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Exploring the parkland at Croft Castle

Evening sun through trees at the top of a hill at Croft Ambrey, Croft Castle, Herefordshire
Evening sun at Croft Ambrey, on the Croft Castle estate, Herefordshire | © National Trust/James Dobson

Croft has 1,500 acres of woodland, farmland and parkland and is home to a wealth of ancient trees, 'Picturesque' Fishpool Valley, archaeology and an Iron Age hillfort, all just waiting to be discovered.

Walk amongst the bluebells

Croft's parkland is transformed by carpets of bluebells in April and May. You’ll notice smatterings of bluebells in and around the trees along the entrance drive, but the biggest blankets of blue are to be found in the wood pasture. There are thousands underneath the Candelabra Oak, which is the perfect spot to get lost in your thoughts and listen to the birds.

There is intriguing folklore surrounding bluebells. Some believed that by wearing a wreath made of the flowers, the wearer would be forced to tell the truth. Others believed that if you could turn one of the flowers inside out without tearing it, you would eventually find the one you love.

British bluebells will flower at the end of April (weather depending) and will flower until late May.

Stroll up to Croft Ambrey, the Iron Age hillfort

Set on a 300-metre high ridge to the north of the castle, Croft Ambrey, the Iron Age hillfort, is one of the most elaborate hillforts in the Welsh Marches. Excavations have uncovered decorative bronze work and a piece of gold chain, which hint at the wealth of the Celtic grain farmers who built this fortress around 500 BC and farmed the landscape below.

By the time of the Roman invasion in the 1st century AD, the fort had probably already been abandoned, although legend has it that the site was used by supporters of the rebel Celtic leader Caractacus. Much of the ramparts are still intact today and the ranger and volunteer team are working to gently restore them, clearing unwanted growth and restoring the original views over the coming years.

Explore the restoration of the historic wood pasture

On your way up to the hillfort you'll walk through a historic wood pasture which is surrounded by fast-growing conifers. In autumn 2014, a large-scale conservation partnership project with the Forestry Commission began, to restore this area back to how it looked 100 years ago, improving the benefits for native wildlife and trees.

The Forestry Commission extracted the conifers and the ranger team have been busy planting native trees and have encouraged the regrowth of natural woodland and grassland plants. Low-level grazing has also been introduced. You can find out more about this project by visiting the wood pasture barn on the Croft Ambrey walk, or ask visitor reception for a leaflet on arrival.

Go birdwatching in the ‘Picturesque’ Fishpool Valley

The recently restored Fishpool Valley, landscaped in the 'Picturesque' style, is a very tranquil spot for birdwatching. See if you can spot herons, moorhens, great spotted woodpeckers, sparrowhawks and other native woodland birds.

Fishpool Valley on the Croft Castle estate, Herefordshire
Fishpool Valley on the Croft Castle estate | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Watch the wildlife in the parkland

Croft’s parkland is teeming with wildlife all year round. Fallow deer, first introduced by the Normans in the 11th century, still call Croft their home with the original deer-park boundary running along the northern edge of the car park.

Although in drastic decline as a species, the British native white-clawed crayfish can be found in the water, among fallen leaves and submerged logs in Fishpool Valley. Dormice, otters and bats are also sighted in the valley.

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.

Croft is also a busy place for bird life where you might see tawny owls, robins, finches, chaffinches, woodpeckers, nuthatches and siskins at different times of year.

Discover over 300 veteran trees

Croft has an impressive collection 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.

One particularly special tree is the Quarry Oak which was just starting its life when William the Conqueror invaded Britain. It’s remarkable to think of all that has happened in the world during the life of this tree, and that for centuries it provided the estate with valuable firewood and building material from its crown.

The Candelabra Oak is so named because of its outline. With a nine-metre girth, the Candelabra Oak is thought to be around 900 years old which means this tree would’ve been a youngster when the Magna Carta was signed in 1215.

Its shape is as a result of its being pollarded for many years until relatively recently, to provide firewood for the estate. Pollarding and coppicing are ways in which trees can be made to live longer than when allowed to grow freely.

The candleabra oak in the wood pasture at Croft Castle, Herefordshire
The candleabra oak in the wood pasture at Croft Castle | © National Trust Images/Rob Coleman

Near the Castle is the Spanish chestnut avenue which was the original formal approach to the Castle. Aerial views of the avenue show lines and clumps of these trees which could represent a battle. It is said that chestnuts were gathered from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon and were planted in the formation of the Spanish fleet.

In the neighbouring meadow there’s a fine collection of ancient English oaks which were reputedly planted in the formation of the British fleet, all done to commemorate the victory over the Spanish.

Walking at Croft Castle

There are five waymarked walks to chose from at Croft Castle where you can fully immerse yourself in the majesty of the ancient trees and the breath-taking views across the Herefordshire countryside. Throughout the parkland you'll find ancient trees, an Iron Age hillfort, woodland, orchard, a SSSI river and much more.

Family holding hands approach the gatehouse at Croft Castle, Herefordshire.

Discover more at Croft Castle and Parkland

Find out when Croft Castle is open, how to get here, things to see and do and more.

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