South of the old a picturesque village of Hollingbourne and south-west of the town of Maidstone just off the M20 Motorway sits Leeds Castle, one of the most splendid castles in the whole of Britain, unrivalled for the magnificence of its buildings and the beauty of its setting. Built on two islands, it is surrounded by a natural moat formed by the River Len. Listed in the Domesday Book of William I (the Conqueror), Leeds Castle has been a royal residence for six of England's medieval queens, a palace of Henry VIII, and a retreat for the powerful and influential.
The Castle began life in the 12 th century as a Norman fortress built by Robert de Crevecoeur. By the end of the 13 th century, under Edward I it became a royal residence and it is from this time that the walls and turrets originate. The Gloriette, French for summerhouse, the building on the small island, the older of the two main buildings of the castle, is joined to the main island by a two-storey stone bridge, the Pons Gloriette. The main building , on the large island, although rebuilt in the 1820s, is consistent with the architectural style of the entire place. You begin your tour by strolling through the Duckery, a peaceful spot that is home to many wild ducks, geese and waterfowl. Once through the gate at the far end you will be standing under the branches of a magnificent Cedar Tree from where the castle and its moat will be just visible across the lawn.
Turning right, you will walk along a path that leads through the Wood Garden and along the banks of the River Len towards the Pavilion Lawn. The Castle will now be fully visible before you. As you approach King Edward's I medieval gate tower, which stands at the inner end of the bridge, the ruins of the Barbican and Fortified Mill will be just below you. A cobbled causeway will finally lead you towards the Castle's magnificent façade. Once inside, you will encounter architecture from several ages, from a medieval queen's room of Henry V and his wife Queen Catherine through the majestic Henry VIII Banqueting Hall with its beautiful ebony floor to the 1920s drawing rooms of Olive, Lady Baillie, the last private owner of the Castle. Fountain Court, built in 1822, deceptively takes you back to Tudor times when the the Chapel from the late 15 th century with its ornate decorations was built. As you leave the Castle by the front door, you should cross back to the gatehouse and see the world's most extensive collection of antique dog collars. The oldest date back more than five hundred years and some look a bit frightening.
Outside the Castle there are many attractions to experience. As you head through the archway you will soon enter the Culpeper Garden, a typically English cottage garden and a mass of colourful flowers from May to October. Upon leaving the garden take the path into the aviary that is full of exotic and colourful birds and which has achieved national recognition for a successful breeding programme of some of the world's most endangered species. Many of them will actually talk to you!
A more energetic attraction is the Castle's maze. Although very challenging it is well worth a try. At the centre of the maze lies an ingenious Renaissance-inspired fantasy beside which is an entrance to a fabulous underground grotto that will eventually lead you back to where you started. After a short rest you can wanderbetween our 13 show greenhouses and the Vineyard where you may want to buy a bottle of the Leeds Castle wine that is made from the grapes successfully harvested every Autumn. From the nearby Tea Room, the path snakes down towards the Great Water and some amazing views of the Lady Baillie Garden, its terraces having been planted with a collection of mostly Mediterranean plants. The views from the terrace across the water to the fields are spectacular. If you are tired by this stage you can take the land train that goes up and down the main drive and get the last views of the Castle before you make your way home. During the summer the Castle is host to numerous events, notable classical concerts and firework displays.