Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Leeds Castle

Castles are somewhat taken for granted in the UK, especially in Ireland and Scotland simply because there are so many of them! I have to admit that while touring there were days when the coach would stop and we'd kind of look out the window, stretch a bit and admit that we really couldn't be arsed getting out of the bus to take a picture. You became a kind of castle connoisseur and start judging castles based on period, style, impressive battlements and how they stack up against all the others that you've seen.

Leeds Castle, however, is definitely one to go and see. It's in south England and only a few hours out of London. It holds a special place in my heart because of the stories that I'd hear about it every now & then while growing up. Dad's mate worked with the gardeners there and he used to sneak up there (his reasons and Grandma's opinions as to why differ greatly on this topic) and then later Mum was living by the lane that ran past the castle. So as you can imagine it was on my list of places to see...

It was quite funny but my aunts and gran hadn't been there before. It's one of those landmarks thatvisitors go to see but the locals never quite get round to it (there's lots of times I heard something along those lines while travelling). The castle has a huge parkland and there's plenty of ducks to feed and peacocks to admire. The main attraction is the castle itself which is furnished inside with a mix of medieval antiquities (gorgeous) through to more modern day. There's also flower gardens, an aviary, a maze (with a secret and very cool mythic underground grotto walk) and the falconry. We got to see the afternoon display and it was fantastic~! One of the hawks or falcolns had gone off flying and circling high overhead but eventually decided towards the end of the show that rather than making a break for freedom (she has a tracking device on her so they bring her home within a few days) that she was going to dive for the meat instead. She had an angled swoop and flew like a bullet through the narrow gap between my head and another's; I jumped!

It was so funny with the owl. The trainer was asking the little kiddies if any of them felt like being prey - they all of course giggled and jumped and volunteered, while the adults laughed. He asked if they were sure they wanted to be a volunteer bunny and the same reaction ensued. He then asked if they really wanted to be eaten by a voracious owl. The smart ones paused and the rest proved that natural selection may have a point...
What they actually had to do was hold a piece of string (attached to a headless, legless 'bunny' - it had an 'accident') and run as fast as they could when they were told. They did so and the owl watched beadily from the branches of the tree before swooping and sinking in its clasws (to the snare, not the little girl). Unfortunately, she wouldn't stop when told so the owl got a bit of a sore bum as it got dragged across the ground, determined that it wasn't losing its meal.


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