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Ghost trees: a walk through time and art at Croft Castle

Ancient trees on the walk up to Croft Ambre Croft Castle, Herefordshire.
Ancient trees on the walk up to Croft Ambrey, Croft Castle | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Step into the shadows of time at Croft Castle, uncovering the stories of veteran, dead, and dying trees. Join us on a new walk and explore an art exhibition that brings ‘ghost trees’ to life.

To delve into the significance of Croft Castle's decaying trees, we've teamed up with fine artist Richard Gilbert, poet Sara-Jane Arbury, and photographer Paul Ligas. Together, they've embarked on an immersive creative process, exploring and creating collaborative artworks inspired by ‘ghost trees’. The project, starting in December 2023, will unfold in different phases.

A new walk and art exhibition

Embark on a journey of storytelling through art at Croft Castle. As part of the project, a new walk in the parkland will guide visitors to various trees, with artworks placed near each one of them. This walk, starting in December 2023, invites you to bear witness to the ancient trees, celebrating their past and feeling awed by their magnificence. A shorter, more accessible walk will introduce visitors to additional ‘ghost trees’.

From April 2024, the original artworks will be exhibited in the stables at Croft Castle. This indoor exhibition will provide a closer look at the creative process and allow visitors to further immerse themselves in the stories of the trees.

Remains of a tree in the background of trees and fields at Croft Castle, Herefordshire.
Remains of a tree at Croft Castle, Herefordshire | © Paula Marrett

Understanding 'ghost trees'

Ghosts are usually thought of as apparitions, recordings or imprints of former times that occur because of some dramatic crisis in the passing. Ghost trees are a phenomenon observed worldwide, drawing attention to environmental concerns. In England, the loss of broadleaved woodland and hedgerow trees over decades, coupled with threats like Dutch elm disease, acid rain, storms, ash dieback, and diseases affecting ancient trees like the Spanish Chestnuts at Croft Castle, highlights the environmental challenges faced.

For trees, death is not only an end. Fallen deadwood is a valuable habitat, a home to woodlice, beetles and countless other creatures. Standing deadwood is even better. Even after death trees survive as monoliths, a host to myriad plants and animals, and a roost for birds and bats. Some of the veteran ghost trees at Croft have been safely managed to decay where they stand, playing their part in a nutrient cycling system critical to biodiversity in the parkland and providing habitat for wildlife. ​

Exploring ‘ghost trees’ at Croft Castle

Croft has 1,500 acres of woodland, farmland and parkland and is home to a wealth of ancient trees. There's the Quarry Oak at around 1,000 years old, the newly discovered Candelabra Oak at around 750 years old and the Herefordshire county champion Douglas Fir in Fishpool Valley which stands at 57.6 metres in height.

Unlike other places, Croft Castle has chosen to let dead trees remain, creating a unique and hauntingly beautiful landscape. In the grounds, the skeletal remains of trees stand as witnesses to the passage of time. Join us on this journey through time, nature, and art as we explore the history and future of Croft Castle's ghost trees.

Tree silhouette against a sunrise sky background.
Bear witness to the ancient trees, celebrating their past and feeling awed by their magnificence. | © Paul Ligas

Explore the trees

The artists

  • Richard Gilbert: An artist passionate about capturing landscapes. His practice is based around painting, watercolour, and drawing. Notable exhibitions include "Common Ground" and "Round the Year from Stonewall Hill."

  • Sara-Jane Arbury: An award-winning writer, performer, and educator. Collaborated with organisations including the BBC and National Literacy Trust.

  • Paul Ligas: A photographic artist based in Ledbury. Primarily works in digital photography and alternative photographic processes. Notable exhibition "People of the Hop Harvest" funded by Arts Council England.

A wide shot of a few cedar of Lebanon trees bordering the lawn at Upton House, Warwickshire

Ancient and notable trees 

Ancient trees are links to our past, they're species-rich habitats that support countless other organisms. Discover what makes a tree ancient and how to recognise them.

Under shady chestnut trees

Croft Castle Pokehouse Wood walk 

A long woodland walk taking in the River Lugg – a Site of Special Scientific Interest – some ancient trees and the old bridge that was part of the original approach to the castle.

DistanceMiles: 5.5 (km: 8.8)
Evening sun through trees at the top of a hill at Croft Ambrey, Croft Castle, Herefordshire

Croft Ambrey walk at Croft Castle 

A ramble through fields and woodland, a circuit of Croft Ambrey Iron Age hillfort, then back to your starting point via the outskirts of the picturesque Fishpool Valley.

DistanceMiles: 3 (km: 4.8)