Although Hever Castle’s history descends from the 13th century, and it was in the possession not only of the Boleyns, but of many owners, such as the Waldgraves, Humphreys or Astors, this place is usually associated with the notorious Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife.
About 30 miles from London to Hever castle doesn’t seem to be a long distance, especially nowadays, when we can easily reach it by car. Back to the 16th century, when there were only horses and carriages at the disposal, it appeared to be somewhat of a trip to get to Hever Castle. That makes you think that Henry VIII should be really obsessed by unyielding Lady Anne for visiting this secluded place so often while courting her.
The Tudor period atmosphere of Hever Castle has been remained mostly owing to William Waldorf Astor, American statesman and financier, who acquired the castle in 1903 and helped it out of its deplorable state. A great deal of panelling and other interior features was restored or created from scratch, but Astor endeavoured to make them identical to the originals. His workmen were using the materials and techniques that had been applied 400 earlier.
The familiarity with Hever Castle’s interior starts from the impressive Inner Hall with the beautiful Italian walnut panelling, exquisitely carved columns and ornate gallery above all this splendour. An elegant chandelier in the middle of Elizabethan style ceiling is the replica of 18th-century prototype in neighbouring Knole House. Looking at this grandeur it’s hard to believe that initially this area was occupied by the Great Kitchen. The next Drawing Room is so cheerfully different to the previous Inner Hall. Its refined bog-oak and holly panelling is so light and consist of different fragments. You might also notice a secret door in the wall, leading to the turret, where the Astors used to keep their secret hoard of drinks. In the Dining Hall a curious artefact can be seen on the door – a massive gilt door lock of Henry VIII. The suspicious king saw the plotters everywhere and was fearful for his life, so wherever he went, he took his personal locksmith with him for installing the new lock on his bedroom.
Apart from the pieces of elaborately carved 16th-century furniture the Entrance Hall houses a pair of the boots, looking as if they belonged to Gulliver. They are called postilion’s boots and date from the 17th century. A postilion was a sort of coachman who instead of riding the coach used to do it on of its horses. And these massive boots used to secure the equestrian’s leg in case of being caught up between two horses. Passing through the Morning room with so in vogue in the 17th century three-legged unusual-looking chairs and then climbing the 13 lucky steps of the spiral stairs, you can suddenly find yourself in a quite tiny room (especially comparing with other chambers) that belonged to Anne Boleyn, the portrait of who scrutinises the visitors with slightly ironical smile.
The Long Gallery boasts the richest collection of the Tudor paintings in the country; it is also the longest living space in the castle, and being more than 30 metres long it extends the whole width of Hever Castle. It was built during Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father and supposed to serve the purpose of entertaining the guests and being the walking area during the cold winter months. Henry VIII allegedly held his court in here while visiting Hever castle. Nowadays some people believe that this alcove is haunted more than any other rooms in the castle and even say that they feel cold and the bouts of unexplained fear in the gallery.
Someone might not feel at ease in the Long Galley, but there is more uncomfortable feeling in the Council Chamber because of the evil exhibit of torture and execution. In the midst of those diabolical tools are scourge, iron flail, body, hand and thumbs presses, skull crusher and flesh gougers.
And it’s not the whole list of the rooms and things to see in Hever castle, although the building doesn’t look as big as Leeds or Arundel castles, it takes enough of time to have a tour around it, because every single room has something beautiful, curious or unusual to offer. But after having visited Hever Castle the adventure isn’t finished yet, because there is a magnificent 125 acres of landscape with sumptuous gardens and artificially created 38-acres lake to investigate. It is really hard to tell what is the best time for visiting it, because whenever you come here, the park always has something charming to display. In spring the park is sunk in the profusion of daffodils, primulas, rhododendrons and azaleas, during summer there is a generous display of roses and multi-coloured bedding plants, and the autumn turns the exuberant foliage into various tints of yellow and red. Even Boston ivy, embracing Hever Castle, swaps its green colour for regal purple.
Everywhere throughout the gardens there are graceful sculptures from the Astor family collection, accompanied by the cascade, little ponds, grottos, fountains and topiaries. The guidebook of Hever castle says, “Much of the statuary in the gardens is more than 2,000 years old”. The Yew Maze is like a cherry on top of cake, to be more precise like two cherries, since there is also the Water Maze that is especially popular with kids during summer time. The Water Maze is set in the Sixteen Acre Island, and represents itself the concentric boards, leading to the centre. The hidden water jets get activated in short breaks and catch off guard the incautious visitors. A bit further from the Water Maze, at the foot of the lake are situated weir and waterfall, you can also hire the boat and enjoy the views from different angle.
Hever Castle and Gardens is definitely a place for returning to, whether you visit on your own, with your sweetheart, friend or whole family. There is something for everyone: plenty of history and art enveloped in the world of flora, a lot of cosy secluded nooks, no lack of walks and paths and areas for letting children go mad, such as Adventure Playground, for instance. You can be really surprised how quickly the day passed, but you haven’t seen yet all you had planned to.
Read also: Hever Castle, Kent. Part II: Some interesting facts about Hever Castle
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