Thursday, 14 September 2017

A Day out to Stokesay Castle

This is such a lovely little castle. I've been meaning to go there for a long time, and on Tuesday I finally managed it.
The journey is pretty easy - bus to Hereford, and train to Craven Arms. You can actually see the castle on the approach to Craven Arms station, so I thought it would be pretty easy to walk out and find it. The off-peak fare, by the way, was £14.10 return, which meant that the last train I could return on was the 3.38pm.
The main road through Craven Arms is parallel to the railway tracks, more or less, so it was easy to follow, and there is a pavement up one side. A lot of lorries swept past me at speed as I walked along - I wouldn't have attempted it if there was only a grass verge. Also, the pavement was on the same side as the castle, so I didn't need to cross the road.
There's a small side road leading to the castle, and by then you can see it in the distance, with the English Heritage flag flying. The road passes the old school house, now a private house, which had a lot of bird feeders for sale outside in the garden.

Next you get to the churchyard - and if you're walking, you can cut through there instead of going round to the car park, to the entrance of the castle. I didn't know this, and went the long way round.
There's a modern block facing the gatehouse, with toilets and shop, which is also where you buy the tickets. Adult entry is £7.60, or you can add on a bit for gift aid, and they give you a device to listen to with all the details of the guided tour. I didn't take mine - I already had a guide book and I hate getting distracted by a voice in my ear.
I really enjoyed exploring - the solar which has little shuttered windows to look down on the Great Hall is probably the best preserved, with wooden panelling and an impressive 17thC fireplace. Here's the view down into the Great Hall:

One room, which can only be viewed through a glass door, has medieval tiles on the floor, and a couple of rooms had notices up about the bats that roost there. They also warned visitors not to touch any bats, as there is a danger of bat rabies.
I went right up to the very top of the tallest tower:

and down to Laurence of Ludlow's strong room, with bars at the windows - and down to the cellar where you can see what look like the marks of the ends of barrels rubbed into the plaster, so probably the wine cellar.
One lady leaned into an alcove off a bedroom, wondering what was there, and I said it was probably a latrine. "Oh, they had en suite!" she said. The couple were on holiday, and asked me about other local attractions. They'd just come down from York, where they thought they'd probably stayed too long, and Chester, where they wished they'd stayed for longer.

Also trotting round the castle was a school party, looking very solemn as they filled in the worksheets on their clip boards. They were young enough to assume that any adult nearby must be there to help them, so when I was in the shop I got a little girl waving something she wanted to buy with her pocket money at me and asking how much it said on the label!

After taking my time wandering round the castle - you can even go down in the moat, where apple trees are growing now - I went over to the church, St John the Baptist. Inside, it is almost unchanged from the 17th century, with the Ten Commandments and Creed and other Biblical texts on the walls, and the box pew for the family from the castle right by the pulpit. The font is tiny, and very plain.

I also learned, from the guide book, why the town is called Craven Arms. The big public house on the main road gave it's name to the railway station, and the pub took its name from the family who owned Stokesay Castle. After the family of Laurence of Ludlow, the wool merchant who built most of what we can see now, the castle went through various hands until it reached Lord Craven in the 17th century. He had the gatehouse built - and then the Civil War started, and he probably wished he'd chosen something a bit more easily defended. The castle was taken by Parliamentarian forces on their way to Ludlow without a shot being fired, though the walls around the courtyard were later pulled down to a less defensible height, as they remain today, and all Lord Craven's estates were confiscated.

And then it was off to the tea rooms, on the other side of the car park, very nicely done in shades of white and grey with red tiles, in a red brick Victorian farmhouse. The chocolate cake was delicious, and the friendly lady behind the counter was called Zakia, and had a floral scarf over her hair.

Then it was back along the busy main road to Craven Arms, where I found a nice charity bookshop, and the Museum of Lost Content, which I didn't have time to go into. Also on the edge of town is the Discovery Centre, with a grass roof. I think it was there to publicise local attractions, and the sign outside mentioned a mammoth found locally! So there's scope for another visit.

I was also very pleased to find free public toilets on the way back to the railway station - though it was a bit of a shock to hear a disembodied voice welcoming me as I closed the door, and warning me not to linger too long!

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