Towns / Cities Visited: 90
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 14,480
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,786,365
A new day dawned, and we headed downstairs for a quick breakfast. In perfect nanna style Jenny made a fuss over us and we bid her farewell, only to be sent on our way with a full packed lunch to get us through the day. As someone who has lost both of my grandmother’s there was something incredibly endearing and nostalgic about her kind gesture. We had greatly enjoyed our stay, but it was time for us to part and make our way to the days destination; Leeds Castle. I know, I know, that’s the fourth day in a row we’ve been to a castle, but to be fair, there just really is an absurd amount of them in this country.
A short drive and we were bundling out of the car into the chill of another dreary day. Making our way through the ticket office, we picked up our pre-booked tickets, as well as a small bag of duck feed, because, to be honest, I kind of felt like feeding ducks. With map in hand, we began our journey through the beautifully manicured grounds towards the distant castle. As we passed over a tiny wooden bridge which spans a small creek that feeds into the lake we were passing, we found the waterway filled with ducks and a pair of swans with their cute little cygnet. Duck feed was a go. The next ten minutes was spent feeding the flock, and in that ten minutes we made a rather poignant discovery. Ducks are adorable when you feed them; they’ll peck the seeds out of your hand whilst playfully quacking. Swans on the other hand, are truly terrifying; when they climb out of the water and stand up straight their almost as tall as you, and they also have not discovered the finer points of pecking seeds off an open palm, and instead try and eat your entire hand in the process. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, obviously doesn’t translate into swan.
With our hands thoroughly assaulted, we continued onwards, past the pristine lawns, until we came to the entrance to the castle complex. Now, its certainly not the biggest castle by any means, but it is perched on an extended island in the centre of a lake, which functions as a moat, and thus looks equally as foreboding as the others we have seen thus far. The first castle on the site was constructed in the 12th century as a military outpost, however in the 13th century it came into the hands of King Edward I who transformed it into a residence; and one of his favourites at that. It passed down the royal line becoming the property of King Henry VIII who gave it as a home to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Despite all of this history, and the Tudor style architecture, the majority of the buildings were actually constructed as we see them today during a massive refurbishment completed in 1823 by its then owners. The last owner of the castle was Lady Olive Baillie who owned it from 1926 until her death in 1974; she bequeathed it to a charitable trust in her will so it could be opened to the public.
After admiring the exterior for a while, we made our way around to the rear entrance to begin our tour of the interior. The first section is set up to display a more medieval kind of feel, with interesting information about the history of the Tudors at the residence. There was a good number of old royal portraits and busts, along with the usual suits of armour, an old wine cellar, and a bedroom, dining room, and small chapel decked out in replica old furniture. There is also a stunning view of the inner courtyard from these rooms, which brings a lot of natural light into what could easily have been a series of dark rooms.
The remainder of the interior has been left in the style it had during the life of Lady Baillie and her daughters. With luxurious elegant furniture and fixtures, pastel coloured walls, and rich woods, it feels more like a five star hotel than a family home. The only reminder of that fact being the series of family portraits scattered around the walls. It truly is a beautiful residence, and it is easy to see why it was such a favourite amongst the queens of bygone eras.
As we finally ventured back outside, we found ourselves being doused with rain. For the first time since we’d been in the country, the heavens had opened. With our umbrella on its last legs, we ducked into the gift shop and bought another one. The weather would not dampen our spirits though, and we took the time to stop under the umbrella of a picnic table near the cafe, and eat our lunch. Accepting that the rain just wasn’t going to quit, we decided to push on regardless. Just near to us we discovered that the castle is actually home to a rather peculiar little museum; a dog collar museum, the only one of its kind in the world. Ducking in we were surprised to find that they actually have quite the collection of antique collars, stretching back some 500 years. They include rather fearsome spiked collars used on hunting dogs in the 15th century to protect them from wild bears and wolves; to ornate gilt collars used as status symbols by the upper classes in the later centuries; and a few more modern examples. Overall it was quite the fascinating little place to visit, albeit rather unexpected.
Heading back out into the rain, we made our way into the gardens. Passing the picture perfect raindrop covered flowers, we found ourselves standing face to face with a large hedge maze constructed out of a couple thousand yew trees. Unable to resist, even with the persistent rain, we made our way in. A short while, and a little backtracking, later, we found ourselves in the centre. Now unlike most mazes, where you then have to find your way out once you make it to the middle, this one actually goes down into an underground grotto. Despite the slightly tacky coloured lights and thunder effects, the space is actually kind of cool, and it leads into a tunnel with takes you out of the maze. If I ever become eccentrically rich, I want that in my life.
