What?: It’s a castle but, I’ll be honest, we were only really here for the playground, which is also a castle. Hever was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and was later owned by Anne of Cleves, which makes it like, WELL Tudor. We didn’t go in the actual castle – partly because we didn’t have time and partly because we thought it might be a disaster with the kids – but we did spend our maximum allotted time (30 minutes) in the Tudor Towers adventure playground, which contained a sort of dining table thing with facts about each of Henry VIII’s wives on it, so I mean we basically went in the actual castle. Anyway, the playground is worth the trek to Kent all by itself in my very humble opinion, although I did find the website’s brazen boasts about how Tudor Towers is bigger than a four-bedroom house a bit much. Like yeah, I’m aware this children’s wendy house is three times bigger than my flat thanks, you don’t have to rub it in.
Tudor Towers and Acorn Dell sit side by side, with the former aimed at 7-14s and the latter aimed at all ages from baby, though they’re currently fenced off as two separate entities with two separate queues. There was no queue for Acorn Dell when we arrived so we did that first, and it was great – essentially a giant sandpit with tunnels to crawl through, one of those log climbing things, a castle-themed slide and a lot of rocks. All the kids loved this playground and I’m always relieved not to have to worry about Roma falling off/being hit in the head by stuff, but then the big playground was sort of there in the background staring at us the whole time and it was annoying not to be able to just hop over the fence once we’d exhausted the smaller one. In the end though it was fine and we ended up only having to queue for Tudor Towers for five minutes. At first it felt like they were letting a lot of people in at once, but everyone dispersed once we got inside and it didn’t feel too crowded (they were also completely emptying and – apparently – disinfecting it after each group left).
Tudor Towers itself is three storeys high and basically a three-dimensional maze, with seemingly infinite rooms plus dozens of staircases, tube slides, sky tunnels and hidden treasures to find. I thought the 7+ suggestion was a bit overcautious since Babu and her mate who’s not quite four were fine in here. Actually even the one year old loved it, even if I did spend the whole time having a series of mild heart attacks as she repeatedly sprinted towards the sheer drop next to the fireman’s pole on the second floor. Oh, I should probably mention that there’s some more traditional equipment behind Tudor Towers too, but to be honest who gives a stuff about that when you only get half an hour in the insane four-bed-house-sized castle playhouse?
Finally, there’s the water maze. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one but it’s basically a series of large paving stones arranged in a large square around a little fort. Some of the paving stones activate a water pump when trodden on and totally drench you/the person behind/in front of you. The idea is to get to the middle and back without getting wet, which sounds pretty boring to me but obviously if you’ve forgotten to bring a change of clothes then avoiding the water-jets might be sensible – and is pretty easy if you just look out for the wet patches on the ground. The water maze is also currently operating on a 30-minute-slot basis, with only a small number of people allowed in at once, so expect to queue on sunny/busy days.
Where and When?: Hever is open daily from 11am-6pm in summer and 11am-4.30pm in winter. It can be found on Hever Road, Hever, Edenbridge TN8 7NG and is 30 miles from Central London (it took us about 80 minutes to drive there from Kentish Town). There is free, copious on-site parking. Hever can also be reached via train (Edenbridge + taxi or Hever + 15-minute walk).
Best Bits: It has to be Tudor Towers. The grounds are absolutely beautiful too.
Worst Bits: We managed to get away with not really having to queue but we could potentially have wasted a lot of time there.
Facilities: Toilets, baby changing, step-free access, cafes and many, many ice-cream vendors.
Cost: Gardens access costs £15.55 per adult, £9.75 per child and is free for 0-4s. You can upgrade to a castle ticket at the castle entrance for a small fee (but you can’t currently book online because the castle is limiting the number of visitors in each room and can’t guarantee entry).
Would We Come Back?: Yes please. Next time I’m definitely going in the actual castle.
Babu welcomes Roro to Tudor Towers, Hever Castle, Kent.