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Hever Castle – August 2008

August 26, 2008

It was an overcast Saturday in August when my wife and I visited Hever Castle.

We went because we spotted an advert showing that they had a special African event with some African birds of prey and a Cheetah doing a running display. The castle visit therefore became part of an extended night away together while our daughter spends a night with her grandparents.

Two things made the castle visit more relaxing for us as a couple than any other attraction we have visited in recent years; the lack of a child and the lack of a camera. We were now able to admire everything without constantly keeping a four year old entertained and safe and being free from the desire to try and get the best shot possible of every photo opportunity is strangely liberating, even if its not the mode of choice.

Due to the aforementioned night away, we arrived at midday to find parking in a field, being well directed by visible staff. Parking was still very close to the entrance and ticket booths. The ticket queue was significant with about 20 minutes waiting until we got our hands on our tickets. Ticket prices are reasonable with adults paying about £10 each (add £2 if you want access to the Castle included in your entry) and children £6 with under fives free.

The gardens are very well kept with interesting hedge designs that even children will admire. There is plenty to wander about and do and adventurous youngsters will have no end of places to explore. The water maze is small and easy to solve, but that’s not really the point. Having sat and watched many kids enjoy it, having fun and getting wet seems to be the order of the day rather than engage in stimulating challenge.

The Castle is interesting and very informative with some spectacular artifacts on display and plenty to learn if you are weak on the history of Anne Boleyn. However the whole experience is feels rushed due to the way in which the Castle rooms are sectioned off and you are routed through in a specific way. There are probably some good reasons why this is done, but I much prefer to wander if a more random fashion and spend my time in rooms that catch my interest without being conscious that I am getting in the way of a queue of people behind me. Over half an hour should be allowed for this tour, just hope that the young one with you does not need a loo break halfway round. The really big downside to the Castle visit is the queue to get in, we didn’t see it reduce at all over the lunch period and when we joined it the wait was over half an hour before we started the tour. I think that adding an extra cost to the castle visit means people feel they must do the tour to get the full value from their ticket and since the relative increase in cost is small, people feel they may as well pay the extra, the result being the huge queues experienced. Hever have made a mistake doing this and they should have a single price for everything.

The birds of prey display was not up to the standard of that experienced by us 2 weeks prior at Warwick Castle and some occasional sound issues further compounded the disappointment. This is a shame because I can never tire of watching birds of prey climb and swoop, be it in the wild or at a show. It was clear that the majority of people were there for the Cheetah display and having a Cheetah out in the open air to run for crowds and raise awareness of the plight of Cheetahs in the wild is a great idea. The Cheetah on display was a young Cheetah and it was obvious we were not going to see a spectacular example of a Cheetah at high speed. Judging by the reaction of many in the crowd, not everyone appreciated this subtlety and obviously expected far more than they saw.

The restaurant on site was massively over subscribed, thankfully we had enjoyed a huge breakfast beforehand and didn’t need to break for lunch. The grounds offer many places to enjoy a family picnic and thanks to the close proximity of the car parks, sending dad back to the car to collect lunch is a very real possibility.

In Summary:
Definitely worth the visit and somewhere I will visit again.

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