Places to Go: Leeds Castle
Places to Go is a regular feature from NationalRail.com’s stationmaster, Alex Nelson. His passion for the UK rail network and travelling to new locations around the UK have inspired him to write a regular piece on UK tourism.
The phone rang in the office of a coach operator in the Midlands. “Hello”, said the driver of the day excursion with a full load of passengers for Leeds Castle. “I’ve got to Leeds. Now, where’s the Castle?”
Leeds is a regular day visit away from the northeast with TransPennine Express, but Leeds Castle is adjacent to the village of Leeds in the middle of Kent. To get there, you’ll need to travel beyond London and on to the South Eastern (SE) service to Bearsted near Maidstone, from where a local company, Spot Travel, offers a minibus transfer to the Castle. I took my parents, both 87, there in late September. They very rarely travel by train. We met up at Bromley South about 1030, and Mum and Dad were impressed with one of the newer trains on SouthEastern, and found the lifts to change platforms at Bearsted very convenient. The minibus (a taxi) met our arrival, and we were the only passengers. Although we had to pay £10 each way for the minibus, I had used my Annual Gold Card to get 1/3 off my own and their fares (they don’t have Senior Railcards of their own), and Leeds Castle offers 2 for 1 admission for visitors coming by rail.
Elsewhere, leaflets containing vouchers for the 2 for 1 offers are often available, but to save paper SouthEastern expects customers to download internet vouchers in advance, which I had not. So, on arrival at Leeds, I had to find a mobile phone signal (round the back of Costa Coffee was recommended) strong enough to find the SE website and get the necessary voucher code for the ticket office. I achieved this after 15 frustrating minutes – I should have done this from home beforehand – but it did have the benefit of saving one senior admission price at £22.50 so was worth the effort. Admission allows repeat visits for the year.
A ride on the land train had us from the entrance to the Castle in a few minutes, once promoted as the “loveliest castle in the world”, which is arguable but its position is indeed stunning. It has been open to the public since 1976, but a castle has been on the site since 1086. In the 13th century it came into the hands of King Edward I, for whom it became a favourite residence; in the 16th century, Henry VIII used it as a dwelling for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The castle today dates mostly from the 19th century and is built on islands in a lake formed by the River Len to the east of the village of Leeds. An independent charitable Trust administers the Castle since its last owner, Lady Baillie, died in 1974, since she had no heirs and did not want the Castle to be transferred to the National Trust.
There are other attractions such as a falconry display and an immersive experience “Battle for the Skies” which my father especially enjoyed since he witnessed the Battle of Britain first hand as a nine-year-old… The Castle is open for the winter 10-5 from now until March, closed only on Christmas Day. There’s a Dog Collar Museum, and plenty of play equipment for children. We kept the Castle itself until last and the minibus was waiting for the return trip to Bearsted station. I was a first time visitor, but it was a prime example of how a discounted rail fare and the 2 for 1 admission makes a trip by train an attractive option for a memorable day out.