With a classic 'romantic ruin'.....
Although Ashby is very near to where I live I've not visited for decades. Post-Christmas extreme boredom sent me on my way there for an exploration aimed at building a Vt page.
'Ashby' means 'the settlement by the ash tree' in Anglo-Saxon. The 'de la Zouch' bit was added when the Normans invaded in 1066 and the settlement became the property of the La Zouche family.
It's just a typical small English market town. The very wide main street gives it away as a market town.....think sheep and pigs and cattle as well as stalls with vegetables, clothes etc etc. I was pleased to see that much of the architecture dates from the early 1800s ( before Queen Victoria) although I believe many of the original houses along the main street still have their earlier timber-frames, and the brick cladding and sash windows are merely a frontage.
Certainly the many narrow alleyways which lead from the main street through courtyards to parallel streets date from much earlier times. Such alleyways are a good way of making sure animals don't easily escape from market (compare with places like Stow-on-the-Wold) whilst still allowing humans to move around the town.
You'll find all the basic shops here, including some chains like WH Smith and New Look. I visited on a bank holiday, so all the cafes and restaurants were closed but Costa coffee was open, so at least I got a decent cup of coffee and could warm up a bit!
But Ashby is most famous for its castle. Originally built in the 1200s as a manor house it had grown into a proper castle by the 1400s, thanks to Lord Hastings who added a truly magnificent keep (fortified tower) and a chapel.
Mary Queen of Scots was held there for a time and, centuries later, the castle was a major Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War. It was held under siege and you can still walk the underground tunnel which was built to allow food to be brought from the massive kitchens to the tower itself.
But it was Sir Walter Scott's novel 'Ivanhoe' which first publicised Ashby castle. He used it as the background for his jousting scenes in the novel and, to the Victorians,. it became a classic romantic ruin. There is plenty of evidence of this to be seen as you climb the 98 steps to the top of the tower, for graffiti is not a new annoyance. I lost count of the number of visitors from the mid-late 180s who had felt it necessary to carve their names and dates into the stonework!
Although ruined, the castle is worth a visit. The climb to he top of the tower gives superb views across the surrounding countryside, the underground tunnel is fun and there is enough stonework remaining to give a good impression of how extensive and wealthy a castle it once was.
Ashby itself is also worth a wander.
The ancient church of St Helens, dating from the 1400s, stands near the castle. Unfortunately, it was closed when I visited. This is common with English churches; theft and vandalism over the years mean that open access is simply not feasible. But if you are lucky enough to find it open then do go inside; as well as numerous Medieval memorials you will also find a 300-year-old finger pillory, a punishment possibly used for those who misbehaved in church (?children?).
There is some fine early 1800s architecture, including some lovely terraced houses, and a 'proper' Victorian brick-built police station complete with its traditional blue lamp outside. See tips for photos and more info.
If you are in the area Ashby makes a very pleasant morning or afternoon visit.