Leeds Castle – It’s not in Yorkshire

It’s actually near Maidstone in Kent, so not a difficult trip by car, if you fancy a day out from London.

The castle was built in 1119, on the site of an original Saxon fort, by the new Norman overlord Robert de Crevecoeur. It was built on islands in the River Len close to a village called Leeds from which it takes its name.

Leeds Castle on the River Len

Edward I made Leeds Castle a royal palace in 1278, but it’s most famous past royal residents must be Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Incidentally not far from Leeds Castle is Hever Castle, which was in Henry’s time the home of second wife, Anne Boleyn’s family. After Henry, the castle passed into private ownership and survived the English Civil Wars, thanks to the new owner’s, the Culpeper family, siding with both sides.

Moat Bridge, Leeds Castle

More recently the castle has played host to peace talks for both the Middle East (1978) and Northern Ireland (2004) as well as becoming a major Kentish tourist attraction in its own right. Aside from the castle and its grounds, there is a maze and grotto, the rather magnificent Culpeper Gardens and an aviary full of parrots, toucans and other birds, including this magnificent pair of African Crowned Cranes.

Crowned Cranes

The red makings on the throat are the inflated vocal sacs since the pair of them were making quite a racquet at the time. They share their enclosure with some Black Swans, Baikal Teal,

Baikal Teal

Red Eared Terrapins and this fellow.

Shoveler

Now he’s a Shoveler, this is one of the UK’s rarer ducks and so named after its shovel shaped bill, which is used to strain food particles from the water. I’m not sure that he was supposed to be in the aviary, since there are quite a few of these ducks to be seen on the lake, although none of them were quite so obliging for the camera.

Grounds, Leeds Castle

Another highlight of Leeds Castle is the Dog Collar Museum. Aside from some quite fearsome studded and spiked collars belonging to hunting hounds and watchdogs you can see the collar belonging to Sooty’s pal Sweep.

In the extensive grounds the trees were ablaze with the reds and yellows of the British autumn.

Blazing reds and Yellows

On and around the water  we saw Mallards, Mute and Black Swan, Canada and domestic Emden Geese, Black Headed Gulls, Feral Pigeons, Jackdaws, Magpies, Coots and Moorhens. We also came across this more unusual pair of swans.

Whooper Swans

These are Whooper Swans, which are a bit smaller than Mute Swans and have a yellow bill with black markings. From October they start arriving in the UK from the Arctic, for the winter.

Mute Swan

We paid £18.50 each (child £11) for our tickets which are valid for a whole year. This includes entry to the castle and grounds. For food there is a sandwich bar and the self service Fairfax Restaurant (named after Thomas Fairfax, the great grandson of Parliamentarian general Thomas Fairfax defeater of the Royalist forces at the Battle of Maidstone in 1648, who was born at Leeds Castle in 1612). Like many tourist attractions the food is a bit pricey, (I paid £8 for a cheese platter of four cheeses, salad and bread) but it is made on the premises to a high standard.

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