Croft Castle and Croft Ambrey, Herefordshire

PUBLISHED: 22:36 08 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:14 20 February 2013

CROFT CASTLE

CROFT CASTLE

Set in the heart of beautiful Borders countryside, Croft Castle stands in parkland sloping up to the hill top where the Iron Age camp of Croft Ambrey is situated. Partially wooded, the hill is the setting for a glorious walk, with all-round views ...

Starting point: the car park at Croft Castle (payment required for non-members of the National Trust). Grid reference GR452657
Maps: Landranger 149 Hereford and Leominster; Explorer 203 Ludlow.
How to get there: Take the A4110 Hereford to Knighton road, turn right at Mortimer's Cross along the B4362 and follow the signs to Croft Castle.
Length of walk: 4 miles. Time required about 2 hours.
Terrain. A short climb up to the fort and then a descent, but otherwise fairly gentle. Paths clear and fairly dry, although muddy patches may be encountered in the woods.
Take with you: A great variety of birds can be seen throughout the walk, and binoculars will be invaluable for watching them as well as admiring the views.
Refreshments at Croft Castle when it is open (phone 01568 780246 - from March to November). Otherwise the nearest food is the good pub at Mortimer's Cross.
Nearest Tourist Information Centre: Leominster (01568 616460)
Other places of interest nearby include Shobdon church with its unusual Strawberry Hill Gothic design, and blue and white interior; Wigmore Castle ruins.

Croft Castle is a castellated pink stone castle, noted for its Georgian interiors, and a recently restored walled garden containing many unusual plants, a vineyard and an orchard of old varieties of Herefordshire apples. House and garden are surrounded by 630 hectares of parkland. The Croft family has been connected with the house for 1000 years, although some of the management was handed to the National Trust in 1957. The adjacent church of St.Michael's dates from about 1300, and is open to visitors.

The Iron Age fort of Croft Ambrey is located on the hilltop at nearly 1000 feet above sea level. The northern edge stands on the top of a very steep slope and ramparts and ditches line the south and western edges of the fort. Evidence has been found of about 300 dwellings, with rows of houses and streets. Research has revealed signs of human occupancy from 6th century BC up till AD 48, and there is archaeological evidence of grain and animals as well as remnants of weaving.

The walk
1. Start from the car park near the castle - payment is necessary for non-members of the National Trust. Walk through the kissing gate by the large metal gate between the car park and the Carpenters Tea Room. Note the red, blue and yellow walk signs. Follow the surfaced drive as it begins to wind uphill. Soon reach the sign saying Footpath to Croft Ambrey and then pass a small house on the left.

The surfaced drive becomes a muddy track as we climb up to a stile by a metal gate. Pass the two very old Spanish chestnuts and continue along the right side of an open stretch of parkland, with views across to Hay Bluff and Brecon Beacons. A line of chestnuts is to our left as we climb up to a marker post, with red, yellow and blue. The small mound on our left is a covered reservoir, as we reach a small wooden kissing gate by a large gate. The yellow and blue turn right here, but we keep straight ahead, and into the woods.

Follow the sign to Croft Ambrey, pass the Forestry Commission sign and climb steadily along the broad stony track. The trees are mainly coniferous here, with a line of deciduous ones lining the track - and a carpet of bluebells in the spring. At a driveway continue straight ahead to reach a Croft Castle National Trust information board on our right.

2. Continue along a grassy track, which descends to a gate with a stile alongside. Fork slightly left and follow the main track, with red arrow and Mortimer Trail signs. The path narrows and can be muddy, and the land slopes steeply down to the left here. Continue along the path, which winds a little as it leads up to the top and into the fort. Cross the open summit, the area where evidence of small houses has been found.

Birds including tree pipits will be singing in spring and summer. Views open up to the north, looking straight out to the buildings of Hall Farm and beyond it the massive scar of Leinthall Earls Quarry. Having crossed the top to reach the edge of the fort, turn right, with the very steep slope (easily defended) down to our left. The spring which provided water for the inhabitants is just down to the left on this steep slope.

3. Reach the edge of the camp and begin to descend, past an embankment, and then a very old yew tree, to reach a fence with a stile. After climbing over the stile we turn right, and after a few yards, before the path straight ahead of us begins to climb, turn right through a wooden gate, and begin to descend. Red mark, yellow arrow and Mortimer Trail logo point us in the right direction. Descend to a T junction and a major track, but we keep straight ahead along a narrow path signed with red mark, yellow arrow, circular walk, Mortimer Trail.

4. Descend to the main valley where we turn right along a clear track (Mortimer Trail, Circular Walk, yellow and red arrow.) We are now in Fishpool Valley, which was extensively re-landscaped in about 1780. Medieval fish ponds were restored and Gothic structures created. The valley contains seven pools in 80 acres of woodland, and part has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest
.
We reach the first pool, surrounded by very lush vegetation, and on the right is the stone grotto. Soon on our left is the old pumping house, a grade II listed building dating from the early 19th century. Carry on along the path, ignoring the track going left across a small dam, then bend slightly right, and after 20 yards the track divides.

Fork right here, going uphill. The left fork here is Mortimer Trail, but we follow the red and yellow marks, passing rhododendron bushes, and climbing quite steeply. This leads us up to the driveway where we turn right and walk back into the parking area beside the castle.

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