Posted 7th Aug 2015
Britain is filled with long forgotten, and often hidden, gems that once were a hive of activity. Dave Hamilton, the author of new book Wild Ruins, reveals his favourite ruins from castles and follies, to relics and other remains that are still worth exploring today
Roche Rock, Roche Village
The imposing ruin of Roche Chapel overlooks Roche village from 20 metres up on its granite outcrop. You can reach the chapel by means of carved stone steps in the side of the rock, via a field filled with bilberries in late summer. Story has it that Jan Tregeagle, a sort of Cornish Faustian figure, while trying to escape demon guards got caught with his head inside the chapel’s window but the rest of his body stuck outside. His head was in the sanctuary of the holy building but the rest of him was at the mercy of the demons. After he had suffered days of torment, a local priest was forced to remove him with the help of two saints. Although a fascinating fable it does beg the question why he came in through the window when the door is a much easier form of entry? The site features in many climbing guides and is suitable for all levels of climber from beginner to expert.
How to get there: From Cornwall Services on the A30 take the B3274 heading west to Roche, Victoria and the station. After 1¼ miles turn left to stay on the B3274 towards Roche and St Austell. Second exit at the roundabout in Roche past the Temperance Hall. Continue over the second roundabout, take the second exit and pull in to the lay-by 200 metres on the left near the sports ground. Walk through the car park, along the football pitch then follow paths into the field where Roche Rock is situated. If a match is on, walk via the road, to the footpath off the Bugle road (left at the roundabout).
Co-ordinates and postcode: 50.4020, -4.8312, PL26 8HB
Old Wardour Castle, Tisbury
Set by a lake and woods, in rolling downland, this out-of-the-way castle has substantial remains, large grounds and romantic gardens to explore. It was built in the 14th Century as a luxury fortified house but was badly damaged during the Civil War. By the 18th Century, the castle was admired as a romantic ruin and became a feature in a landscaped garden. For the garden grotto, built around this time, stone was used from the castle and from nearby Tisbury stone circle. Today you can climb a spiral staircase to the top of the turrets for superb views over the countryside. The Wessex Ridgeway long distance path passes alongside the castle, offering excellent short strolls or long hikes in the area.
How to get there: Head south out of Tisbury past station and take the right fork, looking for the English Heritage sign 1½ miles on the left. The car park is 70 metres from the castle.
Co-ordinates and postcode: 51.0365, -2.0888, SP3 6RR
Hadleigh Castle, Near Benfleet
Hadleigh dates back to 1230 when it was under the Stewardship of Hubert de Burgh. King Edward III later set about enlarging and refortifying the site in 1360-70. Rather than a castle built in the sand, Hadleigh Castle was built on London clay which is susceptible to landslides. By the 17th Century a mixture of this unstable land, along with neglect, had all but left the castle in ruins. The 18th and 19th-century trend for romantic ruins meant the castle came back into its own and was painted by John Constable in 1829. Today just two large towers remain, along with fragmentary sections of wall. Visit towards the end of the summer and you’ll find Hadleigh is a fantastic site for foraging, with rosehips, haws and blackberries along with many coastal forageable goodies. The Salvation Army own nearby Hadleigh Farm and run a pleasant tea room near the site.
How to get there: Hadleigh is 5 miles West of Southend-on-Sea. Take Chapel Lane off the A13 in Hadleigh just past Morrisons heading north west. Park at 51.5524, 0.5946 and walk from Hadleigh Country Park (1-2 miles depending on route taken). Or take Castle Lane, just off the High Street, opposite the green in centre of Hadleigh, however there is limited parking at end of Castle Lane.
Co-ordinates and postcode: 51.5474, 0.6072. 51.5441, 0.6096, SS7 2AP
Kenilworth Castle, Kenilworth
In 2014 English Heritage completed their series of staircases and platforms to allow you to climb right up to the top of this grand Elizabethan ruin. Now you can peek into the chambers and rooms that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, constructed within his grand tower - built to win the heart of Elizabeth I. The queen visited a number of times but sadly for Dudley she never yielded to his offers of marriage. You can easily spend two hours or more wandering around the extensive ruins of Kenilworth Castle and its recreated Elizabethan gardens. Regular events take place there too.
How to get there: Hadleigh is 5 miles West of Southend-on-Sea and is signposted from Kenilworth. The following buses would also take you to the castle, Johnsons of Henley 539, Travel West Midlands 11 and 11X and Stagecoach U12.
Co-ordinates and postcode: 52.3492, -1.5916, CV8 1NE
Llanthony Priory, Abergavenny
Llanthony Priory is one of the most striking ruins South Wales has to offer. It is well worth the diversion off the Offa’s Dyke long distance footpath where it can be seen from the high ridge of the path as you pass from Pandy to Hay-on-Wye. The location of Llanthony Priory proved to be both a blessing and a curse throughout its history. This Norman, Augustinian priory is situated in a remote valley, the Vale of Ewyas, in the middle of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The 12th-century Welsh historian Giraldus Cambrensis, or Gerald of Wales, described it as being 'fixed amongst a barbarous people' due to the regular attacks made on the priory by the local Welsh population. Because of these attacks, Miles de Gloucester, the 1st Earl of Hereford, eventually founded Llanthony Secunda Priory as a retreat for the monks of Llanthony. What makes this site special is there is a pub selling real ales and Thatcher’s cider along with teas, coffees and ice cream.
How to get there: From Abergavenny head north on A465, through Llantilio Pertholey. At Llanfihangel Crucorney, turn left after the Skirrid Inn, veer left before the river, and then stay on the road through Llanthony to the priory. It is signposted well in the area, and you will just have to trust the signs as they can seem few and far between. There is also on-site parking.
Co-ordinates and postcode: 51.9449, -3.0365, NP7 7NN
You can find the rest of this feature in the September/October issue of LandLove page 112 - 115.
Extract taken from Wild Ruins: The Explorer's Guide to Britain's lost castles, follies, relics and remains by Dave Hamilton, published by WildThingsPublishing.com, and is available from all good bookshops, RRP £16.99.
LandLove readers can purchase Wild Ruins for £11.99. To redeem simply visit www.wildthingspublishing.com, quoting 'Landlove' at the checkout.
Photos courtesy of Paul Stevenson, Matt Smith, Dave Hamilton, Alan Harris, Mark Wheatley, Derek Finch, DaRTY 53 and Derreck Prescott