Gates Term Trip: Leeds Castle (Kent)

Michelmas term had now finished, so it is time for the Gates Term Trip. This was a day trip to Kent, in particular, Leeds Castle. We assembled at the bus stop on Queen’s Road, with a strange familiarity from the Orientation Camp to the Lake District. This time, however, we had one coach instead of two: not everyone was coming. As we were just departing Cambridge, Alex, the Gates Council’s Community Officer, handed out tags with the instruction to purchase a gift for an underprivileged child in Cambridge this Christmas. Each tag had a name and an age of a child. I took one together with Jacqueline, who I was sitting next to at the time (there were less tags than people on the bus).

The bus ride was a rather social affair, that is, except for a few scholars from Churchill, who were recovering from their guest night the previous night. It was about an hour and a half to Maidstone, Kent, but the only notable sight along the motorway was when we crossed the Queen Elizabeth II bridge across the Thames. By the time we were pulling up at Leeds Castle, the traffic got heavy: clearly the castle was going to be busy.

We offloaded at the carpark, and stood around as we waited for tickets and maps. We were told that we could go wherever we wanted, as long as we returned to the bus by 2:30pm. In addition, we were given £10 (our original deposit) to pay for lunch at some point during the day.

Going at one’s own pace within a group of 50 or so people means that naturally, one begins to walk alongside people who share one’s pace. Together with a number of other friends and colleagues, we headed straight to the castle. Others went off to the gardens, and others went to the Christmas markets, which had been set up on a temporary basis. When we came to the front of the 13th century castle, we were directed around the back to join a long queue of people heading into the castle (the entrance was regulated to avoid hundreds of people packing into the tiny rooms).  Normally I don’t highlight points of conversation in these blogs because they are often rambling, but I will highlight one point: I was complaining about missing bird songs and calls from back home, when a gull perched on top of the castle walls loudly and rudely interrupted me with a loud call.

We went inside and toured the rooms, admired the portraits of kings, queens and princes form centuries gone, stood astonished at the idea that the likes of Edward I and Henry VIII had walked these same floors, and appreciated the great detail of the furniture and other displays (they had wood fires burning in several rooms). Oddly, dotted throughout the castle were references to the works of Beatrix Potter, and I never really figured out why.

Once outside, we assembled for a series of group photos, with a number of permutations of people. From there, we wandered as a group towards the Christmas markets, set up on the hill opposite. We were hungry and wanted lunch. On the way there, however, there was a steep grassy hill and I couldn’t resist rolling down, much to the amusement of my fellow scholars (and the frustration of a number of parents whose children followed suit).

Lunch was from the market stalls. I, along with Jacqueline and Gabi lined up for German sausages (Bratwurst and Currywurst), though others opted for burgers or other market foods. After lunch, I kept bumping into and splitting from other groups of scholars also having lunch. Eventually, I ended up in a group with Yevgen, who proposed going on one of the rides in the fair, so we lined up to get tokens. Connor, who was with us, went to get other to join in, and eventually, after some disorganisation about the tokens, we boarded the ride. It spun us around, giving us a high vantage point over both the markets, the castle and the grounds.

After the ride, we made our way back to the bus through the gift shop (of course). From there, we were taken a few minutes down the road to the town of Maidstone. This is where our attention was drawn to the tags that we were given earlier. Our mission was to find Christmas gifts for our selected children. Together with Jacqueline, we were looking for a gift for Harrison, aged 8. That information isn’t a lot to go on. Is Harrison bookish or sporty (or both or neither)? Would Harrison actually prefer to play with dolls rather than race cars? One has to stereotype rather uncomfortably to fill in these gaps. Nonetheless, we set out on our mission. We joined forces with Annalise and Gabi, each looking for gifts for their own children. The problem was, many of the shops on the high street were fashion shops, not toy shops. The idea we had was to find some Lego, because what could go wrong there? Problem was, we couldn’t find a shop which sold Lego, at least one that was open on a Sunday afternoon. We settled for some coffee from Caffè Nero, before finally finding a toy and gift shop where we each settled on some craft or magic-set type gifts. Satisfied with our results, we settled in for a much-negotiated pre-dinner snack from Pizza Hut and then boarded the bus home for the evening.

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