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Fishpool Valley restoration project at Croft Castle

The old pumphouse in Fishpool Valley on the Croft Castle estate, Herefordshire
The old pump house in Fishpool Valley on the Croft Castle estate | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

An ambitious five-year project set about restoring the ‘Picturesque’ Fishpool Valley at Croft to its former natural glories. Read more about the work repairing the valley’s unique features and how changes to the landscape will shape the place for future visitors.

What is Fishpool Valley?

Fishpool Valley was remodelled landscaped in the late eighteenth century in the ‘Picturesque’ style, a movement to create a more natural landscape, using the principles of intricacy, roughness, variety and surprise.

In relation to the estate the valley sits hidden between the medieval castle, ancient parkland and historic avenues, an Iron Age hillfort and the neighbouring common land. It features a chain of dams and pools, as well as architectural features such as an ice house, grotto, pump house 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.

Beech woodland on the slopes of Fishpool Valley at Croft Castle, Herefordshire
Beech woodland on the slopes of Fishpool Valley at Croft Castle | © National Trust Images/Rob Coleman

What is the Fishpool Valley project?

In 2017, when the project began, Fishpool Valley had fallen into a poor state of repair. As a significant landscape, with a large proportion designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) with diverse wildlife, it was fundamentally important that the valley was restored and protected.

Part of the grotto had been lost, machinery in the pumphouse required conservation, the remaining pools were leaking with their banks eroding. Key vistas in the valley were also completely obscured by tree growth.

Woodland management

A major part of the project was woodland management. The valley was choked by secondary growth where trees prevented light reaching the valley floor, affecting plants and wildlife.

Originally, different areas had considerably sparser populations of trees. Carefully removing trees and restoration of original tree species was key to the valley’s revival.

The project, with funds raised by supporters, was able to restore the almost forgotten valley, reviving its Picturesque features, rescuing the ‘Gothick’ and other built structures from further degeneration.

Watch the video for more insight into the project:

What the project did

Read on for some of the key work undertaken as part of the project:

Restoring the features
Urgent conservation and restoration work was completed on the Gothic pump house, grotto, ice house and limekiln with a team of ecologists and archaeologists on hand to ensure they were fully protected during the work. The majority of the work was carried out in 2018 and 2019. These restorations allow for visitors to enjoy the valley as intended. You can now sit inside the grotto on a bench made by our ranger team and admire the panoramic view of the valley from within it, as was originally intended. A timber viewing platform installed inside the pump house means you can enter the building safely for the first time in many years. Take a look at the interior workings of this Picturesque building, including the remains of the beam pump and waterwheel.
Opening up the views
Lost key views throughout Fishpool Valley were gradually opened up over a five-year period by reducing secondary tree cover. The restored views were based on historic maps of the landscape from hundreds of years ago.
Repairing the dams
With the original dams and spillways repaired, water will flow down the cascade and through the valley once more, bringing the original vision for the landscape back to life for visitors and encouraging wildlife to visit the valley. These repairs were key to the restoration project and ongoing flood management.
Reintroducing conservation grazing
Conservation grazing was reintroduced into the valley in May 2020 with 20 Hebridean ewes moved in to help manage re-growth and prevent important flora and fauna from being overshadowed. Chestnut fencing and gates have been installed in parts of the valley in order to manage the livestock.
Uncovering the past
Polyolbion Archaeology visited and excavated the valley on several occasions throughout the project, with mysterious built structures, cascades and spillways all being unearthed and investigated. Hidden away for hundreds of years, the Conduit House was believed to settle water for drinking and fed water into the fishponds.
The East, or Entrance, front of Croft Castle, Herefordshire


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