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Last weekend, we fancied a day out somewhere in the Midlands, open during the winter and most definitely a cheap day out. We came across Croft Castle on the National Trust website which ticked both of those boxes. Off we trot.
Croft Castle is located in in Yarpole in Hereford. It consists of a manor house, out buildings, gardens and lots of parkland. There is plenty to do and to keep you occupied, whether you're a family with children or just a group of friends or couple fancying a day out.
Entering Croft Castle, you follow a long drive to the car park. The entrance is easy to miss if you're not looking out for it as there is quite a small "National Trust - Croft Castle" sign by the entrance. You follow the drive for rather a long time, I wouldn't have fancied walking it back in the day of the Croft family! You enter the car park (free to park), which is quite big as it was rather busy when we were there and yet we still managed to find space to park! There is a small wooden hut which you leave the car park via, so that you can pay your entrance fee or have your National Trust card scanned. You can also purchase a guide book and pick up a map.
The castle is located down a long(ish) drive looking out onto the fabulous countryside. It's not so much a castle in terms of ruins, it's a very well maintained manor house. It dates back to the 11th century although it has obviously been altered and restored throughout its history. It was home to the (very large!) Croft family. In the house, you will be able to see the family tree showing the extent of the family! The picture above is a view of the manor house from on the grass, whereas walking down the drive, you approach it from the right hand side. As soon as you enter the foyer, you're greeted by a National Trust guide who tells you a bit about the history of the house and the Croft family. The tour begins by going to your left and into the various rooms of the house. Now I thought the first room was absolutely fabulous because it was the library of the house and full (floor to ceiling) with books. It also had display cabinets in the middle of the room where you could see inside of the books so if you are interested in the history of books, it's a place to linger and absorb the ambiance! Following the layout of the house, you wander through. There is a guide in each room telling you a bit more about either the Croft family, the house or the architecture of the room. Other than the library, I loved the sitting room as being nearly Christmas, there was a musician playing carols and later on, a male voice choir! Heaven... in a day out! The house was really fascinating and what assisted was the National Trust guides being so knowledgeable about *everything*! Also, there are information points where you can have a flick through some literature about the house and the artwork on the walls. They are in folders on the chairs near the door to each room. There was a lot being put on for Christmas during our visit, as well as the above mentioned carols and pianist, there were craft stalls, mulled wine tasting and a large Christmas tree!
The manor house has a walled garden in the grounds, which has an 18th century greenhouse which is being restored and many different paths around the gardens. I think it's the wrong time of year to be able to appreciate the gardens right now, but it's still a nice place to wander around.
There is a church located on the estate, which you can just about see to the left on the picture above. The church is St Michaels and All Angels and is a must during your visit. It's actually used today and has very few parishioners. The interior of the church is very simple, yet beautiful. There is currently a nativity laid out in front of the altar which is really lovely. Inside the church are the crypts of Sir Croft and his wife. It's quite small, but fortunately, we were on our own in the church which meant you could really appreciate the calm and stillness.
The Croft estate has acres and acres of parkland (1,500 to be precise!) and it's so nice, you really should make the most of it! It was rather muddy whilst we were there so I would recommend taking your walking boots! The walks aren't difficult, but it was easy to see where people before us had been slipping and sliding in the mud! There are 3 different walks of different lengths and graded by yellow, blue or red. The yellow route is quite short and takes you on a walk around the lake. I believe that this route is also pushchair friendly! After deciding that the yellow route was a bit sedate for us, we decided to take the blue route (approx 3.5 miles) which was described as moderate terrain but a bit muddy. The time estimate given by the National Trust was a minimum of 2 hours for this route. This route takes you through Croft Ambrey and up to the iron age hill fort on the estate. This was a really nice walk (and certainly not challenging) and gives you some excellent view points of the surrounding areas. Now, I wouldn't recommend this walk if you have mobility problems or a pushchair, but other than that, its perfectly manageable. Plus, the time estimates given are rather over enthusiastic... for a moderate pace, I'd say halve the time (and that's with stopping times to read the information boards, take pictures and generally horse around!) The next route is the red route which takes you all around the perimeter of the estate but follows the blue route for a while. This walk was about 5 miles and takes a bit longer. We didn't do this one as we were conscious of the time, but it looks like a fun walk to do if you have extra time! All of the walks are well signed with posts throughout the course.
If you are taking children with you, there are two play areas for their entertainment! One is play area by the cafe and one is a natural play area which is located on the estate just slightly into the parkland. Also, the National Trust had put on extra Christmassy things for the children to do. There is a reindeer hunt (clues on wooden reindeers around the site) and also a santa to visit.
There is a cafe on the estate if you fancy a bite to eat. I can't provide you with an opinion on the cafe as we took a picnic! There are also picnic benches outside of the cafe for those less inclined to purchase their lunch! The toilets are also located in the vicinity of the cafe and well maintained for being in a stable block!
The prices vary depending on which elements of the estate you want to visit (i.e. all of it, garden and countryside, or just countryside). The price to see all of it is £9.00 for an adult, £4.50 for a child or £22.00 for a family. If you are a member of the National Trust, it's free entry. We are members so it didn't cost us anything; however, I would easily have paid the £9.00 each for entry as its good value for money!
The estate seems to be open all year round which is great but I would recommend checking the website as to what bits of the estate are open on particular days of the week.
