but especially shoes.
According to its website,
Leeds Castle has been a Norman stronghold; the private property of six of England’s medieval queens; a palace used by Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon; a Jacobean country house; a Georgian mansion; an elegant early 20th century retreat for the influential and famous; and in the 21st century, it has become one of the most visited historic buildings in Britain.
The name “Leeds” comes from an old English word: “slope” or “hillside”
The castle is now owned by Lady Baillie who bought the castle in 1926. She then redecorated the interior. Upon her death in 1974, Lady Baillie left the castle to the Leeds Castle Foundation, a private charitable trust whose aim is to preserve the castle and grounds for the benefit of the public. The castle was opened to the public in 1976.
Just when we thought we were already very close to the entrance door to the castle, the staff told us that it was the exit door and that we had to walk again to the back side of the castle to enter the building. Ohhh…….noo………….and yes, it was another long walk again………..
And now, we’ll see what was inside Lady Baillie’s room:
We were so hungry by the time we finished exploring the castle, so we decided to grab something to eat, but then again, it was a long way to go to the Fairfax Restaurant. We needed to walk for at least another 15 minutes to go to the restaurant (as you can see, you really need to be very fit to explore all the area of Leeds Castle). Luckily we didn’t go on a hot day, so it was actually quite comfortable to walk around the castle and the grounds.
Although the temperature dropped to almost 0 Celsius degree that day, but there was no strong wind, so as long as we kept on walking, it didn’t feel so cold. When we stopped then it felt very cold.
While walking to the restaurant, we could see another sides of the castle and the big lake surrounding the castle. It was so breathtakingly beautiful. All the pictures here don’t do justice to the beautiful scenery that we saw that day. Although I’ve never been to another castles, but I believe when they say that Leeds Castle is one of the loveliest castle.
There was a small dog collar museum in front of the restaurant. I inserted some of the photos below. The boy was the one who curious and wanted to see what was inside.
Even after all that walk, we hadn’t finished yet. There were still Lady Baillie’s garden, maze and grotto, falconry, and children playground.
Last but not least, we visited the souvenir shops. There were 2 souvenirs shops in Leeds castle, one was near the castle, and the other one was near the car park. We spent more than an hour here because we loved seeing everything inside. I felt like I could buy all the lovely things that they sold there.
The visit to the souvenir shop also ended up our tour. There were some parts of the castle that we hadn’t seen yet, but since it was winter, the castle closed early so we had to go back. We spent around 5 hours and that wasn’t enough!
There was no more shuttle bus to Bearsted Station by the time we got back to the entrance door, so the staff at the souvenir shop offered to help us get a taxi by phone. It took about 30 minutes for the taxi to arrive. The car was very clean and smelt very nice, and it only cost GBP 8 to go back to Bearsted Station.
Phew……..finally, we arrived back at the hotel and just bought take away food for dinner. It was very tiring, but it was also a very lovely day at Leeds Castle. I would love to go back again someday on another season. I saw in the pictures that it was very beautiful on snowy days. So hopefully, we will come back again someday.