by Janis / 2 comments - Orginally published:4th October 2022

7 Ancient citadels to discover

So, if you’re still longing to beat down a hasty path to our next 7 charming castles to visit in Kent, then wait no more.

This time we explore seven more of Kent’s historic fortresses; we discover Leeds Castle, Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Walmer Castle, Rochester Castle, Upnor Castle, Lullingstone Castle and Sandown Castle Garden.

Our first post lowered the drawbridge on Dover Castle, Scotney Castle, Canterbury Castle, Hever Castle, Chiddingstone Castle, Deal Castle and Eynsford Castle. So, take a browse through ‘Discovering ancient Castles in Kent’.

Whether young or old, visiting a castle is always enjoyable. Children love them to re-enact knights battling across the ramparts, and we older folk love and appreciate the fascinating history and the centuries of footsteps that have trodden these ancient battlements.

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So, let’s don our comfy shoes and venture off to explore another 7 magnificent Kent castles in the ‘Garden of England’

Where are the 7 ancient castles in Kent?

We'll be discovering the following;
You can click on the link to jump to the section, and to return, just click on the title.

Leeds Castle is situated east of the tiny village of Leeds, around 7 miles from Maidstone and is not to be mistaken for being located in the city of Leeds, Yorkshire.

Leeds Castle has passed through the hands of many noble ladies and gentlemen, including Henry VIII. The latter transformed the fortified castle into a beautiful palace for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Today the fairy-tale moated castle at Leeds is privately owned and maintained by a charitable foundation and hosts many captivating events throughout the year.

The moat around Leeds Castle in Kent
Leeds Castle

A castle has existed on the present site of Leeds Castle since the 11th century and was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086. Leeds Castle sits across two islands within the River Len which gives the enchanting castle a very remote and private feel.

On the smaller island is the Gloriette, where the stone Keep was once located. The domestic quarters were built on the larger island, which was once the Bailey. Today the wooden drawbridges are long gone, and the beautiful stone building and arches connecting the two make for an incredible backdrop.

Visiting Leeds Castle is such a glorious day out; not only are you able to tour the historic moated castle, but there are also beautiful gardens to explore and three self-guided walking routes.

You’ll undoubtedly need a full day while visiting Leeds Castle as they have so much for you to discover. Visit the Bird of Prey Centre and the Dog Collar Museum, enjoy a round of adventure golf, and of course, get lost in Leeds Castle’s famous maze and grotto.

Staying the night at Leeds Castle

- Knights Glamping at Leeds Castle

To ensure your beautiful day at Leeds Castle continues into the evening, why not stay for the night. Located within the castle grounds are luxury candy-striped Knight’s Glamping Tents; what could be better?

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I could honestly visit Sissinghurst Castle Garden time and time again, as the enchanting gardens and Castle Tower are so captivating and impeccably managed by the National Trust.

Sissinghurst Castle Garden is located within the beautiful rolling Kent countryside, nearby the two regions of AONB, the picturesque High Weald and the North Downs.

The view of Sissinghurst Castle Tower from the Elizabethan entrance arch
A view of the Sissinghurst Castle Tower

Now, I have a bit of a spoiler alert here as Sissinghurst Castle was never actually a castle.

Sissinghurst Manor withstood through the English Civil War during the mid-17th-century only to suffer through the Seven Years’ War. This wasn’t through battle; it was at the hands of French sailors who were prisoners of war. The sailors referred to Sissinghurst as ‘le chateaux’ (castle), the name remained, and it continued to be used. The French inmates were confined in awful conditions and proceeded to demolish the newly named Château de Sissingherst.

Few of the original buildings can be seen, although the charming 16th-century redbrick Tudor Towers that remain and can be admired from almost any location around the colourful gardens. You can also climb the Tudor Towers and admire the grounds from above.

Fast forward to the 1930s, Sissinghurst Castle was purchased by the English author Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicolson. The couple adored Sissinghurst Castle and proceeded to totally transform the stunning walled gardens, which were in a state of disorder and to renovate the few remaining historic buildings into their family home.

A view from Sissinghurst Castle tower to the rose garden and South Cottage in the estate grounds
View over Sissinghurst Castle rose garden and South Cottage

There are many stunning gardens within the grounds of Sissinghurst Castle, which we’ve visited during spring and autumn and are beautifully maintained.

One of my favourite gardens was the Delos Garden, inspired by Sackville-West’s visit to the Greek island of Delos. The Rose Garden, South Cottage Garden, Herb Garden, and the huge vegetable garden are equally enchanting.

Don’t take our word for it; visit Sissinghurst Castle Garden while venturing off on our road trip around the Kent countryside.

