This is set in a large grassy area behind the 19thC Ashby School.
This was originally a 12thC manor house and part of estate of Earls of Leicester. Fragments of this building may be preserved in hall range. After death of last direct heir, and disputes over ownership, the manor was granted in 1462 to William, Lord Hastings. He rose to prominence during the Wars of the Roses and acquired immense power and wealth in the service of Edward IV. As virtual vice-regent in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and parts of Warwickshire, he needed a residence that befitted his status.
He began building in 1472/3 and created a hunting park. He built the great tower and extensively remodelled and expanded the existing manor house, adding a new chapel (which is still used as the family burial place) and service buildings. It was set in an elaborate landscape of parks and gardens. His grand design only half realised at time of his execution in 1483. The property remained in the family who became the Earls of Huntingdon. It was held on behalf of the King in the Civil War and was fortified with additional defences and underground passageways between the buildings. It was besieged in 1644 and surrendered on generous terms. The fortifications were levelled and the Hastings tower blown up in 1648 on orders of parliament. It is still possible to see pock marks from musket balls on the walls.
Sir Walter Scott set a scene in Ivanhoe here and this really put the castle on the tourist map.
The castle is signed off South Street and reached down a narrow track past the tennis courts. There is a small wooden reception hut with toilets behind. Entering the site, the original kitchen tower is facing you on the left with the great tower on the right and remains of the other buildings and chapel between them.
The kitchen tower is now roofless. The two lower storey formed a vast vaulted cooking area with a massive open fireplace and oven. A rounded stone supported a large cauldron which was lit by a well placed light shaft above it. In the opposite corner was the well. Steps lead down to the underground storage areas with the underground tunnel leading to the great tower which was built as part of the Civil War defences. The steps looked dark and uninviting, so we didn’t investigate.
Next to the kitchens are the ruins of a two storey range which contained the buttery and pantry with a passage way between them. Beyond is the roofless shell of the great hall which had a raised dais at one end and a pair of doors at the other giving access to the kitchen, buttery and pantry. At the far end was the family parlour with the great chamber above. This still has a fine 15thC fireplace with an elaborately carved over mantle. Masques and other entertainments were held here.
Beyond is the chapel, again roofless and with locked metal railings preventing entry. In 1470 this had three galleries (closets) at the west end where the family could attend mass in private. It was stripped of its decoration after the Reformation.
The Hastings tower was big and designed to impress with carefully cut stone and the family coat of arms high on the wall above the doorway. One wall still stands to nearly its original height with empty windows and a splendid fireplace. There are the remains of a vaulted ceiling. A spiral staircase leads to the top of the tower.
The remains of the sunken gardens can be seen as depressions in the lawn to the south of the Hastings Tower. Two brick towers were built in 1530 overlooking the gardens, fish ponds and park. They had richly decorated rooms to entertain guests.
There are some information boards around the grounds. There is also a free audio guide which we declined. The castle is popular with locals as it is a lovely place to come and sit and enjoy the sunshine.
Entry is £4.60 for adults and £4.10 for concessions.
Parking is in a pay and display car park on South Street, a few minutes walk away, although there is some disabled parking outside the castle.
If visiting, it is also worth exploring the town with its 18th and 19thC brick houses. The high street is busy with some small family owned shops and several old pubs. The market hall is still used for the Saturday market.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/castles/england/midlands_south/Ashby_de_la_zouch/index.html