Sunday, 5 October 2008

Autumn Gold at Leeds Castle

Regardless of how blustery the weather is, I always like to celebrate my favourite time of year with some sort of show, be it a harvest, craft fair, or a chestnut gathering walk in the countryside. Last year was the inspiring ‘Dig for Victory’ in St James Park, and this year was the Autumn Gold Flower Festival at Leeds Castle.

Leeds Castle is not in Leeds, a fact that everyone will clamour to be the first to quiz you upon. ‘Going to Leeds Castle – do you know where it is then, eh? Eh?’ is the question asked as you soon as you mention your visit, and if you reply confidently ‘Kent’ then watch as faces drop slightly. I bet the real Leeds is a bit disappointed that the castle is not in their city – they should get their own back by having a Kent Castle. I would, if I was in charge of Leeds.

It was once the Saxon Manor of Esledes, which probably explains how it became to known as ‘Leeds’ and has had many a portly royal figure stride around its sumptuous grounds, one of them no doubt wondering how to dispose of the current wife at his side. But its last owner, Lady Baillie, very kindly bequeathed the castle to the nation in 1974, and it’s been ours to play in ever since.

The Autumn Gold show brought the colours of harvest into the castle itself, with each grand room further enhanced by creative flower, fruit and vegetable displays. We filed past pumpkins, admired apples, and ogled onions, and then it was time to find the restaurant, as for some reason we were all suddenly really hungry…

We got to the restaurant before the main rush, and even then it was packed, with shivering folk ordering soup. As soon as we were seated I became one of them, as huge cold gusts of wind hugged my neck every time the door was opened and peckish people ventured inside. 'Soup please!' I said, refusing to relinquish my scarf and coat, as the door banged open and shut, letting in people driven demented with hunger from viewing artistic displays of food all day.

‘Four soups’ announced our waiter, sloshing one bowl down in front of J’s mum, leaving the rest of us wondering exactly where the other soups anounced were, as it was blatantly 'one' soup on the table (and napkin). But the rest arrived shortly afterwards, and were all very nice - not that I stuck my spoon in all four to tell you that, though.

After dinner we viewed the world’s oddest museum – the ‘Dog Collar Museum’. I did think perhaps it was just a quirky name until I got inside, but no, it was just dog collars, and as fascinating as they are, I do think an museum for them is stretching interest slightly.

This picture was my favourite display in the castle - a dress made out of flowers and fruit. Beats dog collars... still, we left that room quickly behind us and decided it was 'time for outside' - as the rain stopped squalling and the sun peeked out briefly behind a cloud, obviously not enjoying the view, as back it went again for the rest of the day. Stumping along thinking fond thoughts of fleece, which is where my thoughts tend to lead me in cold weather, we were in time for the birds of prey display. But the best was yet to come...

Leeds Castle has a maze!

I love mazes, and this one was very well done indeed - it was very hard to work out the way to the middle. J immediantly scooted off in front, I bolted the opposite way, and poor J's mum and aunt were instantly lost. And so was I, to be honest, glaring down at a puddle that I was sure I had seen before (I had, three times). Oh yes, this was a maze to be reckoned with.

I made it to the middle first, only because I heard someone ahead of me say 'aha!' in a very knowing way, and quickly followed them. I then had the pleasure of standing up high on a mound and trying to direct J and his mum and aunt, who by now had bumped into eachother again. 'Which way?' asked J, and I called 'by that hedge!' which probably wasn't the best directions to give in a maze come to think about it...

Still, we got out in time for tea, which I am very happy to report.

No comments: