Let’s start at the beginning
First up, some fascinating Leeds Castle history. In 857AD, a Saxon chief started building a wooden structure on two islands in the middle of the River Len. After the Norman Conquest, a stone castle was built on the same site in 1119. By the 13th century, the castle had become a royal palace for Edward I who made many improvements, including reinforced defences, a surrounding lake, barbican and gloriette. The castle was then passed down through families, and has been used as a royal residence, arsenal, prison and hospital. Henry VIII was undoubtedly the most famous owner of the castle, and gave the castle to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. During its lifetime, the castle has been home to six medieval queens, giving rise to its nickname as the ‘Queen of Castles’. The building that sits on the site presently dates back to the 19th century, when it was remodelled in a classic Tudor style. The last private owner of the castle was Lady Baillie, who bought it for £180,000 in 1926. She worked with French interior designers to completely renovate her new home, and added features such as the 16th century-style carved oak staircase. The castle has been open to the public since 1976.
Visiting the castle today
There’s plenty to do at Leeds Castle – set in 500 acres of green parkland, you can take your time exploring the castle, gardens, animals, shops and even enjoy some of the Leeds Castle events. The Gatehouse Exhibition details the castle’s 900 year history with original artefacts, illustrations and film, and you can continue on to see the castle dining room, the queen’s bedroom, the library and Lady Baillie’s room. There is also a rather unique dog collar museum on the site, showcasing over 130 rare and valuable canine neckwear accessories! The castle also has some lovely gardens to discover with flowers blooming in spring. Make sure you try to find the huge 2,400-yew tree labyrinth with a secret underworld grotto hidden in its heart. Once you’ve escaped from the maze, you’ll come to the Bird of Prey Centre where you can see several different birds, including owls, hawks, vultures and eagles. There are free flying demonstrations every day, as well as a Meet the Owls session and Mini Hawk Walks.