Set in the heart of Herefordshire’s countryside at Croft Castle is the ‘Picturesque' Fishpool Valley — home to an ambitious restoration project which has been going on for the past two years.
As part of the conservation and enhancement of the Valley, the National Trust have opened two walks for the public. The new Fishpool Dingle walk and Highwood walk are the latest additions to the vast improvements being made to the historical landscape.
The Valley now
The Valley as it could look like
A launch event was held for the walks in September. Along the footpaths, people can explore old carriage-rides, far-reaching views and newly restored dams and cascades. They will both take you past the Gothic pumphouse where walkers are encouraged to step inside and explore the inner workings of the ‘Picturesque’ structure.
Project manager Imogen Sambrook, who has been overseeing the conservation since the start, tells us what ramblers can expect or, rather, not expect to see. People might not anticipate the amount of dead ash trees in the Valley, she explains, they have suddenly been destroyed by ash dieback — a highly destructive disease otherwise known as chalara — which will result in the death of 90 per cent of the Valley’s large ash tree population.
Imogen says her favourite way to do the walks is by combining them.
‘I begin with the Highwood walk,’ she says, ‘and at the hairpin of the North end of the Valley, I go through a little gate and join the Fishpool Dingle walk which [leads] to the new pool at the head of the Valley, then to the grotto and down the East bank where you can see lovely light through the beech trees and then across to the pumphouse.’
She claims this is the perfect time of year to follow the walks because of the beautiful leaf fall and the opportunity to walk through ‘a shower of ash trees.’
‘It is one of the most beautiful landscapes in the whole of the National Trust and it is an easy walk,’ adds Imogen, ‘you have to walk around and explore the scene and different contours looking down on [the Valley] and I think the delight and surprise that comes around every corner is a wonderful thing to be able to behold.’
Sound idyllic? Visitors are invited to download or pick up a pocketbook to accompany your walk which provides further insight into the landscapes history and guides you on your journey through the wooded Valley.
A decline in management of the historically significant landscape meant that the dams, built structures and features within the Valley have fallen into disrepair. Part of the grotto had been lost, machinery in the listed pumphouse required attention, major viewpoints were completely obscured by tree growth while the remaining pools were linking and their banks eroding.
The Valley is also home to a protected bat species and endangered white-clawed crayfish contributing to its recognition of a large proportion of it as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
In addition to the aim to ‘revive and restore [Fishpool Valley’s] Picturesque features,’ — a concept characterised by the pictorial values of architecture and landscape adopted by the 18th century Valley — the National Trust set initial aims at the beginning of the project in March 2017:
- Repair the dams and spillways
- Re-instate pools which have drained
- Enhance access for visitors, including the re-instatement of walks
- Improve habitats
- Clear invasive tree and shrub growth in order to open up those lost key vistas
The charity claim the tree clearance will also help different species to thrive by improving the amount of light able to reach the Valley floor.
Imogen says: ‘It’s important to recognise that the site is a grade II registered park and garden and it [is] something which we should be trying to conserve for each generation to enjoy.
‘By not managing the natural environment, we’re gradually losing the historic environment and while there’s something special and exciting about discovering parts that are almost lost, it’s quite a selfish way to behave to let it go without trying to conserve them. It’s important to balance the conservation of both of those things,’ she adds.
Completed work so far includes opening up key views and lost walks, restoration of built structures, dam and spillway repairs, repairing the pumphouse and grotto and much more. View the full timeline.
Imogen explains how valuable volunteers are. ‘We have a team of ranger volunteers — about 20 — and I can’t overstate it, they are the backbone of the project because they do all the work from the archaeology and low level trimming to [giving] talks and [doing] research. The project wouldn’t be where it is without them.
‘There’s still a funding shortage to do all of the work we want to, but we have now repaired three out of the seven dams and we would like to do two more next year.’