Astley Castle Interpretation Trail

Astley trail map

The Interpretation Trail Map

Amongst many generous donors towards the reconstruction of Astley Castle the Heritage Lottery Fund was one of the major ones; giving a grant of well over a million  pounds to help the project on its way. HLF grants come with strings attached. So Astley Castle, quite rightly, enjoys many features and events not normally connected with Landmarks, in which the general public may be involved such as local school visits, open days and living history weekends. Public involvement has also included art exhibitions and a competition to design an Elizabethan knot garden in the grounds.

Knot Garden

The Winning Knot Garden

One  excellent result of the HLF involvement lead to the establishment of an Interpretation Trail on public footpaths through the area surrounding the castle (but keeping to the other side of the moat!). Information boards along the route explain the views and relate the history of the castle and its royal connections. Of course, I walked this trail many times in both directions. The views changed as the weather and light did throughout each day.

Let me take you along the trail. (Numbers refer back to the map above)

Astley Reading Room

Astley Reading Room

1. At The Astley Reading Room two boards give a general introduction and explain the creation of Astley Castle as a ‘Landmark for the 21st Century’.

AC South elevation

Astley Castle : South Elevation

2. Astley Castle : South Elevation. Staying at the castle; this is where I began the trail each time.

“This ancient structure still remains, and the grounds surrounding it being tastefully laid out and kept in good order.” (Smith’s “A new and complete history of the County of Warwickshire”, 1829)

Astley Church

Astley Church

Collegiate church

From the Interpretation Panel

From here there’s an excellent view of Astley Church of St Mary the Virgin. [To be the subject of another post] Proceed through the churchyard to a rather muddy lane and panel 3.

Path through churchyard

Path through churchyard

Trail this way

Follow the Trails this way

Astley Parish Walk

The Astley Parish Walk shares this lane with the Trail

3. The New Garden. “Today the New Garden is used as pasture but the many lumps and bumps hint at significant buried archaeology, especially in this north-western corner” [Interpretation Board] In fact from this point we re-enter the Castle grounds and here are ancient fish pools and a man-made ‘Viewing Mound’.

Fish pond and church

The former Fish Ponds and Astley Church

Viewing mound and old oak

The Viewing Mound topped by an ancient oak tree

There can be no real doubt that the New Garden was designed as a garden for the adjacent castle and it was probably laid out with paths, raised-bed type planting, arbours, hedges, and seats, perhaps in the late 15th century. The viewing mount could date from this period too.”.

1690 Estate Map

The area is labelled as New Garden on this estate map dated 1690.

4. Little Park and Shrubbery. Here we leave the meadow and pass through a gate into a small wood or copse now known as The Shrubbery. It contains the kind of cultivated shrubs popular in the 19th century and is only shown on maps as a separate area on maps of the late 19th century and after.

BCTV path through shrubbery

BCTV footpath through the Shrubbery

Just as building work on the castle began and continued from 2008 “volunteers from the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BCTV) worked  tirelessly to clear fallen debris, self sown trees and invasive weeds along the footpaths, here in the Shrubbery and around the banks of the moat.”

Moat

The Moat contains water in places

5. East Elevation and The Plash. Emerging from the Shrubbery we gain another view of the Church and the Castle. The East Elevation is to all intents and purposes the Front and Entrance to the building. But looking in the opposite direction there’s a broad green meadow (The Plash) and the still waters of the Astley Pool fishing lake.

East elevation

The East Elevation (Front) of Astley Castle

The Old English plaesc, modernised as ‘plash’ means ‘a shallow piece of standing water, a marshy pool’ so this is likely to be an ancient natural feature, enhanced and adapted by the castle residents. … The Plash is dotted with trees, several of which are mature specimen trees – including a fine cedar tree.”

Cedar

The Cedar Tree

Plash and Pool

The Plash and the Pool

6. Astley Pool and New Road. Our path takes us across The Plash to Astley Pool, a man-made lake. Although it may seem a typical 18th or 19th century creation it is first referred to in 1501. It is now a private fishing lake.

Astley Pool

The New Road was created to link the drive from Arbury Hall to a new access to Astley Castle. The first part of this was across the top of the pool dam and this would have provided a suitably attractive route up to the castle.”

7. Dark Lane and Castle Approach. The BTCV volunteers had been busy clearing the last lane that leads back to the village and the Castle. I was surprised to read in the interpretation notes that this lane was in fact a disused ‘holloway’. I have recently read Robert MacFarlane’s recent book “Holloway“. I had assumed that these features of the landscape only occurred in Dorset and the Downs of the South of England but here was one in the Midlands.

The Holloway

The Holloway

“‘Holloway – the hollow way. A sunken path, a deep and shady lane. A route that centuries of foot-fall, hoof-hit, wheel-roll and rain-run have harrowed into the land. A track worn down by the traffic of ages and the fretting of water, and in places reduced sixteen or eighteen feet beneath the level of the fields.’ “

[See more at: http://www.faber.co.uk/catalog/holloway/9780571302710#sthash.KNxb85gv.dpuf ]

And here we are back where we started at the approach to the castle. On the left is the Coach House like the Castle left to ruin but now repaired and water-tight although it has no use at the moment. Behind are the 18th century Gothick stables.

Coach House

The Coach House

Notice

I return to the Castle to study the library and read more about ruins and the rich history of Astley and England.

Bookshelves

6 comments on “Astley Castle Interpretation Trail

  1. Nilly says:

    Thank you for drawing my attention to “holloways”. I know quite a few in the South East, but didn’t know their name or ever, I’m ashamed to say, think about their history. Another book for the pile!

    • It’s a very slim volume, Nilly, so won’t take up too much space on the pile. I think there should have been a copy in the Astley Library. These holloways remind me of those 18th and 19th century man-made paths that landowners sometimes had created so that the ‘peasants’ could cross the estate without offending the sensibilities of those in the ‘big’ house.

  2. Nilly says:

    Mr N agreed with me that old roads through abandoned villages often look like holloways – there’s a deep track down into Wharram Percy, a chalky area of course. He also told me I WOULD have heard of holloways if I’d read his W G Hoskins!

  3. […] favourite kinds of walk is on well marked paths around estates such as Fountains Abbey, Endsleigh, Astley Castle and Hackfall with an interesting variety of landscapes and views and ‘eye-catcher’ […]

  4. […] Hall the route crosses a few fields eventually reaching Strait Lane. This is an old, deep lane or holloway. You emerge from it after about a kilometer and take some field edge paths with views of How […]

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