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I am a huge fan of visiting historical properties especially on those balmy summer days that still seem a long way off right now. Living in a country with a rich and interesting history there is no shortage of properties to visit ranging from stately homes to magnificent castles. But there is one place I keep returning to year in year out. This is Hever Castle in Kent. To me it’s the prettiest castle in the world.
The oldest section of the castle – the gatehouse and walled bailey – dates from 1270. In 1462 Sir Geoffrey Bullen bought the castle and added the Tudor dwelling inside the existing walls retaining the courtyard in the centre. Eventually the castle was handed down to Sir Thomas Boleyn an ambitious courtier and through his daughter gained its most famous resident. Hever Castle is now best known for being the childhood home of Henry VIII’s ill-fated second queen Anne Boleyn.
Anne Boleyn was born between 1500 and 1509 (historians can not decide which mainly because so little is known of her early life, it seemed unimportant at the time). She spent her formative years in the French court returning to England endowed with witty conversation, grace and daring French style. She initially hoped to marry Henry Percy, but was not considered grand enough and his family put a swift end to their romance. Slightly later she captured the attentions of King Henry VIII who was desperate for a male heir. The succession problem, Henry’s growing infatuation with Anne and her refusal to become just another one of his mistresses made him determined to marry her. However it took seven long years for Henry to achieve some sort of separation from his first wife Catherine of Aragon and the break with Rome before they could be married in 1533. Unfortunately Anne’s triumph was short-lived. A male heir was not forthcoming and Henry soon grew bored and annoyed with her. She was arrested on trumped up charges of adultery, incest and witchcraft and was beheaded in May 1536 – the first English Queen to suffer this fate. However it appeared that Anne’s daughter had inherited her ambition and determination – Elizabeth I went on to become the greatest queen in England’s history.
After the Boleyn's downfall the castle was also home to Henry VIII’s fourth queen Anne of Cleves and later the Waldegrave (from 1557) and Astor (from 1903) families before being opened to the public in 1983.
Hever Castle is now open to the public between 1 March and 30 November every year and attracts a wide range of visitors. It is situated in the tiny village of Hever, near Edenbridge in Kent (between Sevenoaks and East Grinstead). Being so isolated the most sensible mode of transport is car or coach – parking is free. However you can get the train from London Victoria to Edenbridge Town and then take a taxi 3 miles to the castle. Access to the village consists of narrow country lanes so it is easy to get thoroughly lost – keep a good eye out for the signposts directing you to the castle!
As you arrive at Hever Castle, especially on a hot summer's day, you’ll be immediately struck by the stunning grounds and the great beauty of the castle itself. Hever isn’t grand and imposing like most castles but truly lovely, small and cosy. To tour the castle itself takes around an hour depending on how thorough you like to be. Walking across the drawbridge look down into the moat to catch a glimpse of the monster fish within! The Tudor courtyard just inside the gatehouse is exceptionally beautiful and it is from here you will start the tour. Everyone walks around the castle at his or her own pace and you can buy a guidebook at the entrance if you wish to learn more about the individual rooms. However there are plaques in most of the rooms giving you some detail of their use and history. Many of the rooms are richly decorated and adorned with portraits of the famous persons associated with the castle. If I had to choose my favourite rooms are the great hall because it is so imposing, the living room because it’s so cosy, Anne Boleyn’s room because of the history attached and the Elizabethan style hall on the first floor. Other rooms of note are the bedroom Henry VIII slept in when he visited Hever while courting Anne, the tiny secret chapel of the side of one of the bedrooms, the library, Anne of Cleves room, the magnificent dining hall and the rooms upstairs dedicated to the Astors with fantastic photographs of the castle and family. On the upper floor there is also a great gallery, used in Tudor times for exercise, recreation and dancing which is now home to a variety of waxworks telling the story of Anne Boleyn’s life. The final part of the tour takes you to the gatehouse itself where swords, armour and gruesome instruments of torture are now displayed.
By now it’s probably time for lunch. There are two restaurants in the castle grounds both offering the usual hot and cold options. If it’s a nice day though nothing beats bringing a picnic and sitting opposite the castle taking it all in. Beware of the very rude ducks though who will harass you for food at any opportunity!
To work off a large and satisfying picnic a run around the magnificent grounds is now required. There is plenty for adults and children alike. Children will love the maze, adventure playground and best of all the water maze – you will end up with soggy kids though! For the adults the gardens at Hever can easy rival those in any National Trust property. The gardens were laid out between 1904 and 1908 and include the Italian Garden, Tudor Garden and Rose Garden. Alternatively you can talk Anne Boleyn’s walk, which takes you through some of the more traditional sections of the grounds. If nothing else you must walk through the breathtaking Italian Garden to the 35-acre man-made lake at the end. Here you can sit enjoying the scenery and an ice cream!
Hever also hosts a variety of special events such as garden talks and tours, period costumed musicians and dancers, jousting and archery. For a list of dates and events go to www.hevercastle.co.uk.
Overall Hever is a fantastic day out that all ages will enjoy. If the kids are bored during the holidays and need some entertainment (with the added bonus of education) or relatives are staying who need amusing or you just fancy a day out Hever won’t disappoint.
The castle is open from between 1 March and 30 November
The grounds open at 11am and the castle at 12noon. Final exit is 6pm.
Adult entry to the castle and gardens costs £8.80, Senior Citizen £7.40 and child (5-14) £4.80.
I have been to Hever Castle countless times and have enjoyed each and every visit. In fact I’m its biggest fan! If you decide to visit I really hope you have an excellent time & I look forward to hearing your comments.