Last week I had the great good luck to be invited to attend the Opening Day of The Landmark Trust’s latest holiday property. Dating back to the 12th century Astley Castle near Nuneaton in Warwickshire has proved to be the biggest challenge to Landmark, so far. It even proved to be a challenge right up to and including the Opening Weekend due to the waterlogged fields being unfit for visitors’ parking.
“[The Trust] was established to rescue historic and architecturally interesting buildings and their surroundings from neglect and, when restored, to give them new life by letting them as places to experience for holidays.” [From the Landmark Trust website]
In the case of Astley Castle a completely new building has been inserted sympathetically into the medieval ruin.
I first visited Astley in the mid-1990s when studying for a Masters degree in Victorian Studies. A ‘field trip’ to the places associated with George Eliot was planned and we spent the day visiting Coventry, Nuneaton, Arbury Hall and other places mentioned in her life and works including Astley church where we took in a view of the ruined castle. Astley Castle appeared in George Eliot’s story ‘Mr Gilfil’s Love Story’ as Knebley Abbey. The whole site is also part of the Arbury Estate, where George Eliot’s father, Robert Evans, was a farmer, surveyor and land agent and where the young Mary Ann Evans (GE’s real name) grew up.
The church of Astley St Mary in 2010
The church can be seen from one of the four bedrooms, July 2012
Since 2009 I have been following developments with great interest. On a visit to the Midlands that year I stopped by after browsing the secondhand book shelves at The Astley Book Farm to find the ruin being stabilised by scaffolding whilst awaiting the raising of sufficient funds to begin the huge task of bringing Astley Castle back to life again.
In October 2010 work was well under way when I visited with friends at the invitation of The Landmark Trust and we were given a guided tour of the work so far.
But in August 2011 on the next visit, amazingly, we were invited to climb to the top of the scaffolding and viewing the ongoing work from above – fluorescent jackets and hard hats compulsory!
The day also included a lunch with Landmark’s Director at the time, Peter Pearce. The lunch actually took place in the first floor sitting, dining room, kitchen.
Alongside the work on the castle improvements were being made to the area around which now include public footpaths with information boards dotted along way and landscape features including a viewing mound and fish ponds and a lake.
An Elizabethan knot garden of flowers and herbs has been planted near the castle.
Hooray for Astley! Hooray for Landmark Trust! Hooray for my Landmark Patron friends! Can’t wait to experience a stay at the castle for myself but that won’t be until the end of next year – it’s getting booked up very fast!!