Leeds Castle, Maidstone, Kent
Leeds Castle sits in the depths of beautiful Kent countryside, yet is still easily accessible from the M20. Dating back to the 9th century the castle is described as England’s loveliest castle and is set in 500 acres of parklands and gardens. Having visited most of the local castles and stately homes in Kent and Sussex….Leeds had somehow escaped us. We decided a beautifully sunny Boxing Day was the perfect opportunity to visit this historical playground and escape the Christmas cabin fever!
On arriving at Leeds Castle we were able to park a short walk away from the entrance. We waited in a short queue for our turn to get our tickets and were served by a friendly and efficient member of staff. We were informed that in addition to the usual activities available on site at Leeds, there was a special Beatrix Potter themed Winter Trail to celebrate her 150th Birthday. We were equipped with a Winter Trail treasure map, a map of the site and a general guide to the castle and grounds…we were set to explore!
The Castle is set back a good 10-15 minute walk from the main entrance. There is the option of catching a little train for 50p which drops you off just outside the Castle buildings. We’d been stuck in the car for well over an hour that morning so chose to walk and stretch our legs. The woodland walk is pleasant, pretty and best of all…abundant with bird life! Logan loved chatting to the peacock and pigeons, whereas Daisy found the cheeky geese and ducks hilarious! The walk took us along walk ways and foot bridges until the Castle appeared on the horizon. It is indeed a stunning sight.
Our visit found us arriving just before lunchtime so despite the appeal of the sight of the Castle, our stomach’s (or rather our children’s low blood sugar) dictated that our first port of call needed to be one of the Castle’s range of eateries. We decided the Maze Cafe would best serve our needs being described as fast service and good value for money. We chose a couple of burgers and chips and Daisy had a child’s lunch box to share with Logan. There’s no seating inside the cafe but plenty outside with a view of the boating lake. Our burgers were petite but delicious, with gherkin slices, relish and brioche bap to garnish. Daisy is a particularly fussy eater but found the sandwiches (cheese slices on white bread) to be to her liking. Overall we were really pleased with the quality and price of the food, with the service being friendly and prompt.
Energy levels topped up and with the play areas in view it was time to get active. There are two play grounds: Squires Court Playground for younger children and The Knights’ Realm Play area for those who need something more challenging. The playgrounds are also located right next to each other so that families with a wide range of age groups can all be catered for in one fun play session. Daisy loved the tunnels and steep slides in the Knights’ Realm area and Logan enjoyed the swings and walkways in Squires Court…win, win!
Walking back towards the Castle we spotted the Maze. This is a proper maze and a great family challenge. We all started off methodically and patiently exploring options. Logan was firmly strapped into his pushchair for this activity…if we lost him he might be gone for days! After 10 minutes all logic had gone out of the window and we were individually trying each and every avenue in an effort to find our way to the mystical Grotto towering over the middle of the maze, tempting you with it’s presence as you aimlessly bumble around. Daisy was the only one who genuinely found her way to the Grotto …I had to be guided by a kind young man shouting directions from the Grotto..Matt left the maze and entered from the exit! And that was after nearly 25 minutes! So if you like a challenge…enter the maze, just make sure you pack overnight essentials just in case.
Finally, we reach the Castle itself. Leeds is a perfect fairytale castle, with a shimmering moat and immaculate towers and drawbridges. We were told to leave our pushchair at the front gate, before being guided down a stairway alongside the moat to the entrance.
There is a well laid out route through the castle which avoids bottle necks and allows foot traffic to flow steadily. We were lucky that our visit was a fairly quiet time and we were able to see rooms and displays without a squeeze, but I understand it can get very busy in Summer months. Daisy loved the bedrooms and decor…Logan just wanted to climb into every single cordoned off area! Yes, stately homes and castles with a toddler can be sweaty work…however Leeds is visually stimulating and even whilst tolerating me holding him he was clearly engaged in his surroundings. We were lucky enough to catch the tail end of the Castle’s beautiful Christmas decorations…each room with it’s own gorgeous tree.
Leeds Castle is a wonderful family day out. We felt like we still had more to see despite spending a good 3.5 hours at the property. I’d love to visit again in the Summer to make the most of the gardens and outdoor features…but having said that I was amazed at just how much there was to do in Mid-Winter. I’d recommend visiting the Castle’s extensive website before a visit.. with a range of restaurants, accommodations and activities available on site it’s really worth doing your homework to make the most of your visit. Oh, and don’t forget your survival pack for the Maze…if you’re anything like us you’ll need it!
An adult ticket costs £24.50, child tickets are £16.50, under 4’s are free. Once you have bought your ticket you can use it to visit as many times as you like for a year.