Croft Castle was a fortress that gradually transformed itself into a family home in more peaceful times. The Croft family built the existing castle in the 15th century and its battlemented guard towers and massive external walls 1.2m (4 feet) thick show its original purpose.
The corners of Croft Castle each have round towers with tiny rooms and the rectangular walls surround an inner courtyard. Excavations have revealed the remains of an earlier building and a medieval hall.
The later additions of Gothic bays and Georgian sash windows soften the fortress's façade somewhat but the medieval archway guarding the entrance still looks impressive. The chestnut avenue makes a grand approach to Croft Castle and was planted at least 350 years ago.
The estate is surrounded by a 607 hectare (1500-acre) estate of farmland, woods and park. They are cut through with miles of footpaths allowing visitors to enjoy the Herefordshire countryside and visit the Iron Age hill fort at Croft Ambrey.
The Croft family has an extensive history going back over 1000 years. There was mention of Croft in the Domesday Book in 1086 and the family was often represented in Parliament. The Battle of Mortimer's Cross took place on Croft land in 1461 between the feuding Yorkists and the Tudors.
The entrance to Croft Castle is guarded by a lion and a legendary wyvern figure. Exploring the interior of the castle will reveal beautiful Gothic plasterwork on the staircase by Thomas Farnolls Pritchard, designer of the first iron bridge at Coalbrookdale, which was built across the River Severn in 1781 by Abraham Darby III.
Rare and valuable furniture is arranged throughout the house, from the dark oak panelled Long Gallery to the more intimate Blue Room, where the blue Jacobean panelling is studded with gold trompe-l'oeil rosettes. The ceiling dates from the 1750s and the chimneypiece is an early 20th century addition.
The library has some interesting literary editions including a copy of Johnson's Dictionary annoted by Sir Herbert Croft, along with Bishop Croft's prayer book.
Many of the rooms have fine Georgian furnishings. The house has many paintings and family portraits including a Gainsborough masterpiece of Elizabeth Cowper, wife of Sir Archer Croft.
Further family effigies can be seen in the many splendid family tombs in the 13th century church of St Michaels, just yards from the "big house". Death duties eventually led to Croft Castle being placed under the care of the National Trust and the family still live in apartments within the castle.
Most of the gardens remain informal including the fishpool valley with its steep banks. The gardens include an extensive walled garden, flower borders, colourful shrubs, vines and fruiting trees.
Visitors should try the local beers, ciders and fruit juices in the local shop and café. Plants, gardening gifts and second hand books are also on sale at the on-site National Trust shop.
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Croft Castle Postcode for SatNav: HR6 9PW