Goodrich Castle has been left to expose its history which also opens up puzzles. Its prominent position no longer feels commanding; the main road diverts to the west, and it’s not visible from the river due to the increased tree-line and crumbling walls. It reveals itself to the visitor suddenly, after a walk that wouldn’t have been taken by the visitors to the original occupants. Almost as soon as you look at it you can see the different styles of construction with its white keep stark against the deep red of the massive towers, the delicate tracery windows lined up with the defensive arrow slits.
The castle feels as much as a home as a garrison. Once you’re past the intimidating double-portcullis arrangement, the courtyard is a domestic scale and the stone walls are set with large hearths, the red of much of the castle stone giving it a warmth that you might not usually associate with the defensive edifice. Walls have crumbled and roofs dismantled leaving ghost imprints. At one point an old roof line is cut through by a later fireplace with both connected spaces now gone.
The whole castle is perched on a rocky outcrop surrounded by a rocky gully, but to what extent it’s natural or quarried is hard now to tell. There is a stunning view of the castle from Kerne Bridge, which is not the way many people would have reached the castle historically, while the fordable river to the north is now a patchwork of fields and more recent woodland. I’m told there’s a magnificent view from the far bank of the river to the north. It’s the classic romantic ruin, and as such becomes a part of the picturesque Wye Valley tourist trail where Gilpin encourages Wordsworth and Turner to portray a pastoral image of the landscape.
So it’s easy to forget that this is a battlesite, of a desperate siege of the civil war, and that much of the damage we now see is a result of the attacks from Roaring Meg and the subsequent post-defeat slighting. Spend enough time here and you do start to re-imagine the building in its glory commanding the plain, and the movements of the people down the centuries. I was tempted to write up Goodrich through its basins, which puncture into the walls throughout, and there is nothing like these sorts of personal touches to evoke the occupant so vividly. To open the entrance gate, a huge timber would need to be drawn back, which would in turn then block the chapel altar.
There is the death of Thomas Wheeler to consider, as he worked to preserve the castle in the 1920s, falling down the well. The well could be the oldest surviving part of the castle site and might be a remnant from the pre-Norman site. Early Christian and iron-age life was lived here, but the remains are scant. Instead we have the ruin revealing its enigmatic story nestled in a now-secluded bend of the Wye. Behind that, however, is a network of connexions; the castle was for some time in the ownership of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, whose descendants would create their version ideal English arcadia at Wilton House. The Wilton landscape is well-trimmed, while Goodrich was enhanced by “the luxuriance of the scenery”, with the setting between Coppitt Hill and the spire of Ross placing it “in fantastic shapes and forms”. I agree with Charles Heath that the addition of ivy would enhance the aesthetic and there’s magnificent Victorian photographs which prove the point, but to follow in the steps of Charles Heath is to commence a journey through an England that continues to hold our imagination.
With many thanks to Alex, Jack, Jo and Richard on site for all their time and enthusiasm.
Ron Shoesmith – Goodrich Castle: Its History and Buildings (Logaston Press 2014)