Sunday, May 13, 2012

What To Buy With a Gajillion Dollars (aka Our Leeds Castle Trip)

Olive Paget inherited an obscene amount of money from her American relatives back in the early 1900s and while everyone else in America was suffering through The Great Depression, she decided to put her millions to good use: she bought a castle. Leeds Castle was the first stop on our day trip outside of London, and it was a fascinating mix of old and new. Originally built for King Henry V's wife, Catherine, it fell into disrepair and eventually went up for sale.

While Olivia could easily afford it, there was one catch: the castle could only be purchased by someone with Kent connections. So she divorced her husband, married a man with from the Kent area, and wrote a big, fat check for Leeds Castle and spent a bunch more fixing it up. But what fun is it to own a castle without the proper title? So out with hubby number two! She married nobility this time and gained herself the title of Lady Baillie. And even though she eventually divorced the third husband as well, she never remarried because she would have had to give up her hard-won title! When she died, she donated the castle to a trust so the public can now wander through.

Leeds Castle is an odd mixture of old and new, with some rooms dedicated to the time of Queen Catherine and others arranged to show the styles and times of the 1930s when the Baillies entertained political dignitaries and popular performers of the day. The library was particularly cozy. I wanted to curl up and stay a while, but we were rushed through the castle by the guide who was on a tight timetable. Sigh...
The grounds were absolutely gorgeous: a lake with both black and white swans, English gardens, and a fun yew maze (thankfully, our guide printed out the path ahead of time or we'd have certainly been lost in there for hours!).
We stopped at the Battle of Britain memorial and learned about the brave airmen who played such a critical role in keeping Hitler's forces from being able to take over England. "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." This quote by Winston Churchill is cut into the stone around the touching memorial.
We stopped for lunch at the coastal town of Dover, famous for its white cliffs. The guide told us the cliffs are really more gray than white these days, but we were in luck because not too long ago, a sliver of the cliff broke off and slid into the water, showing what the rock underneath looks like when it's unexposed to the elements. It reminded me of what the carpet looks like when I move the sofa. LOL
We visited Canterbury Cathedral, but were unable to venture all the way inside (into the 'quire') because they were having a church service. Oh, how I wanted to stay and attend the service! We were able to sit in the nave and listen to the choir sing, and that was lovely.
After a quick walk through Greenwich, we boarded a commuter boat and traveled up the Thames River back to London. Once the organized tour was over, we walked over to St. Martins of the Field church. We didn't get to go inside, but they have a Crypt Cafe which is exactly what it sounds like. Stairs lead down to the basement of the church where tables and chairs have been set up over people's grave markers. Kinda cool and yet, kinda wrong all at the same time.
This stone was set into the floor next to our table. I wonder how the Searle family would feel if they knew we'd be eating dinner above this stone less than 100 years after it was placed. *creeps out a little*
Trafalgar Square was hosting a big outdoor orchestra concert, which had people hanging out at the church where we were across the street. The weather was beautiful for the event as well. A very full and fascinating day!


  1. I don't know whether to feel sorry for Olivia's husbands or admire her nerve! What an interesting story and she was so nice to donate the castle (: Wish I could hear the choir sing and the orchestra play! Can't wait to read the next post ;D

  2. Thats a whole lot of sight seeing! Love the white cliffs of Dover - esp when you see them after being sea sick on a ferry from france - best sight in the world ;-)