From here we made our way over to the birds of prey area, where they have a large array of birds on show. As much I love falconry, it was kind of sad to see these majestic creatures tied on short tethers, and stuck sitting in the rain. They had owls, eagles, falcons, and even a kookaburra; not particularly much of a bird of prey, but still it was so odd to see a bird from our homeland so very far away from its usual place of residence. There was supposed to be a falconry display on at 2pm, but we assumed that due to the rain they wouldn’t be running it. Still, not wanting to miss a chance to see these beauties, we stopped at the other cafe for a hot chocolate to warm ourselves up while we waited for the time to tick by. As we thought, there was to be no show today, but much to our delight, two of the falconers came over to the large group of us huddled in the cover of the outside dining area of the cafe; on the left hand of each handler was perched the cutest little owl. They took the next quarter hour teaching us all about these two different breeds, and explaining that they couldn’t fly them in the rain, as they are essentially giant sponges, and once their feathers were drenched they are not able to take off at all. Once they’d finished their talk, we were all allowed to pat these silky soft cuties, and to be fair, that was way almost as amazing as watching them fly.
By this point we had exhausted both things to do at the castle, and our patience with the rain, and thus we made our way back to the car; stopping to feed some more overly aggressive swans the remainder of our seeds on the way. It was a short drive to our other destination for the day; Canterbury. Parking the car outside of the old city walls we walked in. We had had every intention of visiting the city’s famous cathedral, but as we arrived, we realised you can’t even go and simply see the exterior without buying one of the overly expensive entrance tickets; a price that isn’t even lowered despite the fact that, given it was a Sunday, several of the areas inside were closed. Looking through the gate and realising that the majority of the facade is covered with scaffolding, and taking into consideration that we had seen more than a dozen beautiful gothic churches so far on our trip, we came to the concensus that we would give it a miss. With the downpour worsening, we had a quick look around this stunning historic place, but in the end we soon found ourselves jumping back into the car before long. Perhaps one day we will have the time to come back and explore the city more thoroughly; but today would not be that day unfortunately. Besides, we still had a two hour drive to get to our accommodation just outside or Brighton.
We made it to our Airbnb without a hitch, and were welcomed into the home of a charming Filipino couple. A quick home cooked meal, and a little blog writing, and we were soon tucked into bed. As I reminisced on the day, I thought about living in a home like Leeds Castle. I think as someone from a lower middle class background, I, and most like me, often have those daydreams of where we would live, or what we would buy if we had the wealth held by the 1%. We dream of mansions, and fancy cars; or endless five star travel and the finest food, drinks, and clothes money can buy. We imagine having the ability to purchase anything on a whim, instead of worrying about our bills and rent, whilst still trying to afford some semblence of a functional social life, or leisure activities. We want to worry about which castle to choose, rather than whether or not we’ll ever be able to afford a run down one bedroom flat in the outer suburbs, without putting ourselves into crippling debt. We want to have to decide between yew or beech for our hedge maze, not whether we should go for the generic brand groceries to save a dime. But would having the millions we dream of actually make us any happier? Would raking it in actually make our grass any greener?
Studies would suggest no. It has been shown that once you make a wage that means you can afford a house, and not have to worry about standard living costs, plus a little to spare, a number which still sits below the six figure mark per year, people are generally no more happier, regardless of how much more money they earn. In fact, it is well acknowledged that having large amounts of money never stops you wanting more; greed is insatiable by its very nature. Once logically considered, this makes perfect sense; in our hearts I believe we all know that money cannot buy you happiness. Yes it is more comfortable to cry in a Ferrari than on a bus, but having the expensive luxuries does not shield us from the things that steal our joy as the years pass. No amount of jewellery will ease the pain of losing a loved one; no matter how fancy your car is, it cannot drive you back to the past to change your mistakes, or erase your darkest memories; no matter how big your house is, you will never be able to exchange it in return for your youth or your everlasting health, and you will never find a hiding place within it that death will not uncover.
Money cannot buy happiness, purely and simply because happiness is not a tangible item; you can not find it on a shelf or in a showroom; it does not come with a price tag. It is the result and reward of our actions and our interactions. It is found in the kindness we show to others, and the kindness we receive in return; it is in the places we visit, the people we meet, the truths we learn, and the memories we create. Happiness is the compound interest of every selfless smile we paint on the faces of others, and those gifted to us by those who cross our paths. Wherever your journey leads, remember this; you may never be rich of coin, but you can still be wealthy; not all currency can be banked.