I visited Hever Castle in Kent on 29th September. Hever is the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and has a manor house with moat, extensive gardens and exhibitions.
The Tudor period is one of my favourites in history. I have always found Anne Boleyn fascinating — and absolutely heartbreaking. Because of this, Hever has always been on my list of places to visit.
While the house does have ties to the Boleyns, this is only a small part of its history. The 125 acre grounds are varied, with a model house exhibition, Kent and Sharpshooters Yeomanry military museum, yew maze, Italian gardens and huge lake.
About Hever Castle
The castle dates back to 1270, as a gatehouse and walled bailey. The original gatehouse still remains, and is the oldest working original portcullis in England. Geoffrey Boleyn added the Tudor manor house within the castle walls in 1462.
Thomas Boleyn inherited the castle in 1505 (Geoffrey Boleyn’s grandson, and Anne Boleyn’s father). While it’s not known if Anne was born at Hever, she did live there for much of her childhood.
Thomas Boleyn died in 1539, and the castle passed back to the possession of Henry VIII. Henry gave the castle to Anne of Cleves as part of her settlement when their marriage was annulled, which also included Richmond Palace.
The last private owner was American millionaire William Waldorf Astor, who bought it in 1903. The house is laid out how the Astors would have lived at Hever. The design of the grounds is all down to his vision — he spent over £25,000 (or about £1million today) on the plants alone.
About my visit
Hever’s gardens are absolutely stunning. Over 1,000 workmen built the 38 acre lake and Italian gardens, creating a complex system that pumps water from the outer moat to the Pompeii wall. (This blog, Holiday and Travel Europe, has lots more interesting information about the construction of the gardens.)
I loved the Italian garden, which was built to display William Waldorf Astor’s collection of classical statues. Straight lines lead down towards the lake and Loggia. The beautiful Pergola walk on the south side is covered in grape vines. The incredible Pompeiian wall and water feature is worth the visit alone — I’ve never seen anything like it!
The Water Maze on the other side of the lake is great fun — and again, I’ve never seen anything quite like it! A folly in the centre is set in a pond, surrounded by stepping stones and hidden water jets. I had a great time getting to the centre. You are sure to get wet, so don’t forget your towel!
The Tudor gardens have smaller intimate spaces separated by hedges. There is an English herb garden, golden yew hedges cut into Tudor chess pieces and an astrolabe dating from 1710. The 100 year old Yew Maze is also fun to explore!
The house itself is fairly small in size. Anne Boleyn’s bedroom is thought to be one of the back bedrooms and is a little spooky! Anne’s Book of Hours prayer books are on display, with Anne’s signatures in them. When she was sent to the Tower of London, one of the books was taken with her. The exhibition also features an incredibly rare wall panel that once belonged to Anne of Cleves. The whole house has a vast collection of Tudor portraits, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in a mourning gown.
Probably my favourite experience of the whole visit, though, was feeding the ducks. On the walk to the house, they sell bags of food for 50p each, and the ducks are really friendly. I was able to handfeed them! It was definitely a great way to finish off a great day out.
Planning your visit
Hever Castle is independently owned. You can buy annual membership (ideal if you plan to visit three or more times in a year), or you can save money by buying your day ticket in advance online. You can also receive discounted entry through Historic Houses, Tesco Clubcard, RHS, Gardeners’ World and Visit Kent.
Visit the Hever Castle website for details of their upcoming events, and up-to-date prices and opening times.