As someone who is super interested in the Tudor era, I’ve learned a lot about Anne Boleyn over the years. From documentaries to historical fiction (shout out to Philippa Gregory!) to the TV show The Tudors, I love it all.
She’s a queen who has always fascinated me, and I even have a little Anne Boleyn ornament on my Christmas tree. I’ve visited Anne’s execution site at The Tower of London but I’d never been to her childhood home, Hever Castle, until this May.
After realizing how short the train ride was from London, I made plans to go there during our royal wedding trip. While the castle was gorgeous and we had a nice time, the trip will forever be known by my traveling group as “The Hever Castle Debacle.” Read on and you’ll see why …
Anne with an E (and a B)
My sister and I both wanted a pearl necklace like Anne’s for our visit to Hever. I had been thinking about getting one with a “K” and couldn’t find one for a reasonable price. In the end, I ordered a “B” necklace on Amazon. Sadly, the quality was less-than-stellar so it got returned.
Luckily, as I mentioned in my royal wedding shopping post, I found a beautiful Anne Boleyn necklace at The Tower of London’s Jewel Shop for £19.99. Score!
I got this Oasis dress at House of Fraser in London and it was perfect for a hot day exploring the gardens at Hever Castle. It was part of the Oasis/National History Museum collaboration. This dress is sold out, but they have other pieces from the NHM collection on mega sale right now at Oasis.
Getting to Hever
The train ride to Edenbridge Town station was quick and easy, just 50 minutes away from London. We did have to change trains once, though. Since the train station is three miles away I had to arrange for a taxi to Hever Castle.
I’ve been to my share of stately homes and castles and knew the drill – or thought I did! – so I came prepared with the numbers to several cab companies and called ahead of our arrival.
I should have known something was strange when the driver got out of the car and said under his breath something that sounded like, “just keep the boy out of sight.”
It was then that I realized the person on the phone didn’t ask how many people we had (and my kid was yelling in the background and I probably just forgot to mention it). I wondered if maybe his car technically wasn’t big enough for five, but the driver didn’t seem bothered and it was not even a five-minute ride.
Later in the day, this became a much different scenario, but let’s move on to the fun part.
Touring the castle & grounds
We’d spent the earlier part of Friday in Notting Hill since the castle didn’t open until noon. We arrived just before 3:00 and it closed at 6:00, which I thought would be plenty of time. But it turned out we were slightly rushed. If I could re-do the trip, I’d go earlier and make a full day of it.
It was suggested we walk around the castle first since it closed before the grounds. The castle itself is small but absolutely lovely. It wasn’t very crowded at all, so we were able to enjoy ourselves without a ton of tourists.
This was my sister’s first time in England and she was super excited to finally see a castle with a drawbridge and moat! Hever Castle really is the type of place you picture in your little girl fairytale castle dreams.
The courtyard was my favorite part of the castle. I can’t resist a picture taken out of an old-time window so here you go:
This is where we started the tour, in the Inner Hall. There were Tudor roses in the ceiling design (I should have taken a close-up picture!).
An interesting fact about the castle is that it was purchased in 1903 by the richest man in America at the time, William Waldorf Astor. So along with the Tudor sections, there are some rooms still decorated in the style that the Astors used. Hever Castle was sold to the present owner, John Guthrie, in 1983 so it’s no longer in the Astor family.
Moving on, we got to the Tudor portions of the house. I loved getting to see Anne Boleyn’s room. There wasn’t much in there, but I loved this painting, and another room (which I didn’t take a photo of) displayed some prayer books that belonged to her.
We also saw the Henry VIII bedroom. To imagine him sleeping in this actual room was beyond weird. It reminds you that these larger-than-life figures in history were just regular people like us at one point, right? (Well, kings aren’t quite “regular people” but you get my drift.)
Like most castles, it had some precarious spiral staircases with ropes to hold onto!
I took a bunch more pictures of/out of windows. #windowporn
They had an exhibit with wax figures acting out scenes from Anne’s life in the one room. Definitely creeped me out a little. I wouldn’t want to be alone there at night!
Anne of Cleves (one of Henry VIII’s only surviving wives) owned Hever Castle after the Boleyn family. These stained glass panels feature the names of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, and Anne of Cleves.
The castle had a tiny chapel, too. It was hidden behind a wall panel because the Waldegrave family, who owned the castle after Anne of Cleves passed away, were Catholics. The room was created so they could practice their religion in secret. I love historical tidbits like this!
After touring the castle, we stepped outside and the day had suddenly turned from slightly overcast and comfortable to boiling hot and sunny. I whipped my SPF 1000 out of my Everlane tote and we set off to walk around the grounds. They have quite a bit of land – more than I expected – and there is much to explore.
The hedge maze was pretty tricky and I was having slight Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire anxiety. Luckily, there weren’t any portkeys.
I was extremely impressed with the gardens. They were absolutely beautiful, especially the Italian Garden area with the lake and fountains.
You can rent boats on the lake, but we were there too late in the day to take advantage. Next time!
I would have loved to spend more time wandering the grounds, but everyone was drained from the sun. Plus, we wanted to get back to London at a decent time for dinner since we had an early start the next day to go to Bath.
