Saturday, 4 August 2018

Hever Castle

24 July 2018
"Le Temps Viendra"
(Anne Boleyn)

Having a lifelong interest in Anne Boleyn meant that I have always wanted to visit Hever Castle, which was her childhood home. I went with high hopes of a fascinating day of history and, boy, it did not disappoint!

I picked a day to go during the recent heatwave, and the temperature was approaching 35 degrees! Although it was lovely seeing the Castle in the sunshine, this did mean that outside you were rather moving from one patch of shade to hunt immediately for another. One (of several things I didn't realise before visiting) was exactly quite how magnificent the surrounding grounds and gardens were... I am reliably informed in the guidebook that the Castle and land were bought by William Waldorf Astor in 1903. He had moved from America in 1890 with his wealth of what would have been about a billion dollars today, so he was able to afford quite an acreage, which included the Castle. He set about a grand re-design of the landscape - installing a lake (which, incidentally, took 800 men, two years to dig out!), an Italian garden and grotto and a rose garden. The gardens are easily the most stunning I have ever seen and well worth a visit just for these alone.

In the Castle, I was amazed at how close you are allowed to the treasures that are on display, many of which are not behind cabinets. Every room had fascinating pieces from the James III (1745) rhyming sword:

(inscribed  "with this sword thy cause I will maintain; And for they sake (sake) O James breath (break) each vein"), the (1540) oak bed, huge tapestries, paintings, instruments of torture - who would have thought that you would have needed a separate blade to remove hands as well as heads!

The highlight upstairs was Anne Boleyn's prayer book which she took to her execution and was annotated by her "Remember me when you do pray that hope doth lead from day to day."

I did not expect to find the family history of the Astor family particularly interesting, but it was...I found out that Churchill was a regular visitor to Hever from his letter, spotted upstairs.

The only downside of the day was that it did get rather crowded in some of the rooms, as there was no timed entry to the Castle. You need to be able to get down a small spiral staircase to leave, which would not be possible for the less mobile. Sadly, the heat did not allow us to explore all of the grounds...We managed to squeeze in the small military museum, but after that collapsed in the cafe! 

We had already booked a room in the Hever Hotel and had decided to eat at the Henry VIII pub at Edenbridge. Both of these choices could not have been better, as they were literally a two minute drive from the Castle. We had not pre-booked a table at the pub, but if you plan on eating there I would certainly recommend ringing ahead as it was fully booked by the time we got there at 6pm.

I am so glad I went to fulfilled a lifelong dream. It is a wonderful day out and, given the opportunity, I would jump at the chance to go again. I could not rate the day highly enough!


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