Christmas in Kent

Here is why I came to England at all this year: Christmas with my daughter, Sarah, and her family – Andrew, Olivia, and Katie. I was meeting them in Gillingham, a small city in Kent. Andrew was raised in Kent, so it was “home for Christmas” in a way for him.

The first few days were taken up with family, Christmas, and, for me, being really sick for two of those days, but getting better after that. (I’m all better now.) I was able to meet more of Andrew’s family, who are friendly and enjoyable company. Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to see them again.

The Brits love the holiday season! There were many events, but – except for the churches – they were not religious in tone. All were welcome, and the winter holidays were just an excuse for everyone to get out and have some fun. So, we did!

Andrew was the guide, because he was most familiar with the territory. Our first outing was to a park with light displays along a path through the trees. There were some really lovely effects, and the kids had a great time!

Sarah, Katie, and Olivia at Bedgebury Park.
This is six seconds of lights and sound. The display was longer and more embracing.
“Father Christmas” greeted the kids and grownups who came over to see him.
The opposite side from where we started – you can tell because the “Bedgebury” sign is backwards and in silhouette. There are educational displays about the trees in the main building, but we didn’t visit them – education was not the goal on this night. Classes do use the park as a resource. Andrew remembered coming on a school field trip here with his classmates. The building also has a cafe.
And a small play area for kids! Katie is sitting opposite Olivia, you just can’t see her. I don’t think these are present year-round.

During the days, between store runs, homework, and Sarah’s paper for her law class, we worked on one of my presents!

It was a thousand pieces of collected clues from various Agatha Christie mystery novels. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to finish it while together, but I brought it home and put it together here.
This was not my room at the Chilston Hotel, where we went for New Year’s Eve, but who spends their evening looking at the door, anyway? My room was lovely – no need for Miss Marple – but the sign caught my eye in passing.

The girls’ room was right next door to mine, and of course, they decided that they would stay up for midnight! Two of us made it. One was just too tired.

A stroll around the grounds revealed a super swing!
Sarah and Andrew in front of the manor house, which became the first part of the hotel. It had been raining. It’s England. In the winter.
The sheep kept a watchful eye as we walked through their pasture.
In the morning before leaving, we had a short tour of the hotel. This is an event venue that they have developed from the horse stable. Our guide is looking through their photo album for a “before” photo. The bar was in the former tack room.

Nearby Chilston Park is Leeds Castle, which was open on New Year’s Day. It has a long and colorful history, beginning in the Domesday Survey of 1086, where it is called “Esledes,” an Old English word meaning slope or hillside. The Manor of Esledes was owned by Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux and half-brother of William the Conqueror. Odo was not favored by King William “Rufus” II, and the estate was taken from Odo and given to Hamo de Crevecoeur, whose heirs owned it for 175 years.

The castle – as opposed to the manor house – was first built in 1119 by Hamo’s grandson, Robert, to serve as a Norman stronghold. The main fortification, the Keep, was built on the smaller of two islands in the Lens River, the islands being formed by large outcroppings of solid rock. On the larger island, known as the Bailey, were built the domestic buildings. The islands were linked by a drawbridge. If attacked, refuge would be provided by the Keep, and the drawbridge raised.

An all-natural home security system…. These fortifications have survived since the 1100s, being added to at various times.

Leeds was a royal castle for almost 300 years, beginning with Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I. Ownership was granted by the king to his queen, which became her property until she died. The property would then revert to the then-current king, and while it was a royal castle, tradition dictated that it would be granted to the king’s queen. The castle tour has an entertaining presentation about the six medieval queens who have lived there. But in 1552, Edward VI, who died at 16 and never married a queen to receive a castle-gift, gave it to Anthony St. Leger as reward for service to Henry VIII. It remained in private ownership from 1552 until 1974.

It was Lady Baillie, who bought the estate in 1925, that brought Leeds Castle into its modern heyday. She supervised (and paid for) a major overhaul of the castle. Leeds became one of the great country houses of the 1930s, providing grand hospitality for statesmen, European royalty, and American movie stars.

Lady Baillie established the Leeds Castle Foundation before she died in 1974, so that the castle and its rich history would be preserved. The foundation manages it still.

Leeds Castle is very nearby the Chilston Park Hotel and it was open on New Year’s Day. It has been here since about 1086.
If I had any suggestions at all for Leeds, I think the door needs a better presentation. Here, the entry door seems to have simply been sawn through the old gate. But, as I discovered later, it’s been that way since at least 1930. Obviously, it doesn’t bother anyone but me.
It was beautiful inside, in the library. Christmas at the castle.
The “Gloriette,” a Spanish term for a pavilion at the intersection of two pathways in a garden, built during Queen Eleanor of Castile’s time, 1275-1290.
The 1920s ushered in the heyday of Leed’s modern life. This room was dedicated to re-creating the tone of life at Leeds Castle then. Jazz music was playing while these silhouettes played on the walls. Hopefully, you can play the video below.
Twelve seconds from the 1930s!
This sign in one of the entertaining rooms took me right back to my early childhood, playing canasta with my grandparents! We didn’t live in a castle, but we had a lot of fun with canasta. Apparently, Lady Baillie and her friends did, too.
The vanity in Lady Baillie’s dressing room.

“When I’m good,

I’m very good,

But when I’m bad,

I’m better.”

– From the mirror of Lady Baillie’s vanity, a quote from an early Mae West movie.
View from Lady Baillie’s suite, across the courtyard, to an 1800s portion of the “New Castle,” built in the Tudor style.
Lady Baillie and her daughters, Susan and Pauline, 1947
The slope of the revetment wall that surrounds the larger island in the Lens River. A “revetment wall” is a sloped area incorporating a masonry wall, which is out of sight on the other side. This was added during Queen Eleanor of Castile’s time, 1278-1290, when Leeds became a royal castle. As a fortification, it forces anyone approaching to walk uphill, then to land in front of the wall, entirely without shelter.
From a higher vantage point on the wall, as we leave Leeds Castle. The River Lens forms a natural moat for the castle.

Wandering through the castle was a great way to spend the afternoon of New Year’s Day. There was a surprisingly large number of people visiting on the holiday, but it was not at all crowded. We finished our visit with a scrumptious lunch – mine was “shepherd’s pie” – at one of the eateries on the castle grounds, and then set a course for Gillingham.

Andrew’s agenda the next day included a visit to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland in London. I expected displays of light, maybe some ice sculpture, but it was so much more!

Sarah, Olivia, and I went on the EuroCoaster right off! Each “car” consisted of four seats in a row, with solid over-the-head harnesses, and the entire unit suspended from the frame of the ride – our feet hung free. We bought the photo to memorialize the event, and we are all laughing.
There was an ice sculpture display. The path led through a series of elaborately-molded tableaus, forming a story. The skill was impressive – and cold! It was a good thing we armed ourselves with hats and gloves.
While Sarah and Olivia went on some energetic rides, Andrew, Katie, and I went on the Wonderland version of the Eye.
And this is what we saw! That’s the EuroCoaster that Sarah, Olivia, and I rode.
The sun has gone down, and the colorful lights brought a touch of magic to the Wonderland.

For some, life does not stop for the holidays. Sarah had work to do for her law classes, so Andrew, Olivia, Katie, and I went off to see Rochester, an old city nearby. That’s where we’ll go next.

One thought on “Christmas in Kent

  1. Thx for posting Suzzane. Lovely memories for us all. Our 1st Xmas without dear mum, but we made the very best of it despite this loss

    Looking forward to next instalment!



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