Croft Castle in Herefordshire in the Welsh Marches, occupies a site of rising and falling fortunes that has been home to the Croft family since the Norman Conquest (save for an interval of just under 200 years). It was first castle, then Elizabethan house, then nearly destroyed in the Civil War, and subsequently repaired, then given a gothic make-over in the mid-1700s. It is considered an early example of the ‘medieval revival’. Inside, the Croft family history is well-displayed. Even without stepping into the small castle, Croft’s charm is unmistakeable. The adjacent Church of St Michael and All Angels predates the main building; the ogee-shaped cupola on its bell turret has a continental appearance. The clock is unusual, having a single hand which points to the hour, adding mild confusion to a place where time already feels as if it has stood still.
The site is uncluttered, away from busy roads, and the setting is a delight. The views south and west are onto gently rolling, wooded Herefordshire and Radnorshire.
Croft Castle’s Spanish Chestnut Avenue
A short walk west of the castle lies The Spanish Chestnut Avenue. Although it is one of several in the castle’s estate — some including beech and oak — it is the most stirring, consisting of 450-year-old Spanish sweet chestnut trees. The avenue of single and triple lines is reputed to have been planted from chestnuts recovered from a Spanish shipwreck on the Welsh coast. That legend also tells us that the planting plan mirrored the crescent battle formation of the fateful Armada.
The legend supports these magnificent trees far less than time itself. Their twisting trunks and writhing branches perform a motionless time-lapse. Elemental contortions have closed branch upon limb, welded bough onto trunk. Crushing and straining stresses are frozen in place. Ancient wounds have closed in upon themselves. Several veterans have been corkscrewing themselves out of the ground. Another appears to have imprisoned an elephant, its eye stilled in time.
If you visit Croft Castle, ask for directions to these trees. You will not be disappointed.