Tuesday 26 February 2019

Review - Our Day Out at Leeds Castle, Kent

Leeds castle view

If you live within, or about an hour from Leeds Castle, near Maidstone in Kent I’d say you’re worth a visit. It’s one of those attractions where your entry ticket will gain you admission for a whole year. So, on the basis that you can return again and again, it’s great value, but if you have further to travel and might only visit the once then it’s a costlier affair.

Entry Costs
The price of an adult ticket is £25 if you buy in advance online, or a pound more if you get it on the day. Children are free up to 4 years and a child ticket (4-15 years) is £16.50 in advance. I was pleased to see that customer feedback had been noted and acted on in the last year and there are now family tickets available for a cost of £70 (that’s either 2 adults and up to 4 children or 1 adult and up to 5 children). As mentioned, £70 is a great price if you return multiple times.

We visited Leeds Castle last Tuesday during the February school half-term and it was fairly busy with families with small children, but being a big site there was plenty of space for everyone. Inside the actual castle was quiet, as was the maze but the falconry display was fairly busy and the play park was heaving.

At 11am as we arrived there was plenty of parking, with friendly attendants directing us and we didn’t have far at all to walk to the entrance. I was super pleased to see massive (and clean) toilets by the entrance and it didn’t take us long to get in. You’re best to check opening hours on the website before you travel, as the times change from the low to high season. We could have arrived as early as 10am if had wished and last entry is at 3pm, with the park closing at 5pm in February.

Gorgeous Grounds and Walks
There is a very pleasant walk from the entrance area to the castle and we really enjoyed a slow walk along admiring all the birds, gardens and black swans. It makes me smile to think that the thing my three kids (ages 11, 11 and 15 years) probably enjoyed best was the duck feeding and chatting as a family as we walked along. It really is the simple things! Duck feed is available to buy at £1 a bag. If you don’t fancy the walk, there is a land train that you can pay to use, it is 50p per child and £1 per adult. I have to say that I’d like to have seen this included in the cost of entry.

There is, of course, transport for those with accessibility needs and no cost for this. Accessibility appeared to be good across the site and had been thought through well, of course some areas like the maze and parts of the castle are inaccessible due to their nature and age.

In all there is 500 acres of glorious parkland and gardens that you can explore during your day out. The kids liked crossing the bridge in the Oriental garden, I loved the views above the waterfall to the castle in the Woodland garden and there is also the Culpeper Garden and Lady Baillie Mediterranean terrace garden to look around too.

The Castle
If you like your history then Leeds Castle is definitely for you as Leeds Castle started as a Norman stronghold, then progressed to be the private property of six of England’s medieval queens, a palace used by Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, a Jacobean country house, a Georgian mansion, an elegant early 20th century retreat for the influential and famous and in the 21st century, it has become one of the most visited historic buildings in Britain.

It’s always good to look around a historic castle and I particularly liked watching the video visual representation of how the castle has changed over the centuries, within the Gatehouse Exhibition. You enter the castle through one of the cellars and work your way up the castle, part of it is very old and historic still with Medieval and Tudor influences and then you go through to the more modern part, which has been preserved as a 1920’s house and you see the influences of the last owner Lady Baille.

It’s worth mentioning that at the moment the front of the castle is covered in scaffolding and this means you can’t get a picturesque shot from the front, but the current works are due to be finished in March this year and of course the work to the stonework and external fabric of the castle is necessary to preserve it.

We stopped first at the kiosk by the castle and had coffee, donuts and cookies. The fresh donuts were £1 each or 6 for £5 and we very much enjoyed those. Miss M had a fresh baked cookie for £1 and she loved that too. The coffee was a bit more hit and miss, with mine being quite tasty and my husband’s tasting of burnt UHT milk.

We’d bought a picnic with us as we didn’t want to spend too much during the day, and I think if we return we’d do the same again. The burgers and such in the Maze Grill looked pretty limp and weren’t cheap, but then it’s the norm when you’re at an attraction. We did order Costa coffee here and it’s the worst I’ve ever had. We wouldn’t use this outlet again.

We didn’t visit the Castle View restaurant, but the menu looks great and the images of the food on the website are mouthwatering. At lunch it is £11.50 for battered haddock and chips, £7.80 for Chefs open sandwich of the day and £12.50 for choose your own topping pizza flatbread. So prices comparable to the good pubs in the area.

There is also a very pleasant courtyard area that we walked through and there’s a range of kiosk outlets there to get a sandwich, cold drink or Costa coffee.

Activities for Children
The maze is a really good one, it is big enough for the kids to feel they have got lost, but not too scary. My son and I were able to stand on the central stone structure and guide my daughter into us at the middle. You then leave the maze by an underground cave/ grotto, which was a nice touch.

Sadly, for us the older children’s play area was being redeveloped whilst we visited, but it looks as if it will be amazing, even for older children like my 11 year old's. In fact the Knights Stronghold playground is being developed for use by those up to 14 years of age and it looks massive. It is based on the design of Leeds Castle and will have spiralling slides, fireman’s poles, giant cargo nets and zip wires.

There is also Squires’ Court Playground for younger children, and this was busy and in use when we visited, but it only suitable for those up to 6 years of age.  

Each day at 2pm there is a falconry display over by the maze, it lasts for around 40 minutes and is included in the entry price. For my husband and I this was the highlight of our day. I’d advise you get to the area about ten minutes before the display starts and then you can choose where you’d like to stand.

There are a good variety of birds in the display – Barn Owls, a Kestrel, a Harris Hawk and another odd looking one that I can’t recall the name of. The Falconry staff are really knowledgeable and very friendly, so you get a good introduction through the talk and it is interesting to watch how the birds would hoover and then swoop on their prey.

Thanks to my husband for these great photos

You can also visit the Birds of Prey Centre and see the birds there, either on display in the weathering ground or in their aviaries. I’m a bit sad that we didn’t book for the free Birds of Prey Centre Behind the Scenes Tour that was running twice daily during half-term. When I saw it I wondered if it would engage the kids, but after seeing the display I feel sure it would have.

Also at the Castle
There are plenty of events at Leeds Castle that are included in the price of your admission ticket.  I really fancy seeing the Medieval jousting tournaments on the weekend of 25th – 27th May but there are plenty of other talks and exhibitions that you may enjoy. Have a look and see for yourself.

If you fancy an overnight stay in the grounds there is a good variety of accommodation too, with deluxe B&Bs, glamping and a holiday cottage too.

Take a good look round the website, as there is loads to find out and you can even have your wedding at the castle if you so wish.

We had a great day at Leeds Castle; it isn’t easy to occupy three tweens and teens on a family day out, but we all managed to leave having had a good time. The highlights were the falconry display, maze and just wandering the grounds feeding the ducks, geese and swans.

For me the refreshments we had were a let down and I couldn’t help feeling that the castle wasn’t the best example I’d ever seen, but I may just have been spoilt as I really loved the history and grandeur of Arundel Castle and the magnificence of Windsor.

The family entry ticket price of £70 is great value if you are going to return many times and I’d recommend seeing what events are happening when you visit and booking in advance if it advises you to do so. 

More of my husbands photos
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Leeds Castle pin

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Disclosure: We received a free family ticket in exchange for an honest review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest. 
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