Leeds Castle in Kent is often described as the loveliest castle in the world. We've worked in quite a few castles over the years and it's certainly beautiful and one of our firm favourites. It's also proud of its documented 900 year history, having been home to Kings in Edward I in the 13th century and Queens of England for Catherine of Aragon, wife of Henry VIII in the 16th century.
Work began on the site in 1199 (not by us we hasten to add, as that's a bit before our time) and the structure has evolved through many iterations to its current design, constructed during the 19th century. When the CAP.Co design team started work on the project to create a new, immersive adventure play area, this extensive and intriguing heritage became the inspiration, and the Knights Stronghold was born. In this first series of early drawings, it is immediately clear that the design draws on four of the most significant periods in the development of the castle and grounds. From an early Norman settlement to its impressive Gothic gatehouse and even depicting the great fire that destroyed much of the castle in 1655, the play area is a visual feast too, giving visitors a chance to experience the history of the castle through play and encouraging exploration and imagination.
As the concept of ‘playing through the ages’ developed, inspiration from architectural elements of the castle began to form the structural layout of the site. A key design principle was that the play needed to feel fully immersive, contained within the outer ramparts of the play area and yet still be very much accessible to all. Clearly defined areas, representing a different period in the castle’s history are designed to feel different as you pass from one to the next. Digital massing models allow us to understand scale more clearly and even at this early stage you can get a sense of the grandeur and wow-factor of the castle frontage!.
As designs are further developed, play value and user experience is at the forefront of our minds. We interrogate the design to ensure that the play is engaging, imaginative and relevant to the audience and its place.
As you look around these more detailed 3D renders, it's clear that there is play embedded at every turn. Tunnels leading to entirely different play spaces and slides that move you through historical time zones.
Starting from the front, the Gothic Gatehouse is a grand entrance archway accessed via a drawbridge and the only entrance and exit point to the entire play area, giving parents piece of mind as they let there children run wild and explore.
Moving through the gatehouse, within the Knights Stronghold, you come across the Norman Stronghold, depicting the earliest iteration of the castle. There are old thatched farm buildings, livestock and fields, filled with crawl spaces, tunnels, ladders and slides and designed to give a real sense of how the lives of the castle’s inhabitants have changed through the ages.
The next area to discover, beyond the inner Bailey walls, is the Towering Castle. It's an impressive towering play structure inspired by the current castle, originally constructed in 1823 and renovated in the 1900’s. The castle itself is where the play value multiplies! Containing numerous levels of walkways and platforms with secret rooms, clamber nets, staircase and tunnels within, whilst the ground and first floors of the castle are fully accessible to all via the large sweeping castellated walkway that surrounds the whole site. The more you explore, the more you'll discover here; It's a whole series of delights for the imaginative visitor and only the bravest will ever reach the very top and enjoy the magical views it also delivers.
Hidden away at the rear is the site of the Great Gloriette Fire. It's an area inspired by the great fire of 1665 and accessed via a raised walkway to the back of the Castle. It's a cleverly planned warren of walkways and tube slides and using coloured timber panels, has been built to look as if the building is still on fire! The entire play area then culminates in two super-fast racing zips which shoot out of the burning building to safety!
When the team are on site building, they have to work through all weathers and this particular project threw some of natures finest tantrums at us. One very easy way to demonstrate this is through the drone flyovers. We love the story they tell, as you can see the structure growing from the ground up to its finished final glory. You can however also see the snow, rain and other elemental challenges we faced throughout the build period.
Through thick and thin however the play area construction was a great success, giving Leeds Castle The Knights Stronghold - A play area of epic proportions. The scale of it is immediately apparent, as is the quality of the finish and maximised play value throughout. It's definitely one of our most impressive builds to date and we're delighted with how it's turned out.
Welcome to the Knights Stronghold.
Reading some of the reviews of the customers, they seem to be pretty delighted too.