I’ve always been fascinated by Tudor history and royal life in general, so I couldn’t have been more excited about our visit to Hever Castle the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. You probably already know, but just in case… Anne Boleyn was the 2nd wife of King Henry VIII and mother to Queen Elizabeth I.
Over the course of it’s 700 year history Hever castle has been home to 37 different owners including another of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne of Cleves (wife number four), and William Waldorf Astor who was the richest man in America. It was Astor who brought the castle back to its former glory, and to the state in which its in now.
Our visit to Hever took place during the winter holidays, which meant there were a number of special events going on at the Castle both day and night. Clare, of Suitcases and Sandcastles, and her family are frequent visitors to the Castle, and we were delighted to have them as our guides.
Our first stop was a visit to Father Christmas in his grotto. The whole experience was really quite magical, and very different from what we’ve experienced here in the United States.
Stepping into the Grotto I felt a bit like we were walking into Narnia. There was an entire forest inside the tent, which from outside looked quite normal. It must have been magic!
After checking in for our appointment* the boys were given markers and paper with which to write their letters to Father Christmas. A very short while later one of the elves came to collect the boys and as we walked through the forest we searched the trees for hidden animals.
After a short chat, my boys are quite shy, Father Christmas gave each of the boys beautifully wrapped presents to take home with them!
The Maze & Gardens
Next up we explored the Castle’s 100 year old yew maze. Built by William Astor, the hedges are 8 feet tall, and with a quarter mile of pathways to explore getting to the center is harder than you might think.
We split up into groups and after wandering around for a while I found Simon who was much better at navigating the maze than I was, and before too long we made it to the center! Hooray!
Having worked up an appetite solving the maze and exploring the gardens we decided lunch at the Moat Restaurant would be our next stop.
The sun peeked out for a few moments, so we enjoyed our food outside while playing with our gifts from Father Christmas.
After lunch it was finally time to visit the castle! I opted for the audio tour and really enjoyed it. The Castle isn’t particularly large, and even taking my time, and many photos, I still got through in about 90 minutes.
Somehow knowing that at one time Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII stood in the very rooms I was standing in made them seem more real, and less like two characters in a book. Reading about historical figures is one thing, but there is something about walking into their bedroom that really brings them to life. Even 100s of years after their deaths.
Artifacts within the castle include Anne’s illuminated prayer books, original letters exchanged between Anne and Henry both during their courtship and at the end of their relationship, and a Jacobite Rhyming Sword.
The Castle was dressed up inside and out for the festive season, and each room had a different carol playing with a corresponding Christmas tree and the history of the carol on display.
The Adventure Playground
While I happily wandered inside the castle taking my sweet time the boys took advantage of the daylight and explored the Adventure Playground.
After a lovely day exploring we went home for tea and a rest before returning for the Castle’s evening festivities.
Hever Castle At Night
When we came back for the evening festivities the Castle grounds were lit beautifully including a magical 12 Days of Christmas Trail. The trail included everything from the Partridge in a Pear Tree to the 12 Drummers Drumming! Night photos without a tripod were near impossible, but we did manage a few!
There was a vintage fairground located just in front of the Castle, which was complete with carousel, fun house, and a Coconut Shy game.
Afterwards, another look through the castle this time with the entire group at a much quicker pace. I was more than a little thankful about my earlier visit.
We did get some fun photos with the boys in front of the various holiday decorations, and as we were leaving “snow” was falling in the courtyard.
We’ve got it pretty good these days, you know, with flushing indoor toilets, running water, heat, laundry machines, modern medicine you get the idea, but I do like the idea of walking in the footsteps of history. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to visit some pretty amazing historic places many of them royal and all of them old!
Tips & Advice:
- Check the official website for operating hours and special events.
- Father Christmas is very popular. For the best experience an advance appointment is highly recommended.
- On leash dogs are allowed on the castle grounds, but not in the adventure playground.
- Hever Castle is located 30 miles from central London, 3 miles southeast of Edenbridge off the B2026 between Sevenoaks and East Grinstead in the village of Hever.
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