We got up early and walked to Victoria Coach Station to take a “coach,” which sounds fancier than a bus, to Leeds Castle. The castle stands on two islands in a lake surrounded by a huge estate, including gardens, an aviary, and a large hedge maze. We walked all over the grounds and toured the castle and gardens. The building was originally a 9th century fortress, until Henry VIII transformed it into a palace. In 1974, the castle's last owner, Lady Billie, died and left the castle to a trust. The castle was lovely and surprisingly cool after the heat of London. We walked along a winding road through English country meadows where albino peacocks, ducks, geese, and swans roamed and sheep grazed. After walking for a time and not seeing the castle, our first glimpse of it through the haze was dramatic.
Although the exterior of the castle was ancient, the interiors and décor spanned the centuries of the castle's existence and use. Much of the castle had been modernized by its last owner. Our favorite room was Henry VIII's Banqueting Hall, which had ebony floors.
We had a wonderful “British” lunch, including fish and chips and jacket potatoes.
After lunch, we toured the hedge maze. It was very complex. You couldn't just follow the “right-hand rule,” because you ended up at the beginning again! The maze had a central island that raised you above the maze at the center to watch the other people lost in the maze. Once you found the center, you could exit the maze through a mystical grotto. It was blessedly cool after sweating in the maze. The walls were mosaics, including a fantastic phoenix made from shells, a pagan goddess, and a huge, hideous face.
There was an aviary full of birds, both local and exotic, and the Culpepper gardens, full of box gardens with herbs and flowers.
Leeds Castle also houses a very unusual “dog collar museum.” Some of the collars were heavily spiked and looked uncomfortable for any dog to wear!