Today we were so excited to be able to explore the famous Castell Coch, the drive here is just north of Cardiff; you can actually spot the castle up in the vast woodlands as you are driving down the M4 with its cylindrical turrets and pointed rooftops, this castle is worthy of the Disney characters Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty. We were delighted to get the chance to explore here and discover the lavish interiors inside. Join us as we discover who built this fairy-tale folly and find out more about how it got its iconic design and why it’s one of Wales’s most visited castles.
Going back to its origins, the first castle on the site was more than likely built after 1081, during the Norman invasion of Wales; it formed one of a string of eight fortifications that intended to defend the newly conquered town of Cardiff and tried to control the route along the Taff Gorge. It took the form of a raised earth work motte that was protected by the surrounding steep slopes of the Fforest Fawr. The castle itself is often described as a rich man’s folly, but there is much more to the castle than mere folly. In fact, a better and more accurate description might be a rich couple’s love nest. It was in 1760 that these abandoned and forgotten ruins were brought by the Earl of Bute, it was in 1848 that the third marquee of Bute, John Crichton-Stuart inherited the castle and the great family fortune and in 1871 he turned to his chief engineer to clear up the debris and cleanse the ruins. It was then that the architect William Burges was employed and the reconstruction of the castle began later in 1875. Although Burges died six years later, his plans continued through, with his team of assistants and craftsman and the reconstruction was completed at the end of the 19th century. But together they had created an extraordinary Victorian vision of a medieval castle in richly decorated gothic style.
After walking over the impressive drawbridge and staring up at the elegant building with conical towers, Our visit today led us straight into the main rooms within the stronghold that gave us a small introduction to the castle and it’s backstory including a family tree and historic timeline and more interactive exhibits. Then leading up the first set of spiral staircases which follow on to different floors and exhibits and the upper courtyard you come across several rooms till you reach the ramparts for an overview of the beautiful wooded parklands.
While there is no main feature in the courtyard, except maybe just the fact that it’s the courtyard of the Castle itself, it does give you an absolutely priceless moment to look up and down at the magnificent walls of the castle around you. Definitely a surreal feeling to be standing on the ramparts of the courtyard and peering over the ledges down to see the views, you really can see everything that’s going on too with the many windows circling the castle too.
The way they have portrayed the working kitchen is great too, with a huge range that they would have had the servants preparing the meals and cooking for the lord and lady when entertaining guests and even a serving hatch leading to the banqueting hall next door is interesting to see. The kitchen was more functional than luxurious compared to the other rooms in the castle, it’s been laid out as if it still in use with pots, pans and other utensils.
You’re able to walk into the room at the top of the well tower which used to be a private chapel, it’s here that ten of the twenty stained glass windows are housed and the other ten are at nearby Cardiff Castle and it’s said that each of the stained panels had a meaning to the religious Lord Bute. There is a panel here that depicts the saint of wales, St David. They have also put seating in around so you can sit and appreciate how beautiful they look and put yourself in Lord Butes shoes when he was up here sitting and listening.
The gothic banqueting hall occupied the first floor of the hall block and features high stencilled ceilings and colourful murals depicting a medieval theme throughout as you look at the chimney in the room you will be able to see the statue of Lucius of Britain, who was a supposed 2nd century King of the Britons, this is incredible to see up close if you get the opportunity and its important that you take the time looking at the different paintings and photographs here as they really do help paint the story of the people who once lived and dined here. And if you peer out of the windows, you’ll find amazing views of the forest beyond and you can see towards Cardiff!
Wandering inside the drawing room is absolutely fascinating; this had to be by far our favourite room of the trip here, you are blown away by the beautifully decorated and botanical illustrations and of course the incredible statues and the fireplace that draw you into the middle. This sumptuous, awe-inspiring room occupies both the first and second floors of the castle keep, together with a minstrel’s gallery on the upper level.
After chatting with the lady working inside the room we discovered that hidden in the walls there was a secret door that led down to a stairway, I mean, if you had the money why wouldn’t you build a secret passage way too? Some of the illustrations had stories attached to them including famous fables like the hare and the tortoise and lesser known ones like the cats and the cheese. All around the room they have pairs of daisies painted, it’s the belief that these represented Lord and Lady Bute. One of Lord Butes passion believed in the mystical side, and he was very keen on zodiac signs, inside the room he had installed tiles in the columns in the theme of zodiac symbols. All these very intrigue details are wonderful to discover and you’ll find yourself in awe finding different stories and different meanings it’s truly something incredible you don’t see today in other castles.
Occupying the top section of the castle keep tower is Lady Butes bedroom, richly decorated and a double domed ceiling its beautiful to see. Her large, low bed is the central feature of the big room, painted in a scarlet and gold colour and topped off with crystals at each of the four corners. Love was the theme for decoration, displaying carved monkeys, grapevines and nesting birds topping the pillars. Her bedroom was much more extravagant then Lord Butes bedroom just below on the second floor of the keep tower. Still decorated but much simple and plain features including a geometric style encompass his room, the elaborate fireplace, dressing table and painted washstand are based on pieces that were made by Burges for his own home in Kensington, London. His bedroom consists of a single bed, quite unusual and made of copper played cast iron.
I think visiting here, you need half a day to discover everything, as we still had rooms of the bottom half of the courtyard we didn’t get to explore, but that’s for another trip and for you to discover if you decide to visit here. Thank you so much for all the wonderful support we’ve been receiving on the channel, it really means a lot to us.
Till next time.