Ashby de la Zouch Castle, Leicestershire
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In the 15th century, Edward IV granted Ashby de la Zouch Castle to Lord Hastings who converted what was no more than a fortified manor house into a grand castle, adding a chapel, and the Hastings Tower. Now partly ruined, this tower remains indicative of the presence it held over the castle site, soaring to the great height of 80ft (24.2m). The main part of the tower is rectangular in plan and four storeys high, with a smaller rectangular structure, attached to the eastern wall, built to the same height but containing seven levels within. Surviving parts of the tower that stand to full height offer wonderful views across Leicestershire, as well as providing close-up inspection of the decorative semi-octagonal turrets on the remaining corners of the tower.

Not being centrally located, as was more usual, Hastings Tower looks across the 'wilderness' - an area of land used as castle gardens in the 16th century - to the two smaller towers built in the south east and south west corners of this area. Each tower is quite different, one being octagonal in shape, and the other a quatrefoil. Some of the earliest buildings on the site, dating from the 12th century, can be seen in sections of wall that belonged to the Norman hall, buttery and pantry.

The hall, the oldest existing structure, has undergone many changes since it was originally built but there is plenty of evidence from the early period. Similarly with the buttery and pantry, even though only the north and east walls are still standing. To the west of the hall is a much later kitchen, with 15th century windows and doorways remaining, and the passageway used to connect the North and South Courtyards either side of the original buildings. A solar, situated to the east of the hall, was extended at about the same time and still contains a 15th century fireplace.

A very impressive ruin just asking to be explored. From the depths of its dark, underground passageways to the energetic climb to the top of Hastings Tower, Ashby de la Zouch is a fascinating castle. Even its proximity to a modern housing estate really does not detract from the pleasant and peaceful atmosphere within the walls.

 

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