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A castle has been on the site since 1119. In the 13th century it came into the hands of King Edward I, for whom it became a favourite residence. In the 16th century, Henry VIII used it as a residence for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The castle today dates mostly from the 19th century and is built on islands in a lake formed by the River Len to the east of the village of Leeds. It has been open to the public since 1976 with 500 acres of beautiful parkland and formal gardens, daily events and year round attractions.
In 1987, Vernon Gibberd, working with sculptor Simon Verity and shell artist Diana Reynell, designed the Leeds Castle grotto to represent The Underworld. The grotto lies beneath the maze, with access to the grotto from the centre of the labyrinth. The grotto includes a cascade, elaborate shell work and a tunnel. Crafted in the corners of the main chamber are carvings celebrating the four elements and mythical beasts. The domed ceiling is decorated with black and white swans - symbols of alchemy and Leeds Castle itself.
As the visitor proceeds, the designs become more macabre with bones emerging from the walls, fish flying on the ceiling, creatures walking upside down and encrusted on the walls, exotic minerals. Behind bars, guarding the final chamber, is the squatting figure of a life-sized mythical green man; created to ward off evil spirits and holding a bronze key. Sculpted by Kent artist, Malcolm Murduck in 1999, the green man is thought to have pagan roots and symbolises the spirits of woodland and rebirth.
1,2,3. Details of the interior decoration of the grotto.
4. The castle
5 The viewpoint and grotto entrance in the centre of the maze.
6. The hidden escape exit via the tunnel.
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GREAT BRITISH GROTTO GRADING
Open set times only
Access by Road, Access on Foot, Disabled Access, Entry Fee, Grotto - just one, Hotel or B and B Facilities, Part of a larger tourism attraction, Restaurant/Food, Retail Souvenir Shop, Toilets, Tourism Information, Weddings venue
Country town/village, Park or Garden
England - Southern
THE GROTTO GRADING FEATURES PRESENT
+A created provenance that links it to ancient mythology or legend, +Cared for and maintained in good condition, +Crystals and/or minerals, either natural or simulated, +Dark and mysterious chambers and cave like spaces, +External rock structures, either real or simulated, +Fossils and/or shells incorporated into the decor, +Internal stonework that is natural, recycled or simulated to give a subterranean decor, +Sacred spring or integral water feature, +Stunning setting and location, +Viewing points from within to an intriguing landscape outside, GRADED TEN Top Score WOW!