There’s a reason why Leeds Castle – in Kent, not in the north at all – has become such a go-to castle for international tourists. It has castellations, a moat and a drawbridge. Inside it has tapestries, beams, panels, flagstone floors and inevitably, a suit of armour. It was described by the historian Lord Conway in 1913 as “the loveliest castle in the world” – a phrase that follows it around like a waft of marketing mimosa.
Above all, this utterly dreamy castle is a triumph of the Anglo-picturesque that could have hardly have been perfected if it had been designed by a team from Disney or the Nikkatsu Corporation – and it’s practically in a suburb of London, near to Maidstone in a fortified circle of ring roads. Downton, Game of Thrones, Shrek – even Kind Hearts and Coronets, in which Leeds Castle played a part as the aristocratic seat ‘Chalfont’ – the castle is an evergreen inner-child pleaser. Somewhere deep, we all want to get medieval. In this, Leeds Castle can help.
I headed down to take in the enchanted scene. Leeds Castle is one of a handful of private castles in the country and it works its passage with aplomb. The walk from the car park reveals a franchise of Go Ape, Segway tours and a restaurant. There’s an aviary, falconry displays, a maze, vineyard and golf course – not to mention ‘Knight’s Glamping’: a gaggle of striped tents in which you can swive in peace and comfort. The cumulative hallucination is slightly like the TV classic The Prisoner – indeed, Elizabeth I, before being crowned Queen of England, was a prisoner at Leeds Castle.
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