LEEDS CAS­TLE

Leeds Cas­tle, a fairy­tale es­tate in Kent, brings its 900th birth­day cel­e­bra­tions to a grand fi­nale with some mag­i­cal plans for the fes­tive season

British Travel Journal - - Contents - Words | Emma O'Reilly

Leeds Cas­tle, a fairy­tale es­tate in Kent, brings its 900th birth­day cel­e­bra­tions to a grand fi­nale with some mag­i­cal plans for the fes­tive season

THEY LIKE THEIR CHRIST­MASES quirky at Leeds Cas­tle, which claims six me­dieval queens and King Henry VIII amongst its former own­ers. Not for them the usual tired Santa's Grotto and blingy fairy lights. The aim is for some­thing un­usual, en­chant­ing and ethe­real…which they are pulling off with aplomb in this, their 900th birth­day year.

The theme is ‘Mag­i­cal Birds and Fes­tive Feath­ers', play­ing on the cas­tle's long con­nec­tion with all things or­nitho­log­i­cal. The Leeds Cas­tle crest fea­tures two sleek black swans and, even be­fore ar­riv­ing at the cas­tle it­self, beau­ti­fully sited on two is­lands in a lake, guests wind through glo­ri­ous gar­dens where pea­cocks strut past wa­ters teem­ing with ducks, egrets, geese… and some of the afore­men­tioned black swans.

Kirsty Har­ris , de­signer of this year's Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions, picked up on the theme early on when she vis­ited. She has let her imag­i­na­tion run wild to cre­ate a win­ter won­der­land which be­gins in the Queen's Bed­room – where vis­i­tors en­ter a for­est full of owls, es­caped from their cages to fly free in the trees. There's a cheeky robin on a spade in a glit­ter­ing snow-cov­ered gar­den in the Queen's Bath­room and four and twenty black­birds burst­ing out of a pie on the banqueting ta­ble in the Queen's Gallery. Kirsty's favourite de­sign is a mag­pies' nest in Lady Bail­lie's Bath­room, filled with snatched gems and trin­kets, be­fit­ting the former royal lo­ca­tion.

‘I want to in­volve the pub­lic as much as pos­si­ble, too', says Kirsty, ‘so I have made some of the pieces in­ter­ac­tive. One of the in­stal­la­tions has winged doves flut­ter­ing from a Christ­mas present. Fur­ther pa­per doves are pro­vided, on which vis­i­tors can write their Christ­mas wishes and hang them on any one of the four Christ­mas trees in the Sem­i­nar Room. There are hats and feather boas to try on in Lady Bail­lie's Bath­room, too.

Some of the dec­o­ra­tions are more sub­tle and sculp­tural, such as the in­ter­twined black and white

“It’s all rather en­chant­ing – and adds to the al­ready be­witch­ing at­mos­phere over the fes­tive season, when lights twin­kle and fires are lit all over the

cas­tle.”

swans atop the gi­ant tree be­side the Grand Stair­case or ab­stract, like the clus­ter of Christ­mas cards that swoop from a man­tel­piece into the shape of a Christ­mas tree in the Cather­ine of Aragon room. It's all rather en­chant­ing – and adds to the al­ready be­witch­ing at­mos­phere over the fes­tive season, when lights twin­kle and fires are lit all over the cas­tle.

Mag­i­cal Birds and Fes­tive Feath­ers is on from 23 Novem­ber un­til 1 Jan­uary, and is the cul­mi­na­tion of events that have been tak­ing place all year long for this special birth­day.

Leeds Cas­tle has had many trans­for­ma­tions dur­ing its long his­tory, be­gin­ning life as a Nor­man Strong­hold be­fore be­com­ing a royal cas­tle, then a mag­nif­i­cent Tu­dor Palace, greatly em­bel­lished by King Henry VIII for his Queen, Cather­ine of Aragon.

The cas­tle then moved into pri­vate own­er­ship (gifted by the king) and has lived through Ja­cobean and Ge­or­gian in­car­na­tions.

The time­lines are dis­played for vis­i­tors but the pub­lic rooms mainly con­cen­trate on the Me­dieval and Tu­dor pe­ri­ods – the Henry VIII Banqueting Hall is par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive - as well as the time of heiress and so­cialite Lady Olive Bail­lie, who lived here from the 1920s. She was famed for her ex­trav­a­gant house par­ties when roy­alty, politi­cians, film stars and au­thors would reg­u­larly descend, Char­lie Chap­lin and Noel Cow­ard amongst them. She cer­tainly knew how to live in style and lux­ury, judg­ing by her bath­room with its un­der­floor heat­ing and walls lined with Rus­sian onyx. Ap­par­ently she also had Eng­land's first wave ma­chine in the gar­den! What is special about Leeds Cas­tle is that it feels like a liv­ing house, rather than a cold ‘show­piece' cas­tle. In­deed, vis­i­tors still stay for oc­ca­sional house par­ties, wed­dings and the like. We can't imag­ine a more won­der­ful place to cel­e­brate!

Rooms start from £90 per night, leeds-cas­tle.com

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