Where to stay near Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse – Yes, amazingly, you can stay within the grounds of Sissinghurst Castle Garden.
This beautiful farmhouse has been lovingly decorated throughout and offers a delicious variety of breakfasts

The Woolstore – This delightful holiday cottage is within a short distance of Sissinghurst.
The Woolstore makes a perfect place to stay while discovering the Garden of England. Wake up every morning amongst cherry orchards and sheep meadows.

The next Kent castle we’re visiting is Walmer Castle, located on the Kent shoreline and managed by English Heritage. Walmer makes a perfect stop on our Kent scenic coastal road trip.

Walmer Castle was built by order of Henry VIII between 1539 and 1540; it formed part of a chain of coastal artillery forts constructed along the exposed Kent coastline.

The impending threat of overseas invasion resulted in the erection of three castles, Walmer, Deal and Sandown, along with several earthwork defences.

The wooden bridge across the moat to the ivy-covered Walmer Castle
The entrance across the moat to Walmer Castle

Walmer Castle is a low-lying stronghold. Today its surrounding moat is filled with picturesque gardens, which you are encouraged to stroll amongst.

Within Walmer Castle, there’s so much to discover. Not only can you wander around the Keep, but there are also four circular commanding bastions to head out upon with cannons strategically pointing out across The English Channel.

The view of Walmer Castle from the rose garden, surrounded by neatly trimmed boxus borders
Walmer Castle from the kitchen garden
Although Walmer Castle was originally built as Tudor Fortress, in 1708, the citadel was to become the official residence of the Lord’s Warden of the Cinque Ports. This position is a significant role and has been held by several distinguished names, including the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill, and the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington who famously defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and was famed for his boots, died at Walmer Castle on 14th September 1852

Walmer Castle’s Garden is a pleasure to wander around, especially the Queen Mother’s Garden and the Kitchen Garden.

Where to stay near Walmer

- The Royal Hotel - Located on the seafront of Deal, offers incredible views across the bay. The 18th-century charming hotel is a perfect base for exploring Deal and touring the Kent coast.

We have a new little book on our shelves that we delve into when we're heading to the coast.

Packed full of historical facts, and broken down into the different counties of England.  It tells tales of the history of the shoreline that surrounds our country.

Available in Kindle & Hardback editions, it's an excellent addition to anyone's collection who loves the English seaside.

Rochester Castle sits high above the charming Dickensian town of Rochester on the banks of the River Medway in Kent and overlooks Rochester’s beautiful cathedral.

King Henry I (William the Conqueror’s fourth son) entrusted the construction of Rochester Castle to the priesthood. The imposing exterior walls of Rochester Castle’s Medieval Keep were built in 1127 of Kentish ragstone by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, William of Corbeil.

Looking up at the Keep of Rochester Castle from the now dried out moat that surrounds it.
Rochester Castle from the moat

The 125ft (38 metres) Norman castle still stands today after several sieges and battles enraged upon it over many centuries. The impressive castle is surrounded by ancient stone walls, although the inner and outer baileys have long gone.

Visiting Rochester Castle is fascinating as even though the castle appears reasonably intact from the outside, once you step in, the Keep has no ceiling, and you’re open to the elements. You can still see where the grand fireplaces would have stood as you weave your way up through the Rochester Castle’s towers.

Ensure you head to the ramparts high above, and you’ll witness incredible views of the River Medway, Rochester town and Rochester Cathedral below.

Looking up from the inside of the ruins of Rochester Castle to a bright blue sky
Looking up to the sky in Rochester Castle
The unusual aspect of Rochester Castle is the shape of its turrets, or just one, to be precise. When King John’s son Henry III instructed the Keep to be repaired after one of the square turrets was destroyed during the siege of 1215, it was replaced with a circular tower.

Rochester Castle is managed by the English Heritage. However, Rochester Castle gardens are free to visit, so why not bring along a picnic and admire the incredible fortress while you have lunch.

You could include visiting Rochester Castle on our scenic Medway Valley road trip.

Where to stay in Rochester

The Royal Victoria & Bull Hotel – Located within the heart of historic Rochester. Easy walking distance to the Castle, Cathedral, the River Medway and a great selection of restaurants.
The Gordon House Hotel – This traditional, comfortable hotel is located along the Dickensian High Street in Rochester. Just a short stroll to the Castle and Cathedral.

Just a short hop across the River Medway, we are at Upnor Castle, another delightful castle managed by English Heritage.

Upnor Castle is also located on the banks of the River Medway and has wonderful views up and down the River Medway. Upnor Castle often goes a little unnoticed as its bigger sister Rochester stands on the opposite shores.

A view of Upnor castle on a bright, sunny day, from the opposite bank of the River Medway, with a three Duct small yachts moored in front of it.
Upnor Castle from the River Medway

Although the Dutch certainly located Upnor Castle as they defeated the British during the Battle of Medway in 1667.

Upnor Castle was built by order of Queen Elizabeth I between 1559 and 1567 as an artillery fort. It was constructed to protect the Royal Naval fleet at nearby Chatham Dockyard and the ships anchored in the River Medway. Until the Dutch came along anyway.

