We sent two families off to spend the night at two very different castle gates and called on a local expert for the inside scoop on a third.
Luxury at Leeds
Harriet Whiting and her family spent a night under canvas, followed by a day exploring the historical wonders of Leeds Castle.
The Knight’s Glamping at Leeds Castle (near Maidstone in Kent, nowhere near Leeds), is made up of twin-turreted tents in a range of jolly Medieval-esque stripes; interiors are spacious with proper four poster beds layered with soft bedding and cosy camp beds for the kids. Thoughtful details like hot water bottles, dressing gowns and a small log burner made the tent feel luxurious and most importantly – warm!
The tents are surrounded by rolling green parkland and we spent a blissful evening cooking dinner on the bbq (cutlery and utensils are provided – just bring food) while the kids roamed around, ferrying wood for the fire pit and spying on rabbits in the fields. There’s a cottage with bathroom facilities and a kitchen for hot drinks; you can even buy ice-cold rosé, if you’ve forgotten supplies.
Our plan was to be the first into the castle, especially as dawn wakeups are the norm when camping. But we hadn’t reckoned on the clever felt lining, which kept the interior as dark as a baby’s bedroom. A breezy “Morning campers!” woke us at 8.30am, with a delivery of breakfast bacon rolls and hot tea.
By taking a short cut through the campsite into the castle grounds, we still managed to be first into the maze and the Knight’s Realm playground – an impressive complex of wooden turrets, walkways and slides that rivalled the castle itself. Built in 1119 it was later home to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. The castle has plenty to occupy mini history buffs, including moat, antique weaponry and even a Henry VIII lookalike for photo opportunities.
Look out for nesting birds outside the castle walls – we were lucky enough to see a black swan protecting her precious clutch of eggs. Young ornithologists will love getting up close to owls, eagles and hawks at the Bird of Prey Centre, just by the Knight’s Glamping. Our top tip? Go back into the playground once the castle is closed. You’re allowed, but it has a hint of naughtiness and your kids will love you for it.
Knight’s Glamping costs from £150 per night for a family of 4. leeds-castle.com
Knight and Princesses at Warwick
Jill Forbes took a budding Knight and an aspiring Princess bubbling with excitement for their night in a castle.
We arrived at 7pm so the Castle itself was shut but we followed the sounds of clashing swords and were greeted by two fully dressed up knights! Wooden decking leads the way towards the banks of the River Avon. The Woodland Lodges are semi-detached but generously spaced so you don’t feel on top of your fellow knights. Sleeping 4 plus an extra child at a push, they are decorated with shields, swords and various falconry bits. The kids’ bunk room had a fab mural of a battle scene.
We passed on the themed buffet in the banqueting hall and walked up into Warwick (only 10 minutes) which is lovely: majestic old buildings with walls so wonky you’d think they would fall any minute and the Castle looming over everything. Dough & Brew had delicious pizzas, a fun bar and a great vibe. Back in the Knight’s Village there was plenty of kids’ entertainment in the evening, with jousting, archery and jesters. The Knight’s School is fantastic fun too, as we sat out on our balcony, it was a very happy sight to watch the kids all playing together practising their sword skills.
Accommodation comes with 2 days’ access to the Castle, via a VIP entry gate which brings you into the grounds at the bottom of the gardens, a perfect five minute walk, free of crowds.
Now owned by Merlin Entertainment, there is an element of theme park here, but the Castle has kept its majesty. Daily displays of archery, falconry and the famous Trebuchet are all brilliantly introduced and narrated. We started with a climb to the top of the Mound to get our bearings and the views from here are stunning. There are little snippets of historical trivia all over the place that are small and digestible and keep everyone interested. The Great Hall is filled with waxworks, fascinating to set the scene, but too creepy for my littlies which also put the Dungeons off limits. If you’re a Madame Tussauds fan, and like a bit of guts and gore, go for it!
We loved the Horrible Histories Maze, but above all, just being in this amazing landmark is wonderful; sit on a bench and take it in, you might even get a visit from a friendly peacock. The only low point is the food. If you are trying to fight the sugar battle, prepare yourself. You’ll need all your swords and shields to fight this one! But that niggle aside, this is inspiring history at its very best.
A Knight’s Village Woodland Lodge costs from £279 per night for a family of 4 including breakfast and castle entry. warwickcastlebreaks.com
Top Tips for Hever
Clare Thomson and her two boys live only a few miles from this Kent childhood home of Anne Boleyn.
The 700-year-old castle has everything kids look for in a castle: a moat, an impressive drawbridge and a gatehouse filled with armour and instruments of torture. But for children, especially in the summer it is all about the castle grounds.
This is our pick of the best things to do.
- Spread your rug out on one of the quieter spots beside the Lake Walk. It’s always peaceful here and you can download a nature trail to complete – it’s easy to spot herons, dragonflies and kingfishers.
- There’s a giant topiary chess set that looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland and formal gardens with grottos and a fountain. Look for the lovely sunken garden – it’s a secret garden often missed by the crowds.
- Don’t miss the mazes. Find your way around the traditional yew maze and then try the water maze. Step on the wrong stone and your path will be blocked by jets of water. Bring a towel and swimmers!
- The jousting tournaments most weekends over the summer are a real spectacle.
- The new adventure playground is fab. The massive wooden play castle is one of the best we’ve seen.