For once we headed eastwards from London at the start of our day. Our destination was Kent, ‘the garden of England as it is often called, and in particular Leeds Castle and Canterbury with a short stop in Dover to see the White Cliffs and a boat trip along the River Thames to finish off. We headed along the Embankment, past the Tower and then through the East End before crossing under rather than over the Thames through the Blackwall Tunnel, which was built with bends in it to prevent the horses panicking. Apparently they tend to do this when going through a long straight tunnel with a glint of light at the end, which they gallop towards. There is not usually much galloping through the tunnel these days but early on Sunday there was virtually no traffic and we made it to Leeds Castle in good time where we were greeted with a glass of mead and a guide who told us its history.
It was in 1926 when Lady Olive Bailie first saw the castle and fell in love with it, paying £180,000 to take over what was then a wreck and almost as much to restore it. Leeds Castle is nowhere near Leeds city, which is over 200 miles away in Yorkshire, but takes its name from the Saxon chieftain Led who built it in the ninth century. Since then it has passed through innumerable hands, many of them royal, but can never now be sold as Lady Baillie set up a trust to maintain it after her death.
Leeds was truly her labour of love – and you can see why. Olive Bailie seems to have been a colourful character who was married and divorced three times, had three children and lots of money. Like many people who never settle into one marriage she had a long attachment to her home, which outlasted that of all the men in her life. There is a picture of her with her two daughters in the Castle, all three attractive, elegant, slim. She is smoking a cigarette in a way that seemed sophisticated at a time before we knew how harmful they could be.
We have reason to be grateful to poor little rich girls like Lady Baillie who made themselves useful by preserving places like Leeds, which she turned into a hospital during the Second World War, treating airmen who had been shot down in the many dogfights above Kent – treated equally whether they were German or British. It has also been used as conference centre to bring together opposing sides in two of the most stubborn stand-offs in recent times, between unionists and republicans in Northern Ireland (successful) and between Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East (still unresolved and unlikely to be so anytime soon).
After Leeds it was Dover and Canterbury before returning to London for the boat trip from Greenwich. The early morning light traffic had given way to an enormous jam which took us an hour to fight through before we reached Cutty Sark (see my post: http://diaryofatouristguide.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/cutty-sark-ship-witch-and-whisky.html) and our speedy clip up the Thames to Embankment and home for a cocktail, just liked they served at the castle. I was not wearing formal clothes for this, however. The day was hot so I changed into shorts for my evening drink. Job done.