The Norman castle at Goodrich in Herefordshire is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and well preserved in the country. The first structure here was constructed shortly before 1100, built on an exposed block of Old Red Sandstone, a widespread formation that extends across much of south Wales and which despite its name is often grey or greenish in colour, though here the strata are deep red, and as all of the castle is built of this material, the aged, weathered towers and walls are particularly rich in hue.
The castle stands at the edge of a low, flat-topped hill overlooking the River Wye, just a few miles from Wales, and was for several centuries an important fortification against cross-border incursions; in more recent times it was used as a residence, for up to 200 people, though the site also saw action during the English Civil War, when a significant amount of the structure was damaged, and it has remained a ruin ever since, albeit in a very good state of overall preservation.
The approach to Goodrich is along a quarter mile path; the parking area and visitor centre are kept a respectful distance away, and the site is mostly unspoiled by modern additions. The last century saw a certain amount of restoration, and in recent years steps and walkways have been installed in order to access certain areas, but the majority is authentic, original and very impressive.
The name of the castle and the adjacent village derives from the Anglo-Saxon lord Godric of Mappestone, who oversaw the first construction phase, at the end of the 11th century - initially using timbers, but these were gradually replaced by the local sandstone during the 12th and 13th centuries. The first masonry structure was the keep, and this remained the principal fortification for the next hundred years, as the castle changed ownership several times while seeing use in defending against raids from the Welsh side of the border. The castle was significantly improved after about 1280 by William de Valence, a half brother of Henry III, when additions included three main towers, their connecting walls, the gatehouse and the barbican (a fortified enclosure, outside the main gate) at the entrance. Following more ownership changes, Goodrich passed to the Talbot family, in whose possession it remained for several centuries, until 1616. The castle was subsequently renovated, besieged and partly damaged during the English Civil War in 1646, then deliberately further impaired (slighted) shortly after, in order to prevent any future military use. Once more the site was owned by various people over the next few hundred years, until being acquired by the government in 1920.
The castle is situated just north of the little village of Goodrich, along a side road one mile from the A40, about half way between Monmouth and Ross-on-Wye. The river passes below the north side, upstream flowing across open fields, then to the south becoming enclosed in a deep valley and adopting a more meandering course. The approach road to the castle ends at the car park, for which a separate charge is levied, this in addition to the regular entrance fee paid at the adjacent visitor centre. From here a straight, tree-lined path leads northwards to the castle, at the edge of the hill, bordered to the southeast by green fields but by trees in the other directions including along the steep slope to the north, above the river. The trees are of recent origin, planted in the 1890s; before then the castle would have been entirely surrounded by open countryside.
Goodrich Castle comes slowly into view through the trees, and the first proper sight is of the south-facing walls, including the two sturdy towers at either end, both round in cross-section and reinforced by angled, flared buttresses, anchored to the sandstone bedrock, which is visible along the whole length - gently inclined, red strata that merge seamlessly with the masonry above. In the middle of the walls, coloured more grey than red, is the rectangular keep, the oldest of the surviving sections, rising some way above the towers. The south and east sides of the castle look down on a ditch, a party natural feature; resembling a moat though never filled with water. The path proceeds along the east side of the castle, which is similar in appearance to the south, as far as the entrance at the northeast corner, then finally across the barbican, up some causeway steps and over a bridge (originally a drawbridge), and into the gatehouse.
The entrance to the castle is through a narrow passageway, between a small guard house on one side and a larger chapel on the other. At one time the gateway was protected both by two sets of doors and two portcullises, these long since removed though evident from sets of grooves down the walls. The chapel is lit by two stained-glass windows, at either side, both of recent construction, though one uses authentic, aged glass. Other features, all made of stone, include an altar, sink, and several seats, while a side window overlooks the castle entrance, and two sets of steps lead to an upper, roofless floor that spans both sides of the gatehouse. The central, grassy courtyard is bordered by the east and north ranges, the great hall to the west and the keep and the kitchen to the south, with circular towers at the other three corners, all originally of three storeys. The towers lack interior floors (these were removed after the civil war) though the upper part of one, the southeast, is accessible by wooden steps. The top of the keep is also reachable, via a particularly dark, steep and narrow spiral staircase, to which a rope is attached to aid the climb. A gate, originally the postern door, in the far wall of the north range accesses the lower level of the castle, where relics include low wall remnants from several stables, and it is well worth walking all around the perimeter to see the defensive walls close up, returning to the gate after passing under the entrance causeway.