Goodrich Castle is a beautiful, ruined Medieval castle that’s well worth an afternoon’s visit. It’s made of a gorgeous red sandstone which contrasts beautifully to the blue sky on a clear day.
You’ll find Goodrich Castle nestled in the fields of leafy Herefordshire, England. It’s adjacent to the market town of Ross-on-Wye, and overlooks the Wye river.
I’ve been to Goodrich many times in my life (I grew up in Hereford!) and so I’ve been lucky enough to visit the castle on many different occasions. These photos are from my last visit in Summer 2011.
A History and Overview of Goodrich
The Marches (the green Welsh-border counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire and so forth) were always a site of fierce border-dispute between the English and the Welsh in the early Medieval times. So you might logically expect Goodrich Castle to have been at the heart of Anglo-Welsh squabbles for land.
Goodrich Castle was seldom troubled by marauding Welshmen, even though its position and architecture is expertly designed for defence. Instead, the castle was an elaborate home for noble families, including the De Valances, who rebuilt and modernised the castle in the 13th century.
The first structure of the castle was the mighty square Keep, which was completed in the mid 12th century.
As you walk along the path approaching Goodrich, it’s easy to spot that the mighty Keep is the oldest part of the castle. You can see this yourself within the picture below – the Keep is made of a green-grey stone, unlike the rest of the castle which is built in blood-red sandstone.
An elaborate home for William de Valance, Uncle of Edward I
William de Valance, a 13th century noble, was responsible for building many of the buildings that you can see in Goodrich today. William wasn’t greatly respected by other nobles – he was considered an upstart, or a bit ‘new money’ to use a modern phrase – but he was certainly well connected. He was uncle of King Edward I, and half brother of King Henry III.
He lived in the castle with Countess Joan, and their elaborate household – the castle could probably have supported around 200 nobles, guests, and their servants. The family are likely to have built the chapel, extended the Great Hall, made use of a buttery, and enjoyed their elaborate kitchen with two bread ovens, and so on!
A castle besieged from a modern enemy: Gun Powder
Until the 1640s, Goodrich Castle was well cared for and remained an exceptional example of Medieval castle construction. So how come the site today is, in majority, a ruin?
It was all down to two things: the English Civil War, and the invention of gunpowder.
“In the English Civil War, Royalists scuttled to safety in Goodrich Castle”
In the 1640s, England was thrown into turmoil – a civil war, where friends and neighbours suddenly became blood enemies.
The Parliamentarian modernisers opposed the Royalist forces and, much like neighbouring Wales, the city of Hereford was a cradle of Royalist support. However, the Parliamentarian forces were approaching rapidly.
It took two bitter sieges but, in 1645, Hereford was taken by the Parliamentarians. Horrified, the opposing Royalists scuttled to the safety of Goodrich Castle and, under the command of Sir Henry Lingen, holed themselves in the castle. Their aim? To defend the King – and also save their own necks.
Colonel John Birch was on the Parliamentarian side, and was desperate to take the castle and defeat the Royalists. But those in Goodrich were stubborn. The castle remanded under siege for months, much to Birch’s frustration.
His solution? To cast from iron a formidable cannon, like nothing before. This beast was called Roaring Meg, which bombarded the North Tower with gunpowder and shells. On 31 July 1646, with much of Goodrich Castle consigned to rubble, the Royalists surrendered.
But the destruction of Goodrich didn’t quite end there. First, Colonel Birch captured the castle, and marched out Lingen and the Royalist sympathisers to meet a grisly end. Then, in common with many other castles of the time, the Parliamentarians slighted (intentionally destroyed) much of the castle. Their aim? To prevent it from ever being used against them.
And that is how Goodrich became the ruins that you see today.
The Significance of the Deep Well in Goodrich Castle
An important spot missed off the official tour is the deep water well in the centre of the castle. You’ll find it adjacent to the spot where the cannon Roaring Meg presently stands.
As you gaze down, you’ll see that the well appears to be impossibly deep – in fact, it’s thought that the well shaft descends three times the height of the castle Keep. This well was crucial in supplying water to the castle when under siege during the Civil War.
In the 1920s, three workmen were working to remove debris from the well in an effort to preserve the castle. Terribly, the platform they were standing on broke into pieces: plunging one young man to a horrible death at the bottom of the well.
Visiting Goodrich Castle Today
The good news for visitors is that the entire site is brilliantly managed by English Heritage. There are lots of useful explanatory plaques throughout the castle that provide excellent historical information. If that’s not enough, an audio-guide is included, free, with the entry price.
The site is also is equipped with a car-park, tea-room, toilets, and obligatory gift shop. All these result from recent investment, and are impressively made.
It’s not impossible to reach Goodrich castle with public transport (take the 34 bus from Ross, or alternatively a taxi from the town centre), but it’s not easy to reach it on your own steam – driving is preferable.
If you’re searching for nearby accommodation, there’s a Youth Hostel within 1.5miles of the castle. Alternatively, there are numerous hotels and restaurants in Ross on Wye.
The ghostly couple of Goodrich Castle
How about a ghost story to finish? Well, a local legend is that the castle is haunted by two mysterious figures every full moon.
During the siege of the Civil War, it’s told, two lovers were entrapped in the four walls of the castle. Fearing for their lives if the Parlimentarians stormed the castle, they concocted a plan to escape from the castle’s four walls under the covers of darkness – and flee to safety, and to marry.
It was not to be. At the dead of night, they broke free of the castle, escaping they clutches of the Parlimentarians. They dashed downward the steep summit to their freedom, and attempted to ford the River Wye at its shallowest, intending to ride to safety. However, fate was not on their side—
…As they crossed the Wye, a combination of the waters rising and clouds obscuring the moon swept them from their horseback. They were both dragged into the river and, despite grasping frantically for each other, were pulled from each other’s grasp into the cold water, where they drowned.
Nowadays, it’s said, when the sky is clear and the moon is full, ghosts of the two lovers glide back to the castle to relieve the last time they were safe within each other’s arms. The screeching and calling of these phantoms has been heard, and, it’s said, the hauntings continue to this day….
If you’ve enjoyed this piece on Goodrich Castle, I think you might also enjoy reading about another one of my favourite castles in England – Kenilworth Castle. Alternatively, a nearby castle in the West Midlands is Tamworth.
Overblown Banquets, Fetid Toilets, And Even More Secrets of Goodrich Castle…
Why did Medieval banquets mix sweet and savoury courses?
What awful job did a gong farmer do?
And what’s the reason Goodrich Castle is called, well, Goodrich Castle?
If you’d like to unearth more mysteries of Goodrich Castle, you need my first print book, Exploring English Castles.