I have long hankered after a visit to Hever Castle in Kent. With an interest in the Tudor era and with ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ amongst my guilt-pleasure reads, I was curious to see for myself where Henry VIII ‘s second and ill-fated wife Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary grew up, as well as to explore the reputedly beautiful house and grounds. Finally we made it there on the way home from a bank holiday weekend away and it was worth the wait. Located near Edenbridge in West Kent and just under 30 minutes from Junction 5 or 6 of the M25 motorway it made for a convenient stop-off on our journey west.
Hever Castle dates back to the 13th century and has history rich in interest and character. The Boleyn family bought the castle in the early 1500s and added the central residence to the existing gatehouse and walled bailey. After the execution of Anne Boleyn and the Boleyn family’s fall from grace, Hever later became the residence for another of Henry VIII ‘s spurned wives, Anne of Cleeves. Following centuries of passing ownership from one powerful family to another, the run-down property finally was purchased by William Waldorf Astor in 1903, who invested the necessary time, money and creativity into restoring the house and gardens to their former glory.
Although I am guilty of sometimes finding the beautiful estates of historic house more exciting than their interiors, Hever Castle is a definite exception. The outside of Hever is pretty as a picture with its lovely double moat and castle-in-miniature features.The house is home to a treasure trove of Tudor artefacts, including a prayer book signed by Anne Boleyn. The exhibition contains reproductions of letters sent between Anne and Henry VIII during their courtship when she was resident at Hever and you can visit what is thought to have been her bedchamber. The whole building oozes atmosphere and history and you have a very real sense of figures from the past watching over your shoulder. If history isn’t your thing but you are watching the current series of ‘The Apprentice’ then it’s still worth a visit to see that the multifunctional ‘Foldo’ seat-chair the boys designed in Week 3 was no new invention – there is a much better looking 16th century solid wood model sitting in the hallway of Hever Castle! I would have taken a photo to show you but unfortunately photography was not permitted.
Due to the winding spiral staircases and narrow hallways, pushchairs are not permitted in the house at Hever but can be safely left in the courtyard outside. Children will enjoy the toy display upstairs and the life-size reproductions of Henry VIII ‘s six wives in the Long Gallery as well as the weaponry where they can examine pikes and armour up close and see where shooters would have taken up their defensive posts or poured boiling oil on their attackers below. Children who are into the Tudors or studying them at school will find Hever a particularly interesting visit.
The castle aside, Hever has loads going on. There are glorious formal gardens to explore (the tulips were a riot of colour when we visited) and kids were going wild in the maze. With an adventure playground and the exciting water maze which involves finding a dry route to the centre, avoiding jets and sprinklers (bring spare clothes for the children), there is plenty to keep all the family entertained.
If it all gets a bit much then head for the lake. There is a gorgeous walk which follows the lake shore all the way around, with beautiful picnic spots and places to lounge and play along the way or you can hire a boat. Overwhelmed by people on the bank holiday in the main event areas, we escaped there ourselves and it was peaceful and serene, with only the occasional other walker on the path. The full circuit took us around 45 minutes.
We visited on Bank Holiday Monday and so there was a lot extra going on – archery, lawn games, dressing up in period clothes, a big band and lots more. There is lots going on throughout the year though (we particularly fancied coming to watch the jousting) so it’s worth checking Hever Castle’s website for upcoming events before you visit.
Restaurant facilities at Hever Castle are good – there is a tapas restaurant which also serves light bites and cafe food just as you enter the grounds. We tried their sandwiches and cakes and would recommend the food, although the chocolate cake was much better than the carrot cake! There’s also a more mainstream restaurant over near the castle which serves the likes of lasagne and fish and chips. Toilet and baby changing facilities we found to be good. Price-wise Hever is not a cheap day out – entry to the castle and gardens costs £15 for an adult and £8.50 for children over 5. If you are lucky enough to live nearby the annual passes make for much better value and at the time of my visit Hever were offering to convert day tickets into annual passes.
To find out more about visiting Hever Castle and directions, please visit their official website.