Just over seven weeks ago, on a sunny early April morning, we headed west from our home in Bromsgrove in northeast Worcestershire, to visit the National Trust’s Berrington Hall in Herefordshire, about 8 miles due south of Ludlow (that’s in Shropshire).
Yesterday, on what was probably the hottest day of the year so far, and without a cloud in the sky, we headed in the same direction, to another National Trust property, Croft Castle and Parkland, just five miles northwest of Berrington Hall. This was our second visit; Croft Castle was one of the first properties we visited in June 2011, just after becoming members of the National Trust.
What is particularly remarkable is that Croft Castle has been the home of the Croft family for about 1000 years, and was listed in the Domesday Book in 1086. The Croft family has made many contributions to the annals of British history, under the Plantagenets, during the 15th century Wars of the Roses, Tudor and Elizabethan England, the Civil Wars of the 1640s, and through to recent decades. The Croft baronetcy was created in 1671. The castle itself is a somewhat eclectic mix of architectural styles that reflect its long history.
Much of the interior has an 18th century feel, although some of the rooms on the ground floor must have been used as family rooms when the Croft family were in residence continually. Today the family retains some rooms on the first floor, not open to the public. In fact, during our visit there was only one room on that floor open, the Ambassador’s Room overlooking the main entrance, that has been ‘returned’ to its First World War decor.
Just opposite the main entrance to the castle stands the small church of St Michael. Inside, there is the grand tomb of Sir Richard Croft and his wife Eleanor. Sir Richard fought at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, just a few miles away from Croft Castle, in 1461 on the Yorkist side. He later became a high ranking member of the household of Henry VII (who usurped the throne at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, defeating King Richard III, and establishing the Tudor dynasty).
The castle is surrounded by some 1500 acres of parkland, and the National Trust has set out some well marked walks for visitors to follow. We basically took the Blue walk up to the Iron Age fortress of Croft Ambrey (that dates from about 550 BC), covering almost 4 miles before we returned to the car park, a well-deserved sit down, and picnic lunch under the welcome shade of the magnificent beech and oak trees surrounding the castle.
The Blue walk passes through a grove of pollarded Spanish chestnut trees (panted in the late 16th century) that are said to have come from ships of the failed Spanish Armada.
The 360° views from Croft Ambrey are truly stunning: south to the Black Mountains of South Wales; east to the Malverns in Worcestershire; northwest to Clee Hill; and west into the border hills between England and Wales. The climb (not steep) to the summit is really worth the effort. Despite the heat of the day, there was a pleasant breeze taking the edge off it.
Croft Castle has a particularly fine walled garden, and a glasshouse area. The garden covers some six acres, with many rows of vines in its northeast corner. Having now visited quite a number of National Trust properties, my wife and I are in agreement that this walled garden must be one of the nicest in the Trust’s portfolio.
Since our first visit in 2011, the National Trust has made a number of operational changes to how it manages the property. There is now a free flow for visitors through the house, and photography is permitted throughout. In 2011 I was told off—in no uncertain terms—by one of the volunteers for deeming to take a photo of some panelling detail. The Trust is much more relaxed about photography nowadays, except where there are restrictions (for personal family or copyright reasons) at some houses.
The Library Anteroom
The Library and Turret Room
The Drawing Room
The Blue Room
The Oak Room
The Dining Room
The Staircases, Gallery, and Courtyard
The Ambassador’s Room
No such problems yesterday. The staff were most welcoming, particularly the lady who greeted us at the main entrance. The tea room appears to have been expanded, and the toilets have been upgraded – clean as ever at National Trust properties. Last time there was a water shortage, and visitors had to queue up to use portaloos!
Croft Castle is just an 83 mile round trip from home – almost one of our local National Trust properties. Perhaps it does not yet have the finest collection of furniture and paintings (compared to many others), but the rooms have a homely feel. And the parkland of course is stunning, with space for everyone to enjoy. The walled garden is Croft’s ‘jewel in the crown’. Well done to the two full-time gardeners (assisted by volunteers, of course) who keep this garden so well maintained.