Lullingstone Castle, Kent

Situated in a quiet spot beside the River Darent, stands the magnificent manor house, first built in the latter part of the 15th century by John Peche, that has been passed down through generations of the same family for six hundred years, and is still owned by them today.

John Peche had spent much of his adolescence at the court of Henry VII, and took place in the Royal Jousts. His helmet still hangs in a place of honour, above the fireplace in the Dining Room at Lullingstone Castle. In 1495 he became the Sheriff of Kent, and two years later was knighted, following the Battle of Blackheath. It was about this time that Sir John Peche commissioned the Henry VII Gatehouse to be constructed - one of the first of its kind in England to be built entirely of bricks.

Although Lullingstone Castle remains both beautiful and well-preserved, much of what is seen today dates from the extensive alterations and refurbishment carried out during the reign of Queen Anne, who was a frequent visitor to Lullingstone. Seven main rooms of this palatial residence are open for public viewing and every one contains important family portraits, some dating back to the mid-1500s. The impressive Great Hall houses many of the oldest pictures, as well as family crests and coats of arms, some displayed on a wonderfully carved oak panel. The panelled Dining Room shows yet more of the Hart family portraits during the 17th century, as well as a Royal Portrait of Queen Anne's father when he was the Duke of York.

Ascending the Grand Staircase, with purpose-made shallow treads for Queen Anne, an interesting collection of 18th century prints showing the funeral cortege of Queen Elizabeth I are among more recent family pictures. The sumptuous State Drawing Room is home to many fascinating treasures, as well as the State Portrait of Queen Anne, and the State Bedroom is dominated by an intricately carved 18th century four-poster bed.

In the Ante Room at the top of the staircase are more superb relics dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries, and a huge wall map of the Lullingstone Estate, whilst the Library holds many fine volumes of 17th and 18th century works. Outside in the grounds of Lullingstone Castle, the remains of a tiny Bath House can be found. The bath was located over a spring, whose waters were reputed to have medicinal properties, and was originally built for Queen Anne. Last, but not least, is the small church of St Botolph which has been extensively restored since its Norman origins but remains a place of beauty and family history, containing many memorials to the Hart and Dyke families.

Almost secreted from public view in this lush valley, Lullingstone Castle is such an inspiring place and, after exploring the house and grounds, what better way to complete your visit than taking some welcome refreshment in the Gatehouse tea rooms.

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