Although one of the earliest Norman fortifications in England, Snodhill Castle in Herefordshire is largely unknown, since not much remains and the site was for several centuries completely overgrown, and hence unvisited. The ruins are privately owned, not under the care of English Heritage like many other castles, though are open to the public free of charge, after extensive clearance and stabilisation work, starting in 2012.
The castle of one is one of many in the Welsh Marches, constructed along the English-Welsh border soon after the Norman conquest, and situated atop a small, isolated hill overlooking the broad valley of the River Dore, known as Golden Valley, five miles south of the confluence with the River Wye, and one mile south of Dorstone, was also once had a castle, though nothing remains.
At Snodhill the castle was inhabited until the sixteenth century then lay empty for another hundred years or so before being mostly dismantled, the stones used to build a nearby manor house, Snodhill Hall. What remains are fragmentary walls, some quite photogenic, plus ditches, mounds and embankments showing where other structures once stood. The site has good views and is easily reached by a short walk uphill from the road through Snodhill village.
A fortification on Snodhill was probably established before the conquest, as shown by extensive earthworks across the lower slopes, these got usually associated with the Normans, but the castle dates from around 1070, initially a timber structure but soon augmented with a stone keep and curtain wall, perhaps as early as 1080, which if so would make this the fourth oldest Norman stone castle in Britain. The fort was built by William FitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford (died 1071), passing to one of his companions, Hugh l'Asne, and later to Hugh's son-in-law Robert de Chandos; it then remained in the Chandos family for over three centuries, during whose occupation the structure was expanded and partially rebuilt. There are no records of any significant military action though the site may have been re-fortified and besieged during the Civil War, following several later changes of ownership, and it was certainly just after the war, around 1650, when most was taken down and the site abandoned, left to become completely overgrown with trees. The place was cleared in 2012 to facilitate surveying and stabilisation work, by Historic England, and since 2016 the ruins have been owned by Snodhill Castle Preservation Trust, which carries out ongoing excavations and investigations.
Snodhill Castle is reached by a narrow lane ('The Castle') on the east side of the village one mile from the B4348; a grassy verge has parking space for a few vehicles. A quarter mile path climbs the hill, passing earthworks and low wall fragments, to the main part of the ruin, on the summit. The tallest surviving masonry is from the central keep, originally a twelve-sided structure, from where one wall ran northwestwards to a round tower, or possibly second keep, and another southwest to a third building, thought to be a chapel, these two also linked by a wall to create a triangular inner enclosure, beyond which, to the west, were other structures in the outer court. The round tower is thought to have adjoined several residential rooms.