Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Leeds Castle

Today we got up early - or rather, early for me, which means extracting myself from bed before 9:30 in the a.m. and then getting in the car and hurtling down to Junction 7 of the M20.

Then realising that Leeds Castle is near Junction 8 of the M20, and having to go round the roundabout again, get back on the motorway and hurtle a bit more.

It was snowing today, a desultory sprinkling of little white flecks that didn't settle, but that left us chilled to the bone as we walked from the entrance to the castle. It felt like a very long way, past all sorts of swans, past coots and geese and ducks, but eventually we arrived at the gatehouse of the castle.

Then we had to walk round the castle to get in, because the entrance to the castle isn't at the entrance, it's through the cellars. It began to feel as though my entire day was going in the wrong directions.
Inside, the castle was warm, which helped to restore some joy to me. It's strange; Leeds Castle has been open to the public for years, and many of the rooms have been decorated to show how they would have looked in the period when they were used, and yet it feels somehow sterile, as though it was never lived in and this was an artificial construct.

Which, I suppose, it always was. Lady Baille had parts of the castle reconstructed or redecorated in the 1920s to look like they had in medieval times, so there's always been some sort of artifice to it. But perhaps because we didn't have a guide to take us around and fill us in on the scandals, it didn't feel as alive as other places have. (I'm comparing it with Blenheim Palace, which at one point displayed the schoolboy letters of Winston Churchill, which didn't always show him in the very best light possible.) There have been scandals at Leeds Castle - Queen Isabelle turns up, is told to shove off, and in retaliation the guy who was in residence got hung and beheaded - but it would be nice to have a few more salacious details.

Or perhaps I should read more gossip magazines.

After lunch, we avoided the maze - why get lost among hedges in freezing temperatures if you don't have to? Instead, we went to the aviary, which is well stocked with rare birds, including Balinese starlings (now extinct in the wild) and a parrot that yelled out increasingly creepy things.

Sometimes it would say 'hello', sometimes it would identify itself by shouting 'parrot!' and sometimes we seemed to hear it calling our names in the wind. I'm fine with a parrot that asks me who's a pretty boy then, or tells me that Polly wants a cracker, but a bird that seems to be trying to engage in active conversation, that's a whole different kettle of fish.

Kettle of birds.

Kettle of bird.

Whatever. We weren't hanging around to mix metaphors - we hurtled back to the car as fast as we could, and took off, fleeing from the wilds of Kent back to civilisation.

Well, Beckenham, at least. Which is still in Kent, but doesn't have any haunted parrots, as far as I know.


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