Today is beginning to feel like one of those days where you just deflate. After six days of walking around, touring small towns and big cities, rushing to catch trains and tubes, and reading signposts describing historical sites, I can barely get out of bed. Honestly if I’m going to have a complete bum day, today is the day to do it since other than grocery shopping and maybe making a trip to Carphone Warehouse to buy a new phone charger, I have nothing else to do that would require leaving my apartment. No essays to write, no research to read, no dance rehearsals to attend, just plain old boring stuff all completable in Isis. Including continue to update this blog and work on my surprise, so let’s return to the morning of our last full day in England.
It was quite the luxury to not have to set an alarm to ensure that we catch transportation on time. Maidstone may be a minuscule town, but Leeds Castle is a decent number of miles away along a highway so we had to take a cab and we could call one at any time in the day. We ate breakfast at the buffet at the hotel which was absolutely no better than dinner the night before. A basic buffet centering around a mass produced English breakfast (I wasn’t even going to try to get Kevin to taste black pudding) with overcooked eggs. At least fruit and toast is pretty much fruit and toast anywhere so I can adapt pretty easily. Though we quickly made up our minds to find a Sainsbury or Tesco and buy breakfast stuff there for tomorrow.
While it would begin raining later in the afternoon, mid morning was another crisp and blue skied day (just as it is in Oxford at the moment; pity I have nothing to do outside) and the walk up to the castle led us through some beautiful expansive grounds. I am constantly awestruck by the picturesque gardens and fields and ponds that grace not only the stately home grounds, but also the simple towns and the views from train windows. So perfect that they don’t seem real. A few sights into the country and you understand what drew artists like JMW Turner and John Constable to England. If I lived in one of these stately homes, only rain would force me indoors and out of my gardens and fields. Luckily Kevin also found the grounds mesmerizing so he didn’t make a fuss when I later suggested a stroll through the gardens and taking our time walking the path to and from the castle. In fact, I think he was just thrilled that I was backing down from speed walking everywhere so easily.
Leeds was another one of those castles built in the generations immediately following William the Conquerer. Most of the original castle was demolished over time so the newer castle doesn’t look like it would have back in it’s first form. It was further renovated and updated by its last private owner, Lady Baille, so half of the rooms we were allowed into were decorated in a more modern style than those rooms would have looked in the castle’s heyday.
The first half of the rooms on the tour were focused on the castle’s history pre-Lady Baille and so were kept looking like they would have in the earlier centuries. I really like this stone mantlepiece carved for Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon (don’t look so surprised, I’m predictable) for their overnight stay at Leeds on their way to France for the Field of the Cloth of Gold summit with the French King, Francois I. But for me, yes the castle was full of great history and I had that overwhelmed by history feeling I get whenever I go to these places–that awe that you are standing in the same exact spot where people have been standing for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years–the grounds were the highlight.
There was a pretty interesting aviary with exotic birds that were mostly hiding in their pens to escape the biting cold (lucky birds) and a flock of extremely annoying young macaws. We made friends with a cockatoo and saw a blue and gold macaw for Kevin. And the toucan’s beak was so long and colorful! Oddly it kept hitting its beak on a nearby branch, like actually smacking it on purpose, so I wonder what that was all about.
Kevin had remembered a few days back that my friends and I always do a cream tea when we travel, part of our not-very-scientific search for the best cream tea in England. I was rather touched that not only did he remember, he offered to go to a place and have a cream tea with me. Understand, readers, that Kevin does not even like tea, hates raisins (which is a common fixture in scones), and I’m not really sure of his stance on jam, so his suggestion was all the more awwwww inspiring. I’m the worst judge of timing that there is, and I didn’t know if anywhere in Maidstone proper would do a cream tea, so we took our last opportunity and had tea at the castle.
I keep debating whether or not to make a separate category and posts for the cream tea reviews so that I can go more in depth for anyone who is really that interested or is looking for a good cream tea in the places I’ve visited in England. Comment below and let me know if you would like me to do that, or if I should just keep the reviews quick and concise within the location posts.
Basically, the tea was a make-your-own kind of deal in the castle’s cafeteria. The tea was a decent loose leaf pot, but since you couldn’t remove the tea leaves the second and successive cups were very over brewed. The scones were the largest sultana scones that I have ever seen, too large for a cream tea but fine since tea basically replaced lunch. I was disappointed that the clotted cream and jam were the same individual buy in bulk packets and jars that we’ve gotten at other places and that I’m sure you could find at a well stocked Tesco. But the worst part about it was that this was Kevin’s only experience with a cream tea, and it was far from being impressive. I wish I had brought him to The Rose in Oxford as that is a fantastic tea, but it was closed until the 4th and we were not going back to Oxford.
After tea we headed back into the small town of Maidstone and to their town museum. I have never been in a more eclectic museum in my life. It was a massive hodgepodge of artifacts and exhibits: from calvary developments to a mummy, from the history of the town’s beer manufacturing to neolithic tools and ancient coins, from fashion to dinosaurs and taxidermy. But the most interesting room was their photography exhibition called All Change. They had photos taken around the town from the invention of photography in the 1800s and beneath those, there were photos taken in the exact same locations over the past two years so you could see how much the town has changed and where are some places that have remained relatively the same. I thought that room was the coolest in the whole museum, and there were a lot of rooms considering that Maidstone is such a small town.
Somehow all of this only took us until 3:30 in the afternoon and we were suddenly stuck with nothing to do for an entire afternoon. I had thought that the castle would take much longer to do, and Kevin didn’t want to go on the historic Maidstone walking tour, so we were at a loss. We literally meandered (I told you, vacation catchphrase) through the town, down towards the Archbishop’s Palace (Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest clergyman in the Anglican Church) and along the river, before it started raining again and we ushered into a shopping mall to regroup. There, we came up with…nothing. It seemed that there really wasn’t anything to do in Maidstone. We were left with finding a cheap restaurant/bar and lengthening out our dinner as long as we could so that we could avoid sitting in our hotel room reading books and watching TV on the iPad on our last night. Which, because like I have iterated multiple times there is NOTHING to do in Maidstone, we ended up doing anyway. I had a book I really wanted to finish so I wasn’t all that upset. But it was a pretty anticlimactic way for Kevin to end his trip to England because he won’t have time to get in anything else before his flight leaves tomorrow, and that made me a little sad. Guess he’ll just have to come back though!