May 31, 2018
We woke up to the BBC weather forecast of more torrential flooding. Were we ready for another day of walking in heavy rains and heavy traffic? When we talked to the staff in the pub that morning, the sun was peeking through the clouds, could we really believe that weather report? Stories were shared about the downpour only two days before. It was only five miles to our next town, but the Pilgrims Way was back on that narrow busy road we experienced yesterday. We had learned that traffic on it was even worse because of some traffic lights malfunctioning. We made a decision to go with our luggage to our next town and take the day off the road. We got to our hotel, “The Black Horse Inn,” too early to check in but the friendly staff encouraged us to walk down the road and catch a shuttle to nearby Leeds Castle. Off we went down the country road toward the local train station to pick up the shuttle.
A short history of Leeds Castle: Robert de Crevecoeur, a descendant of one of William the Conqueror’s lords built a fortified castle here in 1119. It came into royal hands in 1278 and became part of the Queen of England’s dower – the settlement queens received from their husbands. It was held by six medieval queens; Eleanor of Castile (Wife of King Edward I), Margaret of France (second wife of King Edward I) , Anne of Bohemia (Wife of King Richard II), Joan of Navarre (Wife of King Henry IV) and Catherine de Valois (Wife of King Henry V). In Tudor times, Henry VIII owned the castle and visited it, most notably with his Queen, Catherine of Aragon (wife #1) in 1520. In 1552 Henry’s son, King Edward VI granted the castle to one of his courtiers. Since then it has been in private ownership and used as a garrison, prison, convalescent home and a private home of several families.
The last private owner of the castle, Olive, Lady Baillie, left an indelible mark it. The heiress to an American fortune from her mother’s family and the daughter of an English Lord, she bought the castle in 1926 and she embarked on a complete refurbishment, using the finest French architects and designers to create an elegant country residence. She filled the Castle with art and antiques and glamorous house parties at which she entertained princes, film stars and politicians. Upon her death in 1974, Lady Baillie left the Castle to the Leeds Castle Foundation, a private charitable trust whose aim is to preserve the Castle and the grounds for the benefit of the public forever.
The Castle, at Lady Baillie’s request, is kept as a living house, with bedrooms that regularly accommodate guests at weddings, conferences and banquets. On July 17, 1978 Leeds Castle was the venue for a meeting between foreign ministers from Egypt, Israel and the USA in preparation for the Camp David Accords.
If you never walked into the Castle, but spent an afternoon walking around the grounds, you would be enriched with the beauty of this well- cared for estate.
Various views of the Castle’s exterior:
You might want to slow down for a slide show of the grounds:
And inside this living Castle:
This is just a sampling to show you the splendor of Lady Baillie’s refurbishing. There are twenty bedrooms in the Castle, including eight luxurious State bedrooms, each uniquely funished with period antiques and large original en-suite Art Deco marble bathrooms. Many of the rooms offer traditional four poster beds and breathtaking views across the moat and surrounding parkland.
During the party years of the 30’s and 40’s, glamorous guests included Errol Flynn, Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks and David Niven. More recently guests have included Luciano Pavarotti, Sir Elton John and Sir Cliff Richard.
I enjoyed our pleasant day off at the beautiful and peaceful Leeds Castle. The torrential rains forecasted that day swerved to the east of us; we only got a few showers while we were walking outside of the Castle. We walked 6.7 miles (according to my Fitbit) on our “day off.” Tomorrow we will explore Thurham Castle before we walk to Lenham.