Fairy tales and history classes shape our view of English Castles. Lords and ladies, moats and minions, land and lances, were the bits and pieces of the story from a distant time and place. Today the story is more of restoration, preservation, wealthy patrons and historical foundations struggling to keep a piece of the past alive.
Leeds Castle in southern England seems secure and idyllic. Restored by an heiress in the late 60’s, gifted to a well funded foundation it is still in use for international peace talks and other high level gatherings. In between school children tromp through, tourists crane their necks to admire elaborate ceilings, tapestries and books on high library shelves.
While the castle is fascinating, outside are the majestic lebanon cedars trees. Along the lake there are willows, and flowering fruit trees. The long walking path to the castle, which was the road King Henry VIII’s retinue of 3978 people traveled to bring the King here for an overnight stay, takes you through rolling green hills with sweeps of daffodils. Nesting Black swans call out to each other as a white swan swims too close.
A battle of wings and beaks breaks out. We stay well back, a swan can do great harm!
White peacocks strutting across the lawn are positively regal. While there is little practical about peacocks (feathers for decoration I suppose) the rolling hills, the rabbit warren, the sheep, horses and chickens were once essential for feeding the castle residents. The kitchen garden grew the herbs, the root vegetables, the medicines, the fruit for mead and puddings. The workers likely never rested caring for all the needs the land and livestock required.
Today all is beautiful, well cared for, no struggle or mud in view. The daffodils may grow over old battle grounds, the peacock now the replacement of the victorious military leader. Historical facts are there to research, scholars may argue and rewrite the story. The fairy tale floats easily in your mind, filling in the story, framing the view as the swans swim past.