Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Travelling Tuesday - Castles in the Garden of England

Fiona Harper has always been a sucker for a good castle, right from the days when she used to don her best dressing-up clothes and swoon as Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger on a spindle or pretended to be Cinderella fleeing from the ball. Today, she investigates some of the romantic castles that regularly inspire her.

I am extremely lucky. I live in London, less than an hour’s drive from some of Kent’s most stunning stately homes. I could fill pages and pages with all the wonderful places there are to visit, but I’ve managed to restrict to myself to just three of my favourites:

Leeds Castle
Leeds Castle
(which, confusingly, is nowhere near the city of Leeds) is one of those perfect, romantic, fairy-tale castles. It has it all – an ancient building with steep winding staircases and royal bedrooms, sweeping grounds, and the essential item for all serious contenders for a dream castle -a moat.

It was built in 1119 on the site of an existing manor house, and has been home to both Edward I and Henry VIII, who renovated the castle for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Aside from the wealth of history surrounding the castle, it’s a great family day out. My kids especially enjoy the aviary, full of exotic birds, and the mazes. The large maze is fiendishly difficult. (Yes, I have run round and round it saying “haven’t we been here before?” many times). Once in the centre, you can climb a short tower and gloat over all the people who still haven't made it (they don't know it took you 3 hours!), then descend into a grotto underneath (see left) and leave through a secret tunnel. I'm also a sucker for secret tunnels...

Hever Castle
Another stunning building with links to Henry VIII is Hever Castle:

Hever was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and later passed to the ownership of one of his other wives, Anne of Cleaves. Hever is smaller than Leeds, but just as pretty. It’s tall, rectangular structure is surrounded by a moat and it has a really pretty courtyard in the middle with a fountain. In 1903 the castle was bought by William Waldorf Astor, who invested a vast amount of time, money and imagination in restoring the castle.

One of my favourite places in the grounds is the Italian garden, built between 1904 and 1908 to display Astor’s collection of Italian sculpture. At the end of the garden, overlooking the vast lake that took two years to dig out is the loggia fountain, modelled after the Trevi Fountain in Rome. The two female figures are made of paler, softer stone than the rest of the fountain, making them seem almost alive.

Penshurst Place

You can’t go anywhere in north Kent without tripping over a link to Henry VIII, and Penshurst Place is another locations with links to the womanising Tudor monarch.

In1519, Penshurst Place was the setting of a sumptuous banquet given by 3rd Duke of Buckingham in honour of Henry VIII. However, his generosity didn’t stop him being behaded for treason two years later, and his magnificent house was then forfeit to the king. In 1552, Edward VI, Henry’s son, gave the house to William Sydney and his descendants, Viscount De L'Isle and his family, still live there today.

I have a soft spot for Penshurst as I used it as the basis for my fictional Elmhurst Hall in English Lord, Ordinary Lady.

With so many wonderful castle to visit nearby, I can’t help getting inspired and swept away by the romance of it all – which is just as well, really, as comes witht he job!

A fabulous period building – Art Deco this time – appears in Fiona’s latest release, Invitation To The Boss's Ball, on sale now at eHarlequin and Mills&Boon.

In this modern-day Cinderella story, plain Alice's world is turned upside down when she's askes to organise tycoon Cameron Hunter's charity ball...

She finds herself spending a magical night dancing in his arms, even though she knows that everything will be back to normal on Monday morning. But for now, she's going to enjoy every second...


  1. Hi Fiona

    What a great post. I always find the history in these old places fascinating.

    There's a ruin near my mother's home in Wiltshire called Old Wardour Castle which we used to visit as kids (and I went to with my own kids only last weekend). It's a warren of secret passages, stone chambers, winding staircases and terraced ramparts where a royalist family were once besieged by the Roundheads. When you walk through the old stone walls you can almost hear their cries.... It's wonderfully eerie and atmospheric. Inspiring stuff for any author.

  2. Hi Fiona. Great blog. I went to Hever castle many years ago. It was a magical day - a stunning place to visit and immerse yourself in the past. Take care. Caroline x

  3. I'm always on the look out for new castles and stately homes to discover. And these days I always take my camera and a notebook - you never know when that wonderful old house you visited is going to be the perfect setting for a book!