Leeds Castle & Guy Fawkes

We’ve been really lucky with the weather for our trips, and today was no exception. We decided on a relaxed start to this trip, by departing mid morning (10am). After getting out of London we made good time driving around the M25, going over the river along the impressive QEII Bridge. For those of you that don’t know Leeds Castle is in Kent not Leeds.

When we arrived we were directed to a parking space, they were preparing in the morning for the huge influx of 10,000 cars they were expecting in the evening for the fireworks display. As we bought our tickets to get into the Castle grounds we were surrounded by disappointed people who missed out on tickets for the fireworks (We missed out too but we knew this the previous week – we didn’t buy tickets in advance as we didn’t know what the Castle or the event was like – we found out that it is one of the best firework displays in England, and that the Castle grounds are really nice, after the tickets had sold out – never mind).

As we walked along the path surrounded by trees, with a ‘duckery’ alongside, we studied maps we had been given and discovered how huge this place is – it’s going to be a long pleasant day. We kept on following the path past lakes and streams, getting an occasional glance of the Castle though the trees. We were occasionally accompanied by Sting as the techies preparing for the fireworks display/carnival tested their sound system.

Leeds Castle in Autumn
Leeds Castle in Autumn

First stop was to check out the Barbican and Fortified Mill that stands at the only entrance to the Castle. The Mill is now in ruins and the layout of the entrance has dramatically changed from the original. We had our normal explore of the ruins, then headed on into the castle.

We walked around the outside of the wall alongside the moat until we reached the back entrance into the Wine Cellar, unfortunately they had locked up the wine, but the cellar is impressive nevertheless. From the cellar we headed upstairs to the heraldry room, here we learnt how crests are made up, depending on what order you were born and what happened if were a girl etc. King Henry seemed to have his pictures splattered everywhere too.

Moving along our predetermined path we saw most of the castle. Starting with medieval times, there is an old style bedroom with an attached bathroom, which consisted of a fireplace and a wooden tub. We then moved on to the Tudor wing, where there are Tudor style rooms, and a garden/atrium. Moving along and heading upstairs we start in Lady Baillie’s renovations. Lady Baillie was the last and longest owner of the Castle, she had parts of the Castle renovated by a French designer in the 1920’s, and she appeared to have a large interest in Birds. In this part of the castle we saw Lady Baillie’s old bedrooms, sitting rooms, a library etc. Nearing the end of the Castle trek we moved into an area that looks to be influenced by the Spanish.

As we passed back outside, we found a Dog Collar Museum, out of a strange curiosity we headed in to have a look. There are heaps of dog collars (as you’d expect), they were in all kinds of sizes and shapes, and some looked downright nasty, and others terribly uncomfortable.

Back outside in to the grounds. At this stage we were getting very hungry and started looking for a place to sit down & eat our picnic lunch. Firstly though we wandered through Fairfax Courtyard where people had the same idea as us (food), there is a restaurant and shop here. We had a nosey around in the shop for a while, looking at all the Leeds Castle touristy things.

We then walked quickly through Culpeper Garden, finding a likely spot for lunch next to the Great Water in Lady Baillie Garden. Here we sat down and relaxed while we dug into the well-prepared picnic lunch – thank you Karyn. We had rolls, croissants, a couple of meats plus cheese, pesto and baby pork pies – yum. To follow Karyn & Brian kindly shared some Tim Tams they had been sent from NZ.

After a rather large lunch it was time to move on. Our next stop was the Aviary. The aviary has lots of exotic birds, mainly parakeets, parrots (including a dear NZ Kea – but it was hiding so we didn’t see it), and Toucans. There were also some cool ducks with their heads on backwards (well that’s what it looked like), and a tall bird with a weird golden crown. Brian had fun talking to a bird (that, by the way, was hiding) with a really cool hollow sounding call (kinda like the noise you make when blowing over a bottle).

Moving along we found a maze; the maze is made up of tall walls with hedges growing around. We were going to attack this scientifically, but after about 1 minute we were off in a mad rush trying to find the middle, after surprisingly few wrong turns we did. Our reward on finding the middle was you could look out over the top of the maze, laughing at the people trying to find their way and then to walk down underneath the maze into the grotto. On first appearances the grotto is a cool mysterious place with the sound of water falling, as you round the corner you find this really cool waterfall, and as you step further around to face the waterfall you discover this big huge god like face peering at you from under the water. This room also contained murals all over the walls made from shells, rocks and the like. From this room we walked along an underground path lined with pictures (again made from shells), some displays were hidden behind rock structures so you had to look hard to see them (all part of the mystery), the path eventually led to the exit.

After our maze adventure we wanted to take photos of it from a hill nearby, so off we headed up the hill (I suppose it was more like a mound than a hill). Karyn had fun playing in the autumn leaves, and took great delight in trying to cover us with them (later, on out way out each of us discovered a leaf that had got attached to us). From here we moved on to have a look at a vineyard not far away. The vineyard is quite pretty this time of year when the leaves are turning.

The Leeds Castle Maze
The Leeds Castle Maze

Karyn & I then had a turn on the grass maze. This is a rather sad maze outlined in the grass, we never actually found the middle, as no paths led there – honest.

Well, our day was nearly over as it started getting colder and the sun was disappearing. We reluctantly headed back to the car after an adventurous day. Along the way we had to take photos of the castle at dusk. Karyn & I had a go at feeding some rather lively geese.

As we started driving home, Brendon & Brian discovered a field (golf course) covered in a low-lying mist, with a sunset in the background. I had to stop the car to let the boys out to take photos, while Karyn & I stayed warm in the car.

We found ourselves home in no time coming back through Dartford Tunnel (I had to mention both the bridge & tunnel as they are landmarks of London). Once home we got ready for an evening watching fireworks, so out came warm clothes, a blanket, wine and cake.

We walked to Alexandra Palace (Ally Pally), a 15min walk from our place, as this was to be the spot for one of the best fireworks displays in London, being on one of the highest points. We found a nice spot to sit down, with a good view, and started on the cake & wine. While waiting for the main fireworks to start we watched the rest of the city to see what they were up to. After a wee while more and more people arrived, so much so that our lovely spot to sit down became really crowded and we had to stand to see anything. The fireworks eventually started and were impressive, and the crowd gave the appropriate ohs and ahs at the right times. I enjoyed watching the fireworks and it was a good show, but I am spoiled from the firework display at the summer solstice, this display seemed a little less professional and didn’t have the choreography of that event.

Sparklers at the Alexandra Palace fireworks
Sparklers at the Alexandra Palace fireworks

Alexandra Palace fireworks
Alexandra Palace fireworks

Our trip home took somewhat longer, there were masses of people all trying to leave at once, and the organisers didn’t have the forethought to open a couple of gates to ease the congestion (this is people congestion). Up until we reached the last gate it was a case of move one foot forward (not too far) and pause…. then put the other foot forward pause…. etc. Once through the gates it was smooth all the way home, where we listened to more fireworks going off around the place.

Guy Fawkes is far more impressive over here as all the really cool fireworks have not been banned. For two weeks we saw cool sky rockets going off everywhere.

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