We woke up at 6am, still a bit tired from yesterday’s tour. Maiko’s legs were still pretty sore from climbing all 530 steps to the top of Warwick’s Castle tower. It was a good thing my fear of heights kicked in when it did, otherwise, I’d be complaining of more than sore thighs.
After we ate a breakfast of tea and bread, we packed some lunch and snacks for the day. Yesterday’s £11 lunch taught us to mind our budget.
We took a different route to the Holiday Inn hotel, where the Premium Tours bus would pick us up for today’s tour. We made sure to cross the road to the other side, because that’s where the bus had picked us up the day before.
The sky was heavy with clouds and then rain started to pour. I was prepared, of course. I had heard about the infamous London rain so I made sure to bring a small folding umbrella. Maiko and I huddled under the awning of the building behind us and waited for the big bus.
Instead, a small coach arrived 15 minutes later. We guessed that maybe the tour office realized that it would be easier to maneuver the narrow London roads in a smaller vehicle. Eager to get out of the rain, Maiko and I stepped into the small coach. The van was already filled with people, and we squeezed through the narrow aisle to get available seats.
We arrived at the Victoria Coach Station just in time to find the gate and wait for our tour guide.
Our guide for the day was Mary. She arrived five minutes later and led us to the bus, where she checked each person on the list. Today’s tour was 30 people strong and the bus was much bigger than yesterday’s medium sized coach. Maiko and I made sure we were at the front of the line as we wanted to get seats right behind the driver.
We got the seats we wanted, but unfortunately, behind us, were seated four very excited and rather loud people. They were chatting and laughing almost the whole trip. It’s a good thing they decided to quiet down once Mary, our tour guide, started talking about the trip ahead of us.
Having taken up History in college, Mary had a lot of historical information and trivia to share. She was a great storyteller and talked about the kings and queens of England like she was talking about her next-door neighbors. She made history interesting—and entertaining.
I enjoyed Mary’s stories so much, I barely noticed that we had arrived at our first destination for the day:
Located east of the village of Leeds, Kent, Leeds Castle is noted as one of the loveliest castles in the world.
Since we were part of the tour group, we were allowed into the grounds before it was opened to the public.
Leeds Castle provides its own tour guides, and our guide for the day was actually doing her first solo guide ever. A senior guide followed her, making sure she stayed on track (and probably making her more nervous than she already was).
Leeds Castle (Front)
The castle guide informed us that Leeds Castle was a living castle, meaning that some of its rooms were off limits because they were being used as accommodations for guests.
She took us through the various rooms open to the public, pointing out specific objects and giving us a history of the castle.
Built in 1119 by Robert de Crèvecœur, the castle was actually built to replace the Saxon manor of Esledes. 159 years later, the castle became a royal palace for King Edward I and his queen Eleanor of Castile.
King Edward I and Eleanor’s love story was a prevalent theme throughout the castle tour. Mary had touched on it while we were on the bus, and our Leeds Castle guide reiterated the highlights of their story.
Most medieval marriages were arranged and often unhappy. Though Edward and Eleanor’s marriage was arranged when they were 14 and 13 years old, respectively, they defied the odds by being absolutely devoted to each other. Throughout their marriage, Edward remained faithful to Eleanor, and became one of the few English kings known to have not conducted extramarital affairs or fathered children out of wedlock.
Throughout their 36 years of marriage, King Edward I and Queen Eleanor of Castile were rarely apart. Eleanor often accompanied Edward on his military campaigns. There’s a story that once, when King Edward I was shot with a poisoned arrow, Eleanor sucked the venom from his wound. In one of these travels, Eleanor fell ill with fever.
She died in Harby, Nottinghamshire in 1290 with Edward beside her.
His heart broken, Edward I failed to continue on his original journey. Instead, he accompanied Eleanor’s body to Westminster Abbey, erecting crosses (later on named Eleanor Crosses) at every overnight stop between Lincoln and Westminster.
Eleanor Cross at Charing Cross Station
courtesy of Kevin Hutchinson
Edward and Eleanor’s beautiful love story came to life when we visited the chapel where King Edward was said to have ordered the priest to say mass for Eleanor’s soul everyday.
200 years later, King Henry VIII transformed Leeds Castle for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. His daughter Elizabeth I was imprisoned in the castle for some time before her coronation.
Leeds Castle passed on from owner to private owner. Until in the 20th century, a wealthy American heiress by the name of Lady Olive Bailie, became the last private owner. She funneled all her finances into the restoring the castle to its former glory and into maintaining the grounds surrounding the castle. Before her death in 1974, lady Baillie made arrangements for the castle to be administered by a charitable trust, which later on became known as the Leeds Castle Foundation.
The tour of the castle’s rooms ended at what I thought was the best room in the house: the Library.
After touring inside Leeds Castle, Maiko and I headed outside to take more pictures of the castle grounds.
We visited the castle’s shop where we bought some souvenirs.
Several postcards, magnets and a painting later, Maiko and I headed out toward another part of the castle grounds.
Swans, geese and ducks made use of the lake (or moat) surrounding the castle.
We even saw black swans.
Maiko took this beautiful picture of a family of geese with the castle in the background.
We explored the Barbican and Mill area, and Maiko snapped this picture of me peeking through the Barbican’s bars.
Moving toward the eastern side of the grounds, we discovered a small garden beyond the castle’s restaurants and found the castle’s aviary.
A bird was building its nest in the middle of the aviary’s small pond.
We had just enough time to look around the aviary and see all the beautiful birds housed within, before we had to head back toward the bus.
There was a castle maze beyond the aviary, but we didn’t get to explore it that day. Mary had warned us before we stepped off the bus not to go into the maze because we might find ourselves lost within its hedges.
There was barely enough time to see all of what the castle had to offer, but we were happy with what we were able to see. One day I hope to return to Leeds with my family and friends to explore more of beautiful Leeds Castle.
I waved goodbye to the castle as the bus headed toward our next destination:
the White Cliffs of Dover.
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