Living in Kent, we are lucky enough to have lots of beautiful days out right on our doorstep. And even luckier to have the incredible Hever Castle & Gardens, a 13th Century Castle and childhood home of Anne Boleyn, only a ten minute drive away. Hever Castle sits in acres of beautiful Gardens which make it a joy to explore with little ones - we've had so many happy days there so I wanted to share some of our favourite bits.
You can either buy a ticket to the Castle & Gardens, or just the Gardens. The Gardens are a day out in themselves (we have an annual family pass to them), but if you haven't been to Hever before it really is worth paying extra to explore inside the Castle. The Castle is everything you want it to be with its moat, turrets, drawbridge... and when you first see it it takes your breath away. Inside is just as fantastic - I haven't been in for a while but I remember a warren of rooms, decked out as they would have been in different eras of the castle's history. With its link to Henry VIII there are plenty of Tudor paintings and artefacts to marvel at, including Anne Boleyn's prayer books - you can see her signature. And in the Gatehouse you can check out suits of armour before walking the kids quickly past all the instruments of torture!
For Gabriel (8) and Flynn (7), the best part of Hever is undoubtedly the new Tudor Towers adventure playground - a huge wooden play castle made up of ladders, netted tunnels, fireman poles and even a roof maze. It's pretty big and takes a while to explore, so just make sure you factor in enough time for it! Once my boys have disappeared into Tudor Towers it's very difficult to get them out, or even find them to try! Because of the size of steps etc it's recommended for the over 7s, but Theo (5) is able to keep up with his big brothers with a little help from his dad.
There are two playgrounds adjacent to Tudor Towers - the original playground which has the usual swings and slides (I remember playing there when I was little!) is still there, but now there is also a natural play area for younger children. It has a giant sandpit, climbing frames and slides surrounded by tactile grasses and planting. Jude (2) adores the willow tunnels which he can run through endlessly. As a tired mum it's a great place for me to sit and recharge while Jude runs around.
You can't have a trip to Hever without a visit to the brilliant Water Maze. It's a series of circular stepping stones over water with a stone grotto in its centre. The stones tilt when you stand on them and water jets upwards, and the aim is to get to the centre whilst staying dry. But my boys (and by the look of things most of the children playing) hope for the opposite! We always plan the Water Maze for the end of our visit as the boys are drenched afterwards, and it's the most brilliant way to cool down during the summer. If you prefer a more traditional approach, Hever boasts an Edwardian yew maze for some brilliant old fashioned fun.
One of the highlights of summer for us is visiting Hever to watch one of its Jousting Tournaments. We come with a blanket and settle down with a picnic to watch the action unfold. To the boys' delight, Henry VIII will arrive and announce a march around, which the boys join in with, before his Knights ride in on horseback to compete against each other. The crowd is split into two competing camps, and my boys love cheering on their team and booing the opposition.
Christmas at Hever.
I have to give Christmas at Hever a mention as it's very special. The Castle is filled with lights and Christmas trees, and outside there's a themed interactive trail which changes each year (with chocolate at the end!), a carousel and the Gardens are lit up magically. If you have an annual family pass as we have, Christmas at Hever is free plus you get priority booking. You can see Father Christmas while you're there too (though you must pre-book as he sells out quickly!)
There are many more things to do at Hever which I haven't mentioned here - I love the Rose Garden and the lake is really quite something. And a trip to Hever isn't complete without tea and cake or ice cream at one of the restaurants. It's a very special place and I'd recommend a visit to anyone. We'll be renewing our annual membership for many years to come.
For more info visit www.hevercastle.co.uk. I haven't received compensation for
this review and we paid for annual membership ourselves.