This was a really lovely day out which I would recommend to all!
As historians, it's somewhat inevitable that Mrs SWSt and I spend a lot of our holiday visiting old As historians, it's somewhat inevitable that Mrs SWSt and I spend a lot of our holiday visiting old castles or stately homes. Our last holiday was no exception and one of the best places we visited was Croft Castle, home to the same family for almost 1,000 years.
Croft Castle sits just a few miles outside the market town of Leominster in Shropshire. Whilst you need to travel down some B roads and country lanes to get to it, these are well maintained, wide roads so getting there is not particularly challenging.
Quick History Lesson
Croft Castle is a fortified manor house that has been in the hands of the Croft family for almost 1,000 years apart from a brief period in the late 19th/early 20th century. This gives it a single line of succession almost unparalleled elsewhere. As such, it provides a fascinating glimpse into how one family exerted so much power and influence over the surrounding area for a length period of time. It also means that most of the artefacts on display at Croft have a genuine connection with the house.
Room With a View
Croft Castle is an interesting building to look at because it still retains the internal structure that it had for most of its existence. As such, it gives a real glimpse into what living in the property must have been like. Each room is furnished in a very similar way to the way it would have been when it was functioning as a family home and it really is like stepping back in time. Information about each of the rooms is well-presented and interesting without being too detailed and it points out some key features of that particular room, along with information over how it has changed over the years.
Exhibits in each room are both interesting and in keeping with the room and the house generally and, where there is a specific connection to the Croft family or the property, this is usually explained, which makes it feel more like you are looking around someone's home.
The one thing I could have done without (personally) was some rather horrible modern art that featured in several of the rooms. This is partly because I am not a fan of modern art, but also because it did rather clash with the elegant and beautiful furniture and artwork from earlier periods. It merely goes to show how much tastes have changed over the years... and not always for the better!
Sit a While
A really nice feature of Croft which I'd not come across elsewhere was the in the living room, where you were actively encouraged to touch and use things. This was a new addition to the property for the 2012 season and saw the room decked out as it would have been in the 1920s (when the Croft family returned to the property after an absence of around 100 years). It includes things like a 1920s piano, 1920s furniture and a 1920s gramophone. Unlike most properties, you are encouraged to sit in the chairs, play the piano or put on some records. This is a really nice alternative to the usual "Do Not Touch" signs that you normally (understandably) see and really gave you a feel for what it must have been like to sit and use the room back in the Roaring Twenties.
Not just all Talk
As appears to be increasingly common in National Trust properties, each room had a room guide who can tell you more about certain aspects of the room. The ones at Croft Castle were generally very good: they didn't pounce on you as soon as you walked into the room, nor did they approach you if you clearly just wanted to wander around yourself. However, when you did ask a question, they were interesting and knowledgeable.
A number of talks are also scheduled for specific times, so if you want to know a little more about a particular room or aspect of the period, you can make sure you are around for one of these. We didn't actually do this, so can't comment on the length or quality, although we did catch the start of one (merely because we happened to be in the room when it began) and have to say that the speaker was not particularly interesting or inspiring. I guess this will depend on who is giving the talk on any given day.
Far more interesting was the guide in the Ambassador's Room, who spoke about the fascinating link between the Croft family and the Royal Family in the early 19th century and the tragic, and unintended impact they had on both British and World History. This was a really interesting tale told by a speaker who was both highly articulate and clearly well-versed in all the details. He was also a born story-teller so made his tale interesting even to those who don't particularly like history.
For me, this was the best room in the house; not just because of the room guide, but because of the effective way that it had been done out to represent a house in mourning. This gave some idea of how dark the house must have been during periods of mourning (which, the guide explained could last up to two years) and also explored some of the origins behind modern mourning customs (such as why we close the curtains when there has been a death in the family).
Time for Walkies
Once you have visited the house, you can pop your head into the small church opposite. This has served the Croft family for centuries and is still an active church today. This was interesting, although in architectural terms, the church wasn't particularly unusual. You can also take a walk around the formal walled gardens. This wasn't my cup of tea since I can barely tell a daffodil from a dandelion, but Mrs SWSt (who likes this sort of thing) was impressed. The gardens are not particularly big and will only take 10-15 minutes to wander around, so it wasn't too much of a hardship for a non-gardener like me!
If you fancy a more extensive walk, then you can wander around the parklands, which contain an iron age hill fort and some stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Since it was blisteringly hot on the day we went, we decided not to do this, so can't comment on how easy these walks are.
You can choose whether you wish to visit just the grounds, just the castle or both and prices are tailored according to which you choose. The maximum adult price (including castle, grounds and surrounding area) is £7.70 at 2012 prices, with various concessions available for children and senior citizens. National Trust members, of course, get in free. Overall, I'd say these were pretty reasonable prices. Croft does offer an awful lot to see and do, and we were easily in the house for well over an hour.
Croft has the usual tearoom (which we didn't visit), together with a very good National Trust shop. As well as the usual NT branded goods, this also sells some lovely food and drink from the local area (including a gorgeous cider!) and it's nice to see the National Trust supporting local suppliers.
Overall, we had a really great day at Croft Castle and would thoroughly recommend it. It offers something a little bit different to the usual ruined castle or standard stately home you can see elsewhere. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the Shropshire area.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012