Fishpool Valley restoration project at Croft Castle

The purpose built bird hide at Fishpool Valley, Herefordshire

What is Fishpool Valley?

“How best to bid the verdant Landscape rise,
To please the fancy, and delight the eyes…”

Fishpool Valley was landscaped in the late eighteenth-century in the ‘Picturesque’ style. This was the movement to create a more natural landscape, using the principles of intricacy, roughness, variety and surprise. It features a chain of dams and pools, as well as architectural features such as an icehouse, grotto, pumphouse and limekiln. The careful planting of Oak, Ash, Willow, Poplar and evergreen species suggested the ‘bold roughness of nature’. Carriage rides and other walks were designed to follow the contours of the landscape, providing dramatic views across a wild, but beautiful, contrived scene.

You can see below a map extract showing the location of Fishpool Valley in relation to the Croft estate: all hidden between the medieval castle, ancient parkland and historic avenues, an Iron Age hillfort and the neighbouring common land.

A map extract showing the location of Fishpool Valley in relation to the Croft Estate
A map extract showing the location of Fishpool Valley in relation to the Croft Estate
A map extract showing the location of Fishpool Valley in relation to the Croft Estate

What is the Fishpool Valley project?

“That grace which springs from an unfetter’d mind,
Which rules the body, free and unconfined…”

A decline in landscape management has meant that the dams and features within the valley are now in a poor state of repair. Part of the grotto has been lost, machinery in the listed pumphouse requires conservation, the remaining pools are leaking and their banks are eroding and key vistas within the valley are completely obscured by tree growth.

One of the carriage-ways as it looks today.
One of the carriage-ways in Fishpool Valley as it looks today, at Croft Castle in Herefordshire
One of the carriage-ways as it looks today.

Thanks to funds raised by our supporters, we’re able to restore this almost forgotten valley. The aim of the project is to revive and enhance its Picturesque features, including the rescue of the ‘Gothick’ and other built structures from further degeneration. Discover our new film about the project and see how you can get involved.

We also aim to:

  • Repair the dams and spillways
  • Re-instate pools which have drained
  • Enhance access for visitors, including the re-instatement of walks
  • Improve habitats
  • Clear invasive tree and shrub growth in order to open up those lost key vistas.

The tree clearance will also improve the diversity of the woodland structure and help other species to thrive by increasing light levels in the valley.  

A view from inside the grotto in Fishpool Valley
A view from inside the grotto looking out at Croft Castle in Herefordshire
A view from inside the grotto in Fishpool Valley

Why is the valley being restored?

“Delights to shew the curling waters glide,
Beneath reflected rocks, or antique towers,
Amidst o’ershadowing trees, or lightly tufted flowers…”

Fishpool Valley is a historically significant landscape, with built structures that have sadly fallen into disrepair. A large proportion of the valley is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), with diverse bird life and aquatic plants and lichens. Importantly, it is home to protected species which include several species of bat and the endangered white-clawed crayfish. It is therefore fundamentally important that the valley is restored and revived so that the historical features and wildlife are protected and conserved for future generations.

Fishpool Valley as it looks today
A wooded walk in Fishpool Valley at Croft Castle
Fishpool Valley as it looks today

Why do we need to manage the trees?

Good woodland management is about creating a diverse species range and age-structure of trees. At present, the valley is choked by secondary growth where trees have prevented light reaching the valley floor. Early Ordnance Survey maps for the valley show considerably more sparse populations of trees in the different valley areas and it is this level of cover we will be working towards over the next five years. As part of the project we will be continuing our wildlife monitoring and updating conservation methods throughout the project’s development and implementation.

An artist's impression of how the valley could look post-restoration. The 'Picturesque' view has been revealed; the perfect spot for contemplation.
An artist's impression of Fishpool Valley, post-restoration
An artist's impression of how the valley could look post-restoration. The 'Picturesque' view has been revealed; the perfect spot for contemplation.

How and when are we restoring Fishpool Valley?

“Pure abstract beauty’s fleeting shades to trace,
And fix the image of ideal grace;
Combining what he felt with what he saw;
And penetrating nature’s inmost law…”

It is likely that this project will take years to complete, due to its complexity and significance. Research and planning has already begun and we will keep updating this article with news surrounding the project, including any clearance work and repairs to the structures within the valley.

Volunteers carrying out scrub clearance in the valley
Croft Castle volunteers undertaking clearance work in Fishpool Valley
Volunteers carrying out scrub clearance in the valley

The National Trust will continue to rely on funds raised by its supporters to see the project through to fruition, including the vision of a restored, Picturesque valley in the midst of Croft’s ancient parkland. This is an ambitious project and we are in need of donations to target specific aspects of the work, including re-instating walks, reviving built structures and restoring the pools, which will eventually bring to life the ‘Picturesque’ experience.

Check out the remarkable drone footage below, which was filmed in the valley during December 2017. This showcases the landscape in the early stages of the project, with slightly reduced tree cover, but there is still a huge amount of work to be done to restore this largely forgotten valley.

Latest updates

01 Apr 20

Conservation grazing

We're introducing conservation grazing into parts of the valley in spring 2020 to manage re-growth now that more light is coming in and we have cleared some of the vegetation and thinned the trees. The sheep will be a hardy breed that can graze the landscape effectively and are being sourced from a local farmer. The areas that are being grazed are based on a landscape architect’s conservation plan for the site, which is based on historic grazing of the valley (old fence posts and wire can still be found in some parts of the line that we have reinstated). It's vital that we maintain historic views and character areas, preventing the SSSI flora from being over-shaded by secondary tree growth. You will notice some changes as you walk through the valley; we have put in several gates and dogs will need to be kept on leads in these locations in order to protect livestock.

An artist's impression of a carriage-way in Fishpool Valley, but with a dramatically enhanced view across the valley.

07 Sep 19

New walks and experiences

We’ve opened up two new walks for you to discover; the Highwood Walk and the Fishpool Dingle Walk. Explore historic paths brought back to life, old carriage-rides, far-reaching views and newly restored dams and cascades. From September, you’ll also be able to pick up a Picturesque Pocket Guide to accompany you on your walk. This will guide you through the wooded valley and provide a further insight into the landscape’s rich and varied history, including its industrial past. The Fishpool Dingle walk and Highwood walk will both take you past the Gothic pumphouse; from September, don’t forget to step inside and explore the inner workings of this 'Picturesque' structure. Thanks to our supporters, urgent conservation work was carried out on the building and will soon be open for the first time in many years.

A child and parent walking through the parkland in winter at Croft Castle in Herefordshire

01 Jul 19

Summer archaeology

In July 2019, we were joined once again by Stephen Wass of Polyolbion Archaeology who led further excavations in Fishpool Valley with our dedicated volunteer team. They worked tirelessly clearing the cascade at the Grotto Pool and have also uncovered another extraordinary structure. Hidden away for hundreds of years, the Conduit House was believed to settle water for drinking and fed water into the fishponds. Take the path up the hill to the left just before the modern brick pumphouse to take a look at this structure.

A photo of the remains of the conduit house in Fishpool Valley at Croft Castle in Herefordshire