King Henry VIII may not have approved of our fluffy hot water bottles. And it’s likely his dinner choice would have been roasted swan, rather than barbecued sausages followed by toasted marshmallows. But the rusty iron sentries at Leeds Castle Knights Glamping, and the cries of hawks in the nearby falconry centre made us feel as though we were almost – almost – in one of the King’s convoys, stationed in Kent on our way to do battle on the southern English coast.
Leeds Castle Knights Glamping opened for its fifth season in mid-March, after a winter break. We stayed there on the Sunday of Britain’s hottest April weekend for almost 70 years. Only a fortnight before, it had been snowing in parts of the UK. Luckily for us, this must have put off potential glampers. We had the entire site of eight stripey tents, all to ourselves.
Why visit Leeds Castle?
Leeds Castle can get busy at weekends and in school holidays. Sometimes it attracts up to 10k visitors in a day. The historic attraction, less than an hour from our home in central south London, makes for a great family day out. Its 500 picturesque acres of grounds cry out for a good old ramble, and the two children’s castle-themed play areas are excellent, with wooden turrets to scale, rope bridges to traverse, slides to plunge down and zip wires to fly across. In school holidays you’ll usually find fun themed activities, like a dragon treasure hunt, or a wizards and witches puzzle trail at Hallowe’en.
Inside the castle walls
The castle itself is well-preserved, with rooms reconstructed in a variety of styles. There has been a castle on the site since 1119, and a visit takes you through all its phases. Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon frequented the castle, and some rooms are hung with heavy Tudor tapestries. Its most recent inhabitant, Lady Baillie, used to throw lavish parties, with illustrious guests like Charlie Chaplin and Noel Coward. You get a sense of the decadent, privileged existence of the Lady and her entourage, by walking through her former chambers.
We’d booked a falconry experience for D on the morning of our stay. After a few hours swinging, sliding and zip wiring in the castle playground, while D roamed around, learning how to coax owls and hawks to fly onto his arm, we ate lunch at the Castle View Restaurant. As its name suggests, the restaurant terrace provides one of the best views of the castle. It’s open in the evenings too, and diners sit with the floodlit castle as a backdrop.
Checking in to Leeds Castle Knights Glamping
Our check-in time was 3pm. Leeds Castle Knight Glamping is set conveniently close to the children’s playgrounds, in the grounds of a cottage where some staff members live. This means there’s always someone on-site. The cottage office is staffed until 10pm, and there’s a small bar, in case you’ve forgotten to bring beer or wine and would like to buy some.
When we arrived, Norbert gave us a short tour of the site. He offered to help start our wood burner, and told us we could help ourselves to more kindling or wood from the log cabin near the cottage, if we needed to top up the basket in our tent. WiFi is free on-site, and I found it worked well.
Along with a few basics, like packets of tea and coffee, small bottles of water and a flask for hot water, the tent was equipped with two dressing gowns, and plenty of towels. The linen on our double four-poster bed was fresh and crisp, with snuggly blankets for exta warmth.
At the foot of the children’s camp beds, my son found hot water bottles in fluffy jackets, to give an extra boost of warmth to their high-tech Coleman sleeping bags. They did need this as, despite the thick felt insulation of the tent’s walls, and the log burner, temperatures dropped inside the tent overnight.
If you’d like a look round the inside of our tent, check out our video:
One of the great things about glamping is that basic chores run a lot more smoothly than on camping trips. Leeds Castle’s site had pre-built barbecues for our grilled sausages and halloumi, and firepits for the marshmallows. We took our own charcoal, but we could have bought some from the office if we’d forgotten it. Inside the cottage, guests could make use of a fully equipped kitchen, with a microwave, oven and hob. We did need our cooler bag, though, as the kitchen’s fridge was for drinks only. Also inside the cottage were immaculately clean bathrooms, with a toasty hot shower.
Breakfast in bed
We were due back in London first thing the next morning, for school and work, so we paid £5 per head to have breakfast delivered to our tent. This was something that needed to be booked in advance. 8am’s usually the earliest time for a breakfast delivery, but when I explained that we needed to set off very early, the staff made an exception. So on the dot, just before 7am, we heard Norbert’s cheery voice wishing us good morning, as he left a bag of bacon rolls, croissants and jam, with flasks of tea, coffee and hot chocolate. We roused the children, and they ate their breakfast in bed, tousle-headed and very excited about this rare treat.
Alone in the castle grounds
One of the nicest things about Leeds Castle Knights Glamping, was having the grounds all to ourselves when the day visitors had left. The children enjoyed a pre-bedtime romp in the playgrounds, as the sun went down. Glamping guests can do the same in the morning, before the day visitors arrive at 10.30am. Our daughter begged us to let her have one last play in the playgrounds, but alas, we had to rush off to try and beat the traffic on the way in to London.
We’ll definitely be heading back to stay overnight at Leeds Castle, though. The thought of having this beautiful place practically to ourselves for a few hours, is just too tempting.
A shuttle service runs from Bearsted train station to Leeds Castle. For drivers, the castle is seven miles east of Maidstone, off Junction eight of the M20 motorway. It’s one hour from London, 30 minutes from the Channel Tunnel and Channel Ports, and the SatNav co-ordinates are ME17 1RG. This is not always accurate, so it’s best to follow the brown road signs when you get close to the castle.
Our one-night stay in the Earl of Devonshire,on a Sunday in April with two adults and two children, would have cost £150. We were guests for the purpose of this review.
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