Historic Houses & National Trust Kent: Hever Castle & Ightham Mote

There are two spectacular, historical moated houses just ten miles apart near Tonbridge in West Kent. Hever Castle, which dates back to 1270, is part of the Historic Houses collection of heritage properties, whereas Ightham Mote, which dates back to 1320, is a National Trust managed site.

Hever Castle
Hever Castle

I  spent a full day visiting the extensive gardens and grounds at Hever Castle as well as taking the house tour which lasted about an hour.

I found an afternoon was enough to cover the more limited gardenss and grounds at Ightham Mote and that included a tour of the house.

If you are visiting with children then there is plenty to keep them happy at Hever Castle, including two mazes and an adventure playground. Ightham Mote has a natural play area for children which includes a stream, stepping stones and balance beams.

Both properties have cafés with indoor and outdoor seating areas and both serve a wide range of hot and cold food and drinks.

Hever Castle Gardens and Grounds

There is much to admire in the well managed gardens surrounding the castle with the Rose Garden, Herb Garden and Topiary all being very impressive.

Hever Castle: Italian Garden at Hever Castle
Italian Garden at Hever Castle

However my favourite area is the large, stylish Italian Garden, which displays sculpture and statuary brought from Italy in 1905 by William Waldorf Astor, the Castle’s owner at that time.

The 125 acres of grounds feature a large landscaped lake with paths around. I took the counter-clockwise route and spent almost an hour enjoying the ever-changing views. Towards the end of the walk there are fine views back towards the castle and gardens.

Along the route there is a large yew maze and an unusual water maze. The latter looked simple as I attempted to get through to the folly in the centre, but finished up getting soaked!

Hever Castle House Tour

Hever Castle: Henry VIII's Bedroom
Henry VIII’s Bedchamber

Although several families have owned Hever Castle over the centuries, two families have had most influence on the appearance and content of rooms visited on the castle tour.

From 1462 to 1539 it was the seat of the Boleyn family and links to Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII are found throughout the castle including, for example, Anne Boleyn’s prayer books.

From 1903, when in a bad state of repair, it was bought by the American millionaire William Waldorf Astor who completed a major restoration. The current appearance of the rooms in the castle are very much the results of the Astor family’s 80 years as the owners.

Hever Castle: Drawing Room
Drawing Room

Three floors of rooms are open to the public with guidance via headphones and a hand-held screen, which has a ‘rub-away’ feature to see how rooms looked originally before restoration.

There is much to see and admire including beautiful antique furniture  and a large collection of Tudor paintings. However the rooms I found of most interest were the wood-panelled Henry VIII’s Bedchamber, representing the Boleyn family years, and the opulent Drawing Room, representing the Astor family years.

There are two flights of stone spiral staircases leading down from the Long Gallery to the courtyard which require care to negotiate and it should be noted that only the ground floor of the castle is accessible to wheelchair users.

Ightham Mote Gardens and Grounds

Ightham Mote
Ightham Mote

I found it fascinating to walk around the moat looking across to the very different external features of the house.

The front is dominated by the Gate Tower and entrance bridge. The side and rear facades have an attractive half-timbered look that dates from the 1890 restoration.

The rear facade is topped by rows of brick chimneys including a clump of seven sticking high above the roof.

The 14 acres of gardens are well tended and include pleasure grounds, orchard, a water feature and a small lake with surrounding woodland.

The grounds cover 500 acres and include waymarked walking routes.

Ightham Mote House Tour

Jacobean Fireplace and Chinese Wallpaper
Jacobean Fireplace and Chinese Wallpaper

The house was owned by the Selby family for 300 years from 1591, but gradually fell into disrepair until 1889 when it was purchased by the Thomas Colyer-Fergusson who carried out repairs and restoration.

Over the last 30 years the National Trust has been responsible for a major programme of rebuilding and restoration.

I found it intriguing when touring the house the way that Jacobean and Victorian features intermingle, for example, in the Drawing Room where there are two fireplaces one from each of these periods.

Great Hall
Great Hall

The house tour commences in the Great Hall where stairs lead up to the Oriel Room, the Victorian Bathroom and the Old Chapel. The upper floor has several bedrooms, the New Chapel and the Drawing Room.

On returning to the ground floor, the tour passes through a modern Library then across the central courtyard to a Billiard Room.

Along the way there are many fine paintings, antique furnishings and unusual wall coverings, including exquisite wood-block printed Chinese wallpaper in the Drawing Room.

There are no information sheets in the rooms but the volunteer guides were ready  to answer questions and provide background. Unfortunately there is no lift in the house, so only the ground floor is accessible to wheelchair users.

Entry to Hever Castle and Grounds is £23.10 for adults, £20.30 for over 60s and £13.10 for children. However, if you take up annual membership with Historic Houses, you will get free entry, plus free entry to 300 other heritage sites. Enter our unique code STEW05 at ‘Add discount code’ and new members will receive a £5 discount. This also applies if you wish to give annual membership as a gift.

Entry to Ightham Mote is £16.00 for adults and £8.00 for children, but free for National Trust members. Check our special offer on National Trust membership.

We have reviewed several other properties under Historic Houses and National Trust. See also Historic Houses versus National Trust – Which to join?

Additional Photographs – Hever Castle

Hever Castle: Lake View
Lake View from the Loggia
Hever Castle: Water Maze
Water Maze
Hever Castle: Castle Courtyard
Castle Courtyard
Hever Castle: Dining Hall
Dining Hall
Hever Castle: Staircase Gallery
Staircase Gallery with Elizabeth I Portrait
Astor Suite
Astor Suite

Additional Photographs – Ightham Mote

Water Feature by Gate House Entrance
Water Feature by Gate House Entrance
Lakeside Walk
Lakeside Walk
Central Courtyard
Central Courtyard

POSTED 23rd JUNE 2023 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.