Day 11 - All Roads lead to Leeds

Monday, April 06, 2009
Thank I lost an hour of sleep last night thanks to British Summer Time. On top of all the fresh air, good food, and cider, I was completely pooped when I awoke this morning. Another full day ahead of us...I need a vacation from my vacation... Thankfully I took an extra two days off of work to try and recover when I get home. My leg muscles are a bit cramped from all the walking but my knees seem to have recovered and aren't bothering me at all. Even after all the ups and downs of Rye! Today's agenda includes a trip to Leed's Castle in order to walk around the grounds and, of course, the castle itself, and should there be time, one final trip to Whitstable to say goodbye.

We arrived at Leeds Castle juster they opened at 10:30 and there were already a huge number of people there. And, sweet Jeebus, they all seemed to have a couple of runny-nosed, crying, loud, annoying children over whom they have no control (or chose not to). Ugh. This should be interesting... Admission was £15 per person (approx. $25 CDN). A bit steep if it was just the castle but it included the grounds, the castle, and a number of other smaller attractions. Considering that we spent about 5 hours here, definately worth the price. And, like Canterbury Cathedral, your ticket is good for readmission for a full year. Another positive? For UK residents, the Castle is a registered charity so you could claim the price of admission on your taxes!!! Leeds is definately somewhere I could imagine visiting a few times a year. The grounds are enormous and so beautiful. Plenty of paved walking paths beside small creeks and ponds full of birds. If it wasn't for the kids on scooters, kids getting trapped on little islands, and parents yelling at all of them (and yes...MORE French school kids), it would have been serene. I don't recommend Sunday mornings.

As you enter the grounds, you pass through the Duckery which is filled with all manner of goose, duck, peacock and some birds I couldn't recognize. The three of us were treated to quite the show by a little girl in front of us whose parents had armed her with a bun in order to feed some of the birds (when will people learn you DON'T feed birds bread?). The little girl, perhaps about 4 years old, quickly grew tired of feeding them and turned away. Well, one particularly precocious peacock wasn't very happy with that and followed her, pecking at the bun in her hand. Considering the peacock was almost the same size as the girl, it was no wonder she became frightened and started to cry. Is it wrong that I started giggling uncontrollably? Probably but it was pretty darned funny. I felt bad for the peacock though. We continued on our way, hoping to leaving the now psychologically scarred for life tot behind, exiting the Duckery and exploring the rest of the breathtaking grounds. Flowers everywhere including fields of what I think were bluebells, small groves of trees and bubbling creeks made the grounds of Leeds Castle a fast favourite for me.

The Castle itself is an impressive sight to see. Surrounded by a small lake/moat, its quite imposing and must have been magnificent in it's heyday. We opted to skip the Castle proper for the time being and instead went in search of a bite to eat. They have a charming restaurant where you can avoid most of the children (or at least the loudest ones) where I had a delicious tomato soup to warm my innards and both the AsteReds dined on a cheese and apple "tart" which were the size of cutting boards (and served on wooden cutting boards!). Yummy all around. We visited the Dog Collar Museum which I found particularly disturbing and then passed through a garden, past the Aviary and onto the maze. As we arrived though, they were beginning to set up a falconry demonstration so we opted to watch that first. For those of you interested, the Castle offers Falconry lessons. First up was an owl named Bailey (or Baillie after the Castle's most recent owner?). I should probably let you know, I don't like birds. Well, not really. If they're walking near me, I'm fine. The minute they start flying around my head, I get a bit freaked out. And naturally I happened to pick a spot to stand beside the fence which just happened to be one of the posts on which Bailey was going to land... Eeeeek! I kept myself from screaming and/or fainting and was happy when he took he off in search of his next perch. Poor Asterisk though, Bailey smacked him in the forehead with his wing as he skimmed over his head.

We contemplated exploring the maze but everyone and their children from the falconry display seemed to have the same idea (plus the ground was a bit muddy from the recent rains) so we snuck into the Grotto below through the exit (we're such rebels!). The Grotto is a bit on the cheesy side with bad voiceovers reciting parts of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner interspersed with peals of thunder. The walls are covered in statues and reliefs created out of seashells lit up by coloured lights. The central focus of the grotto is this evil looking face/fountain in a domed room whose ceiling is covered in a checker board pattern of alternating black and white swans, all created from seashells. The grotto (and probably the maze as well) is certainly designed with kids in mind but I don't remember seeing any children while we were down there. Perhaps redeyes here ate them. Ooooh, wouldn't that be entertaining!!! While I wouldn't say the grotto is a must-do for adults, it does make for some interesting photos and if you're there with kids, check it out. Plus if you make it all the way through the maze this is likely the easiest way out rather than fighting the flow of traffic.

Onto the Castle. You enter through the cellars and make your way up to the main floor. The first few rooms were breathtaking, keeping much of their original decor (or passable recreations), reflecting what the castle would have looked like when it was in use during the days of Henry VIII. However, when Lady Baillie moved in during the early part of the 20th century, she had many of the rooms redecorated which included plastering over the walls and many of the original doors. It's the smae in many of the castles still used as residences, I'm guessing, but it didn't really hit me until we went through the last door. You could clearly see the original door behind the plastered cover as you went through the doorway. Granted Lady Baillie had pretty good taste but still...ugh. It made me a bit sad.

On the way out of the grounds, we passed by the last body of water before entering the Duckery. Sadly one of the geese had his head stuck in one of those plastic beer/soda can holders and another one of the holes/loops was wrapped around his beak preventing him from opening it much more than to get a sip of water. It was heartbreaking. Although another visitor who was watching mentioned that her partner had gone off to tell one of the groundskeepers, we decided to stop at the gate and tell someone as well. Thankfully, when we reached the front gate, one of the employees let us know that the staff had already been informed and were working on catching the bird.

Feeling relieved (although still sad and disgusted), we left Leeds Castle for one last trip to Whitstable. I love Whitstable. Have I mentioned that before? It's a beautiful little village right on the coast. As though it knew I had to leave the next day, the wind died down and the rains stayed away long enough for us to visit Peter Cushing's house (yes I did sing the JellyBotty's song...and it's on film somewhere) and to explore the harbour. The sea was calm and the last rays of sun shone down through gaps in the clouds like a finger of god. Whitstable, I'll miss you.


Wandering Coyote said...

You can't beat a great castle! Glad you had such an excellent time. I love birds, incidentally, except the song-type ones that wake me up early in the morning...

* said...

I really like the dog-collar museum. There's something wonderfully eccentric-English about it. Nice pic of the green dude, too!

Milla said...

I love your writings about your trip to the UK. Wasn't it great fun?

Hope you are recovering OK from the holiday. Perhaps your boss could staple a voucher on your next payslip for a few days at a health spa...

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