We popped in for a quick browse in the gift shop before calling for a taxi. Hever Castle has an excellent shop, which is situated in a separate building as you’re walking away from the castle. Since this was a week into our trip I’d already bought quite a lot of souvenirs. I was eyeing up some stained glass panels and jewelry but stuck to a couple of Christmas ornaments and a magnet.
Before leaving, we stopped at the adventure playground. It was a good size, with a zipline and a huge (like the size of a real house) wooden castle structure in it. They were in the process of building a new playground for under 7’s, which would have been great for us. But my son loved the adventure playground and it was a good place to get some energy out while we waited for a taxi back to the train station.
Unfortunately, this is where the trip started to go downhill. I whacked my head on a metal pole trying to help him with the zipline (this is classic me, btw) and spent most of the time in pain, on a bench calling everyone in Kent begging for a cab. As for the cab …
Party of Five
Now, my experience is likely different than the norm because we traveled on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend.
Let’s just say supply definitely didn’t meet demand when it came to transportation that weekend. Castle out in the countryside + limited cabs in the area + tons of people leaving to go to the airport on trips = travel nightmare.
After visiting Highclere Castle (read my post here!) and other properties I figured this would be the same straightforward situation with booking cars. In our case, this was far from true. Not only because it was a busy travel day, but because we had more than four people.
I called five different car services and no one could pick us up, either because they had no cars available, or because we had five people and they could only take four (this is when the earlier driver’s comment made sense).
It seemed odd to me to be a taxi company and not have any cars large enough to carry five-plus people, but okay. I asked every service if they could send two cars instead, but no one could.
Finally, after the staff in the gift shop gave us a few more suggestions, I arranged for a car to pick us up in about a half hour. It was probably twice the cost that it should’ve been but I didn’t care at that point. Sidenote: the gift shop staff said this happens all the time with people not being able to get a taxi, so I wouldn’t rely on cabs if you ever go to Hever!
We waited well over a half hour so I popped in to explore St Peter’s, the beautiful old church next to the castle. Sir Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, is buried there. I should’ve taken some photos inside, but I was afraid the car would show up while I was in there and kind of rushed through.
Finally, I called the cab company again. They had sent the car to the Hever Hotel, not Hever Castle. The operator apologized and said the driver would be there in a few minutes. He arrives, takes one look at us, and says, “I can’t take you.”
Because we had five people.
At this point, certain members of our traveling party might have slightly lost their tempers (justifiably). It would’ve been different if I hadn’t told the operator we were five. Maybe she hadn’t heard me?
The driver kept saying he couldn’t risk losing his license and of course, I didn’t want him to get in trouble or lose his job.
But the fact remained, we had no ride. And a three-mile walk in the heat was not an ideal option with a 5-year-old unless we were stranded true and proper. Not to mention he was tired, hungry, and melting down at that point. As were the rest of us.
Obviously, this was a sign I was meant to live in a castle forever. I was about to go back to the Henry VIII bedroom and call it a night!
In the end, the guys insisted my sister and I get in the cab and take the little dude back to London. The other two went back to the shop to ask for advice. It turns out there’s another train station (Hever Station) about a one-mile walk away. Our tickets were for Edenbridge Town Station, so they probably would’ve had to buy new tickets. But at least they could’ve got back to London and not totally killed themselves in the heat.
However, our driver ended up coming back to get them in the end. He had another fare shortly after us so he’d originally told us he couldn’t return to Hever Castle. But he said he felt sorry for us after seeing how stressed out I was on the ride to the train station. I probably have my kid to thank for that because he was crying and yelling “WHERE’S DADA?!” the whole time.
In the end, we missed our train to London and had to wait for the next one. But everyone arrived at Edenbridge Town safe and sound, although somewhat frazzled and ready for a pint.
All’s well that ends well but it definitely put a damper on an otherwise great experience. Live and learn! If I ever go back, I’ll stay at the castle’s B&B … and definitely not go on a bank holiday weekend.
If you go
I think I’ve covered the transport drama enough in this post! But if you’re driving, there’s a car park right across the street from the castle.
There are also private tour companies that do day trips to Hever Castle – a quick Google search should turn up a few!
As I mentioned, there are two train stations that serve the area: Hever Station (no taxis available, and about a mile rural walk – someone mentioned you have to trudge through fields to get there but it all sounds very quaint and English) and Edenbridge Town Station (3 miles from the castle by cab).
If you’re getting a taxi from Edenbridge Town just make sure to call a car service in advance and let them know what time your train arrives. I wouldn’t expect cabs to be waiting at the station. There’s a couple of taxi companies listed on the Hever Castle website, but they gave us a paper with several others in the gift shop if you ever find yourself in a pinch like we did.
When to go:
Although the castle is obviously the main attraction, the grounds were such a highlight for me. If you can, I would take advantage of seeing the gardens in bloom during the spring and summer months.
The grounds open at 10:30 and the castle opens at noon year-round, although the closing times vary by season.
I’d recommend allowing an absolute minimum of three hours to tour the castle and grounds. If the weather is nice you could spend a huge chunk of the day in the gardens, especially if you rent boats or take a walk around the lake path.
We bought them at the gate but if you want to plan ahead, you can buy tickets online for about a £1 discount.
The castle hosts jousting shows, kids’ events, triathlons, craft festivals and other activities throughout the year – check their website for the current schedule!
Have you ever been to Hever Castle?