Historic Houses, Castles & Gardens in Maidstone
Maidstone has a rich and diverse history, full of colourful characters and political intrigues, Royal connections and rebellions. The borough boasts a wealth of historic architecture with over 2,000 listed buildings, and is surrounded by beautiful countryside, including two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the North Downs and The Weald.
The area is home to what has been described as ‘the loveliest castle in the world’ – Leeds Castle. Just a short distance from Maidstone, this is one of the most famous castles in Kent. The 900 year old fortification nestles in over 500 acres of parkland and formal gardens, offering a fantastic day out for the whole family.
Thurnham Castle, on the edge of the North Downs, is now little more than a ‘romantic ruin’ but was once home to trusted subjects of Richard the Lionheart. Stephen and Robert de Thurnham crusaded with Richard, but it is said that Robert never returned and the castle was left to decay.
Sutton Valence Castle is also in a prominent hill top position, overlooking the valley towards Winchelsea. It dates from the 12th century and was owned by a succession of Kings, but all that remains of this strongly defended castle today is the stone keep.
More modest accommodation can be seen at Stoneacre, now owned by the National Trust. This fine 15th century Yeoman’s house features a great hall and a delightful cottage garden. It is open to the public on limited days each year.
Travelling a little further afield from Maidstone, you will find some other wonderful historic houses, castles, monasteries and interesting places such as Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Ightham Mote and Chatham Historic Dockyard.
There are some world class gardens to discover within the Maidstone area, but if you are in the centre of town then do check out a real hidden gem. The Infirmerer’s Garden is tucked behind a high stone wall between the Archbishops’ Palace and All Saints Church.
Originally used to provide the herbal treatments required for those staying on the pilgrimage route between London and Canterbury, the growing and harvesting of medicinal plants was of major importance. It has recently been replanted by the Kent Gardens Trust and offers a quiet sanctuary.
The Friars at Aylesford also has a Peace Garden designed to engender tranquillity and calm for visitors. As well as the magnificent castle, the Leeds Castle estate has a number of formal gardens including a rather lovely cottage garden, which was originally a kitchen garden.
A short drive from Maidstone is Iden Croft Herb Gardens. The 15th century walled garden houses the National Oreganum and Mentha collections, along with aromatic wild flowers and bee/butterfly plants. The distinctive aroma of fragrant herbs adds to the sense of serenity in the gardens, and there is a small tea room for light refreshments too.
A number of other spectacular gardens by world class designers and plantsmen can also be found locally, including Hever, Lullingstone, Pashley Manor and Great Dixter.