There are two views about castles. The romantic vision is a dream of towers and turrets, moats and drawbridges, with rambling roses glimmering palely in the moonlight. The practical version is that they are remote, cold and crumbling, draughty and financially draining.
And then there is Wilton Castle, in the tiny hamlet of Wilton on the outskirts of Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. Set in just over two acres of glorious gardens that border the River Wye, it has Norman towers and battlements, a moat and rambling roses, but is also a warm and comfortable five-bedroom house, having been lovingly restored.
Alan and Sue Parslow bought Wilton Castle 15 years ago. ‘For the first five years it was unlivable,’ says Sue. ‘The rampart walls were dangerous – mountains of rubble. You couldn’t get upstairs and we had to wear hard hats everywhere.’
Alive with history! Part of the surviving structure with the manor house behind it
An aerial shot of Wilton Castle, which is on the outskirts of Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire
Three factors mitigated. ‘First, Alan could see the potential. He used to be a builder and a farmer, and is good at juggling money. Second, we had a massive grant from English Heritage. And lastly, our builders had just finished work on Wells Cathedral, so they really knew what they were doing.’
The property is a Grade I listed scheduled ancient monument, standing on the site of a motte-and-bailey castle. Rebuilt in sandstone in the 12th Century, it maintained a garrison for 300 years to guard the river crossing from Welsh marauders.
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It was first the residence of a Norman family, the De Longchamps. After three generations it passed by marriage to the De Grey family, who were to be there for 300 years. A large part of the surviving ruins date from the earlier years of their tenure. Alterations by subsequent residents conferred Georgian and Victorian features.
By the 16th Century the military importance of Wilton Castle had diminished, and a manor house was built into the fabric of the castle by Sir John Brydges, Lieutenant of the Tower of London.
AT A GLANCE
Wilton Castle, which is for sale through estate agents Jackson-Stops & Staff for £1.495 million, comes with the option to buy the title ‘the Lord of Wilton Castle’.
Originally the castle had a gatehouse and five towers, with walls surrounded by a moat. The moat is now dry but the stream that fed it still flows through the gardens.
Of the original towers, three remain: the East Tower, when it was no longer needed for defence, was converted into a dovecote. The Parslows, meanwhile, have completely restored the North West Tower.
Sue says: ‘English Heritage were reluctant at first but we really wanted people to see at least a part of the castle as it would have been. We put back floors, doors, leaded windows, roof and chimney. It’s been a magnet for romantics. We kept being asked whether we would allow it to be used for weddings, so we applied for a licence.’
Holding weddings turned into a small business, with marriage ceremonies being conducted in the tower and receptions in a marquee. ‘We were booked for weddings every weekend from May till September,’ says Sue. ‘Eventually it got too much for us. But the licence is still operational.’
The Parslows have not exhausted all the potential the property offers. Aside from the coach house, which could be converted to further accommodation, they have commissioned plans to restore the Great Tower, at the entrance.
‘We will be very sad to leave,’ says Sue. ‘But we need to be near our children.’