Leeds Castle is one of those places where you can have a different experience every time you visit. Set near the Kentish village of Leeds (not to be confused with the city in the north of England), Leeds Castle’s history dates back to the Norman period, and includes such illustrious guests as King Henry VIII, actor Charlie Chaplin and writer Noel Coward. We’ve spent many a pleasant weekend at Leeds Castle, so we were delighted when they invited us back for their Hallowe’en event, Wacky witches and wizards.
Inside the castle
On this visit we didn’t venture inside the castle itself, but spent our time in roaming the place’s 500 acres of land. The interior’s impressive, though, with well-maintained rooms set in period styles, and charming decorations which change with the seasons. You can read a little about the inside of the castle here. We’ll be visiting Leeds Castle again soon, so come back in a couple of months’ time to see more shots of what it looks like inside.
Finding Wacky witches and wizards
As usual, Leeds Castle offered a variety of activities to keep children happy over the school half-term holiday. Just inside the entrance was a tent where, for £1, visitors could buy a ‘Monster Muddle Madness Trail’.
Clues directed youngsters on a hunt around the castle’s grounds. They had to find four kooky characters – witches, wizards, mad Professors and Frankenstein’s Monster – and watch their performance. The actors playing the characters were mesmerising. All hammy charm, and maniacal energy. They waited until enough visitors had massed around them, then broke into a routine, which included something they muddled up – a vacuum cleaner mistaken for a broomstick, for example. The children wrote these down, and then when they’d gathered all the muddled items, they claimed a chocolate prize in the gift shop.
Exploring the grounds
Leeds Castle’s grounds are well-maintained, with plenty of wildfowl, especially near the entrance. Bird feed is available at the gift shop for £1. The castle’s emblematic black swans are usually somewhere to be seen, and they’re not shy: one gave a loud warning hiss to my daughter when she tried approaching it for a stroke. Scooters aren’t allowed inside the grounds, so be warned that the castle itself is a ten-minute walk from the entrance, when you’re going at a child’s pace. The path takes you through pleasant grounds, though, and two large play areas are set seven minutes beyond the castle, so there’s a good incentive for walking through to the other side.
We took our time walking through the grounds, playing among the trees, and admiring the new wood carvings, commissioned from local chainsaw artist Steve Andrews. The most impressive I saw was Aragon the dragon, set on top of the stump of a cedar tree which needed to be cut down because of decay.
Activities for children
The half-term activities weren’t confined to a hunt for witches and wizards. Pictures of mummies lay dotted around the trees, with letters attached to each one. Once they’d found all the letters, children had to unscramble them to make a Hallowe’en-themed word. And this time, two years after our first attempt, we braved the castle’s maze. It’s open all year round, and once you find the middle, the exit is through an eerie underground grotto. They ground inside the maze and grotto is uneven, so the castle advises against going in with a buggy. Also a permanent feature is the Knights’ Realm Playground, a wooden adventure space modelled on the castle, with spiral climbing staircase, fireman’s poles, rope bridges, giant tumble steps and ladders. It’s most suitable for over-sevens, but younger children can play in the equally imaginative Squire’s Court Playground.
The castle’s regular falconry display drew a large flock of visitors at 2pm. This was included in the entry charge, but if you didn’t mind paying extra, there was archery (£3) and face-painting (£4 – a little steep, but it was a professional job). Perhaps the best activity, though, was the Monster Mash, a disco party session, with games and dances led by this freaky duo:
Food and drink
Leeds Castle’s eateries are phenomenally busy at weekends and in school holidays, so it’s worth considering taking a picnic. But if you do want to buy food and drink, the Castle View Restaurant offers tasty hot meals, good-quality sandwiches and a wide selection of beverages. The Maze Café and Grill, next to the playgrounds, has a slightly more limited (but still perfectly adequate) selection, and Costa Coffee, next to the restaurant, is good for an afternoon pitstop. There are plenty of toilet and baby changing facilites at the castle, as well as disabled access to most areas.
Have you been to Leeds Castle? Or another similar attraction?
Leeds Castle gave us complemetary access for the purpose of this post. Admission is usually £24.90 for adults and £16.90 for children over four (under-fours go free). Tickets give unlimited access for an entire year. Family activities vary with the season. Falconry displays run on weekends and school holidays from October-March, and daily from April-September. The next set of events are Christmas-themed; for more details see the Leeds Castle website.
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