Following the attack on Upnor Castle, it no longer survived as a fortress. New forts and garrisons were built further along the River Medway during the late 1800s.
Two cast-iron cannons, placed behind a short stone wall, to the River Medway beyond
Cannons in place at Upnor Castle, Upnor

However, the invasion didn’t put an end to Upnor Castle; it was soon converted into a “Magazine”. A storage and depot for munitions of guns, gun carriages, gun powder & muskets.By 1691 it had come into its own; it was now England’s largest Magazine by far and outshining the Tower of London, the next largest Magazine.

I loved visiting Upnor as not only do you get to explore Upnor Castle, but you’ll also discover Upnor’s picturesque cobbled High Street; you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

Hiking and cycling around the Kent countryside

If you fancy exploring the surrounding footpaths and bridleways around these magnificent Kent castles, then why not download the premium version of the Ordnance Survey app?

For a relatively small annual subscription, you’ll have the whole of the United Kingdom at your fingertips.

Lullingstone Castle is located nearby the picturesque village of Eynsford and is ideal for visiting while on a Darent Valley road trip.

Lullingstone Castle is set within the estate of Lullingstone and is more of a historic manor house than a castle; however, it is lovely and has some exquisite gardens.

Lullingstone’s beautiful redbrick Gatehouse and Manor House were built in 1497 and have remained within the Hart Dyke family ever since. It has bundles of history and has been visited by both Henry VIII and Queen Anne.

The grand, imposing, red-brick gatehouse to Lullingstone Castle and The World Garden in the Darenth Valley, Kent
Gatehouse to Lullingstone Castle & The World Garden

The World Garden is what attracts many visitors and was inspired by Tom Hart Dyke, the present heir to the estate.

Tom Hart Dyke may be a familiar name as he rose to international prominence in 2000. Whilst on a plant hunting expedition in the Panamanian jungle, Tom was kidnapped along with his companion for nine months.

The seed of the idea for the World Garden was nurtured in the depths of despair in the Colombian jungle, and luckily Tom and Paul Winder were released. Tom was able to bring his garden to fruition.

Tom’s Kent garden contains plants he’d collected from around the globe, planted out in their respective countries of origin. Lullingstone’s World Garden now has a Cloud Garden, Cactus House, Orchid House, and a Moroccan Blue Room, to name a few.

Escape for a few days

Are you looking for that ‘perfick’ holiday hideaway to relax in while you discover the Garden of England?

After a day exploring the Kent coast and its many historic castles enjoy one of the handpicked properties and unique retreats at Holiday Cottages.

When I recommended visiting Walmer Castle above, I mentioned that there was also a third Tudor fortress erected along with Walmer Castle and Deal Castle. The third defence built along this section of the coast by Henry VIII was Sandown Castle.

Today only the ruins remain of this ancient castle; however, the lovely people of Deal have transformed the neglected ruins into a beautiful community garden for everyone to enjoy.

The Alpine-style planing of the Sandown Castle Community Garden in Deal, Kent
Sandown Castle Community Garden

Sandown Castle was completed in 1540 and given to Lord Clinton, the Lord Warden of Cinque ports, in 1553. The castle continued to be handed down to the Lord Wardens. In 1642 it was held by Parliamentary forces, then besieged by Cromwell’s army.

After suffering sea damage, it was reconstructed in 1805 and was garrisoned to support the fight against Napoleon. However, the elements finally took their toll and Sandown Castle was sold and demolished in 1863. Much of the stone was used to repair Walmer Castle.

As I mentioned, local volunteers have now created an idyllic garden.

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  1. Hi Janis,
    What a great list of castles in Kent. I’m so glad I found the post as we are currently housesitting in Broadstairs!
    We visited Sissinghurst last year, but that was in August, and I just had to return to see it in early summer. We absolutely love visiting gardens, and this one has to be one of the very best. The white garden was looking stunning with white irises when we were there!
    Also loved Rochester. I’m scared of heights but still managed to get up to the ramparts for an amazing view!
    After reading this, I’ve decided we’re definitely visiting Leeds Castle when we move housesits next week!
    ~ Christine

    1. Author

      Hi Christine,

      Thanks very much for your kind comments.

      I loved visiting Sissinghurst, it is so beautiful. We recently visited Nymans in West Sussex another National Trust garden, that was stunning.

      I did another post on Kent castles, we seem to have our fair share in the southeast.

      I love Broadstairs, it has such a charming town. You may have explored some of Kent’s towns already, but I particularly recommend Sandwich, Deal and Hythe.

      If you like urban art Folkestone is the place to go, they have delightful pieces dotted all around the town and harbour. It is the UK’s largest urban outdoor exhibition of contemporary art.

      Have fun exploring Kent.

      Take care.

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