Despite these strange times, Hever is still heaving

It is said that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, and lockdown has brought that message home, writes Paloma Lacy.

South London is perfectly placed to enjoy the rich history available in Kent, and none more so fits the bill than Hever Castle, pictured above.

Hever is thought of as Tudor, but the original castle was built in 1271. It was a defensive castle with a gatehouse and bailey, which is perhaps surprising since it’s now more a charming country retreat than anything that could withstand a siege.

Hever Castle’s most famous inhabitant was, of course, Anne Boleyn, who grew up there, and it later passed to another of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne of Cleves, before a variety of other families owned the castle.

For many years it fell into disrepair until it was rescued by an American, William Waldorf Astor, in 1903, whose efforts restored the castle and the grounds to the magnificent site it is today.

We visited on a wet day in July and Hever was heaving.

The first thing that hits you is the sheer beauty and magnificence of the grounds.

The castle is set a little way back and you can walk through enchanting gardens and walkways to reach it.

From this distance, the castle looks a little small. Somebody wondered out loud whether it actually was the castle and not an appendage to it, but perhaps this is coloured by a mythical idea of what a castle should look like.

The surroundings really are beautifully maintained. On the walk to the castle, we wondered how many gardeners must be employed to keep it in such pristine condition.

We met up with our group in the grounds outside the castle. We planned to visit the maze – alas it was closed. But there are plenty of other things to be enchanted by.

Viewing the queue to the castle snaking out across the drawbridge, we decided to go for a walk and try our luck later.

The walk was the highlight of the trip. You could easily imagine Henry trying to win Anne’s affections on one of these beautiful walks, but apparently the gardens were laid out in the early 20th century, having been converted from marshland.

There is, though, an “Anne Boleyn’s Walk” that takes you around the boundaries of the grounds.

We walked across the pathway traversing the Half Moon Lawn and pond, and down to the Italian Gardens that takes you to the Roman-inspired Loggia fountain, overlooking an expansive lake.

There are so many joys to see and one trip didn’t do it justice. Getting lost is just as wonderful as following a map – you never know what curiosities will spring up next. A favourite discovery was the hedge-carved chess pieces.

Social distancing requirements meant it took almost an hour to get into the castle, which put some people off.

Paintings and antique furniture loom large, including some feature pieces such as the prayer books that belonged to Anne Boleyn.

Some of the rooms, such as the drawing room and the dining hall, are magnificent, but I couldn’t help feeling the hour spent queuing could have been used to explore more of the gardens. A good excuse for another visit, I suppose.

We ended the day with an ice cream (not authentically Tudor) and a play in the park near the entrance. The rain tumbled down so it was a retreat into the pub opposite (the Henry VIII of course) for a socially distanced drink before heading home.

There was still more to explore – there is a small military museum and a collection of miniature model houses. Hever is a pleasant afternoon out well worth a visit for the surroundings alone.

If a day visit to soak up its history is not quite enough, you can stay overnight at Hever Castle. For more information click here.

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