We’ve been to Kent for the weekend to see my family. On Friday my sister and I packed up a picnic and took the children to Leeds Castle so I thought I’d review it for you, in case you’re in that neck of the woods.
First things first, Leeds Castle is NOT in Yorkshire. It is called Leeds Castle because it is in the village of Leeds, yes, Yorkshire folk, there can be more than one. You are not the centre of the universe.
Second, Leeds Castle IS indeed, as all the marketing brochures say, “the loveliest castle in the world.” Here are some pictures.
Isn’t it gorgeous?
There are extensive grounds with lots of opportunities for wild bird feeding (the gift shop on the way in sells tubs of food for £1 though quite a lot of that seems to be in the bottom of my handbag), and lots of pathways, bridges over the streams and generally good adventure spots.
As you walk, you get glimpses of the castle and then all the attractions are to the right of the castle itself. I say all of this to try and soften you up before I tell you the admission prices.
Tickets last for a year, so if you go several times a year (and they do have lots of events and things for the children to do so Kentish visitors can easily go several times) then you probably get good value from it. But they will make more money from the one-off visitors. Adults cost £24 each, with children between 4-15 costing £16 each. Yes, for a family of four, that’s £80. The good news is if you book online you get 10% off. Bloody hell.
I know they have astronomical maintenance costs and I appreciate that, I’m happy to pay towards the upkeep of this lovely place. But good grief. (Don’t tell them, we borrowed someone else’s tickets for the day.)
Besides the castle itself (I can’t remember what it’s like, I went in it as a child but not since) there are other attractions – a really good maze, falconry, and a brilliant children’s playground. (There is also a Go Ape outside so they must make a packet out of that too, and the weddings package.)
We arrived just after lunchtime and as it was half term there was a trail of Willy Wonka chocolate bars to find – six giant chocolate bars and 11 more golden tickets, which kept the children interested (that and the bird feeding opportunities.) Then it was time for lunch. We had brought a picnic of our own as my sister said the food in the cafe was pricey. This seems likely.
Standing having a picnic with three children, you do seem to attract stares from passers by, I have no idea why they felt the need to look so hard at us. It rained just after that and, fighting our way up hill, we ran into a massive bunch of mothers with large pushchairs who looked like they’d want to run us off the road for getting in their way. This was essentially my first glimpse of school holidays with children and it reinforced my fears – that this is going to be hellish for a few years, mainly due to other people. One mother laughed at E because she was eating an apple. God forbid these people might have some tact in keeping their voices down, though who knows why they found E funny.
Anyway, once they were out of our way, the children carried on with their trail and climbed some trees together before running through the flower garden (“I’m taking a short cut” explained my nephew J as he walked up and down and round and round the rows.) Then we looked at the dog collar museum. Yep you read that right. I remember this as a child. They have a museum of dog collars – that’s the things you put round an animal to claim ownership.
Once in the playground I realised I was playing differently to the other parents. My sister was looking after her baby leaving E, J and I to play. E was happy to follow J about but the playground is a large wooden castle with things to climb, several storeys, tunnels and slides so she didn’t want to go about on her own. She held my hand as we explored and chased J.
J ran about shrieking and throwing himself about with abandon, covered in mud but having a good time. So after a while I shrieked and ran after him – it made both children laugh. And then I went down the slide. Other parents (they were mainly mothers) stood on the side and watched, sometimes giving their children a hand up the harder parts. There was no one else sliding or shrieking. I decided to pity them. We were having fun. Perhaps they were too. Very dull fun.
On the way back we stopped to feed the black swans and then got on the train that runs through the grounds back to the car park. I was so exhausted that I promptly fell asleep on the sofa when we got home.
If you justify the cost, Leeds Castle is great fun for families and they make a real effort to entertain you all.
For full details of the castle, go to their website.