The queen of castles where you can channel your inner princess

From widowed queens and political heavyweights to famous film stars and socialites, Leeds Castle has hosted them all. But it’s the 900-year history of female ownership, design and curation that sets this castle apart, reports Oliver Bennett

Friday 14 February 2020 20:39
Leeds Castle is a triumph of female design and ownership
Leeds Castle is a triumph of female design and ownership

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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