Last weekend, Ms B & I did what we had been planning on doing for some time: do a day trip to Hever Castle (pronounced like “fever”, not like “never”) in Kent, next to Royal Tunbridge Wells, just an hour’s train ride away from London.
Castles and Manors
Strictly speaking, Hever is a country house, not a fully-blown castle, ever since its castle-to-manor conversion in the middle of the 15th Century. It is not designed to protect its residents from an attacking army. This is despite the moat and the rope bridge, which remained from the original 1270 A.D. version. However, this is in no way diminishing its appeal as a day trip destination.
Cafes and Restaurant
Different from most other castles and manors of similar size in the UK, everything is perfectly organised and kept in great shape. There are several cafes and shops spread over the huge premises. (Don’t try their outdoor barbecue grill, it’s atrocious and we didn’t eat any of the food, it went straight to the bin, the food at the main restaurant/café looked pleasant, though.)
Jousting Tournaments and other Events & Activities
Throughout the year there are numerous specials, events and festivals. In July and August there are jousting tournaments on most weekends (check details here) and we’re already planning to return then. You can also hire a rowing boat and go rowing on the lake or try your hand at some archery. We enjoyed both activities. I had used a bow and arrow a few times before, but that didn’t seem to help much. It took me several tries to hit the target and I never hit the bullseye. Well, it’s not about winning, it’s about the fun.
Famous Water Maze
One of the biggest attractions, especially for the little people, seemed to be the so-called water maze, which consists of paths of stone plates mounted on wobbly footings with hidden water guns that shoot water at you when you least expect it. The task is to reach the centre of the maze without getting soaked.
Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, and Queen Elizabeth I
Hever used to be the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I, who was famously beheaded on request of her murderous husband. (As things go, it later became the home to King Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, after their marriage got annulled.) Anne Boleyn is the reason why Henry VIII left the Catholic church and created the Church of England.
One of the Best Tudor Portrait Collections & Official Ghosts
History oozes from every wall and ceiling in these rooms. The events that took place here changed England’s fate forever. Over three storeys room after room displays antique furniture, tapestries, knights’ armour, weapons, torture instruments, and one of the best Tudor portrait collections after the National Portrait Gallery. According to the castle’s official website there are also plenty of ghosts, which is always a plus when it comes to castles.
In 1903, Willy Astor, also known under his more convoluted name William Waldorf Astor, 1st Viscount Astor of Hever Castle, one of the ten richest persons on earth at the time, bought the little place and started to invest some serious money, we’re not talking re-tiling the guest bathroom here. He had relocated from his native America and decided to make Hever his family home.
From Hever train station, it’s a leisurely 20-minute walk to the castle grounds. However, if you’re with children or fragile people, it’s best to pre-order a cab from Edenbridge Town station. The walk starts out on very pleasant hiking paths, but there is a half-mile section along busy country roads with fast-moving traffic and at times little space to step away from the road (due to hedges, etc., and there not being any sidewalks).
It’s only a short five-minute walk from the gate to the castle and the Tudor village. The gardens start right there, on the far end, and another five minutes’ walk will get you to the lake and the water maze.
Saving Little Lambs
After a fun day out we were on our way back to the train station and the path led through an enclosed woodland area separated by wire fences and gates from the open field around it. Something didn’t sound right, like an animal screaming. Then we saw the little lamb inside the enclosure. It was desperately trying to push its body through the much too narrow gaps in the wire fence. Its mom on the other side of the fence didn’t help by encouraging the little one to try again and again. It was clearly in panic and just a few minutes away from accidentally harming itself.
So Ms B & I looked for a gap in the fence and found one on the opposite end of the enclosure. We started gently scaring the lamb away from its mom and towards the gap in the fence. After about fifteen minutes the cute little woolly fur ball finally got the clues and stumbled out of the enclosure through the gap to re-unite with its mom. We nearly missed our train back to London, but what a lovely finish to a fabulous day out.
Looking for more medieval mayhem and magic, check out our posts about England’s Medieval Festival, Burghausen Castle Festival, and the world-famous Landshut Wedding. Our friend John has also written a fabulous piece about Malahide Castle in Dublin on his blog Carpe Diem Eire.
Other fun activities we’ve blogged about include powerboating, hot air ballooning, rowing in Venice, rock-climbing near Porto, and or our trip to the Sahara. For some restaurant reviews, feel welcome to have a look at our posts about Gruvelageret near the North Pole , Lafleur, Frankfurt, Beso, London, The Porch House, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Benoit, Paris.