Monday, 12 May 2014

Leeds Castle

I'm starting to get out into the countryside more.  London is fantastic, but on most days, I'd really rather be outdoors and hear birds other than pigeons.  I love history, and England is just filled with it: National Trust sites, heritage sites, historic sites, prehistoric could exhaust yourself if you tried to see everything.  It's hard to stay focused sometimes, as I can be very ambitious as far as planning and seeing as much as I can goes.

While train travel is not as cheap and easy as it was in Paris, it is still totally do-able.  Trains here are rather confusingly privately run, and sometimes you need to get creative with your transfers as far as getting to a place a bit remote as there really isn't a central website to get train timetables and maps and info in a plain, readable manner.  If you buy your train tickets in advance, you can usually get a cheaper rate, but I usually try to check the weather forecast before I head out.  It's so much easier to get good photographs on sunny-ish days.

Well, the forecast called for "mostly sunny" on this day.  My master plan is working beautifully, without a hitch.


Leeds castle (confusingly, not in Leeds, but in Kent) was so charming and lovely and picturesque, I didn't even care.  The dark, damp skies added a layer of serenity to the landscape, I swear.

Kent is one of the more wealthy counties in England, and the rolling hills dotted with picaresque farms and villages made me swoon a little bit on the way out there.

The castle is on an island surrounded by a lake, which makes a nice little moat.  It has a long and fascinating history, being traditionally deeded to the Queen as part of a dowry.  Henry the VIII totally slept here, and there is a bedroom still known as Katherine of Aragon's chambers.

It was pretty much a ruin in the 1920's, when a wealthy New York-based American heiress Lady Baillie bought the castle, restored it and redecorated, and created a lavish home in the country for herself and her wealthy guest to enjoy.

She entertained everyone from English Royalty to film stars (Charlie Chaplin!  Noel Coward!) to Sir Winston in her private "home", and did so in a private and intimate setting.  What happened at Leeds Castle stayed in Leeds Castle, so it seems.  

The castle itself is still just gorgeous to explore.  Lady Bailie left the majority of her wealth to maintain the grounds and open the castle to the public upon her death.  You can have a lavish wedding here, or stay on the castle grounds, or just buy a ticket to snoop around for a bit.  And what is more pleasurable than snooping around in someone's home?   They still use the castle for private political retreats and a handful of peace treaties have been negotiated and signed here over the ages.

It's decorated lavishly, in the French style, with rooms and rooms of antiques and lovely furniture and knick knacks.

Outside, there are acres of lovely landscaped gardens to explore.  It was a bit damp and drizzly, but totally acceptable weather as far as walking around a castle gardens go.  Songbirds in the trees and hedges, and plenty of waterfowl calling the lake and the moat their home.

It's a really pleasant place to visit.  Some castles are fairly devoid of ambiance and furnishing and personal touches, but this one was really quite gorgeous without reaching for that gaudy Versailles look.   Plus, the American connection that saved it from ruin makes it especially charming.

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