You know the image of the castle with turrets which is the standard one on Disney films? Well, in the woods just outside Cardiff in south Wales, there is a castle that looks just like that. It is called Castell Coch (Red Castle) and can be found on a rocky ledge overlooking the Taff Valley near the village of Tongwynlais.
The castle was built in the late 19th century, commissioned by John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquess of Bute. He was the paymaster, but the architect and designer was William Bruges who created a masterpiece of fantasy. The castle was built as a summer or temporary residence for the Marquess and his family as an escape from his other residence of Cardiff Castle. Both castles are arguably the best examples of Victorian mediaevalism in the UK.
William Bruges died ten years before the interior of the castle was complete, but his colleagues worked from his designs and the results are spectacular.
The castle was built on the ruins of a 13th century castle, first owned by a Welsh chieftain Ifor Bach (Little Ivan) and then by the Norman conquerors the De Clare family. It was destroyed, it is thought in the 14th century during a Welsh insurgency against the usurpers, the Normans.
Now you can see traces of this first castle in the outer walls, the stones are grey, whereas the Victorian castle stones are redder. The Kitchen Tower’s base is part of the mediaeval fortress, with walls more than three metres thick.
You go into the castle (more of a folly really) across a drawbridge over a dry moat – it is dark because of the looming tower and the wood around the castle. You enter the Tower where ther is now a café and can continue into the rooms. These are spectacular with ceilings so ornate that when I took my daughter there – before modern technology made it easy to see, we lay on the thickly carpeted floor and gazed up at the ceiling for some time. Other visitors accommodated us and one American remarked that he wished he had the courage to join us!
Lady Bute’s bedroom looks as though it comes out of the ‘Arabian Nights’ as it has a Moorish feel to it with its paintings of pomegranates and monkeys on the walls and domed ceiling. That is very ornate with gold and mirrors as well as the paintings.
If you are feeling energetic after a visit to Castell Coch, you can explore the Welsh woodland where there are sculptures of a Welsh dragon, goblins, fairies and even a treasure chest! It’s a great walk for kids as they never know what delights of fantasy they may come across next! This walk is called the Lost and Found Trail.
It is said that Castell Coch is haunted, click here to find out more!
If you consider how much the third Marquess of Bute spent on his folly (and Cardiff castle) then you should be able to understand how much his family had made from the process of industrialization in Wales. They owned vast tracts of land stretching across what are now counties, and they had their fingers in all industrial pies – railways, mines and iron works. No wonder this marquess built a fantasy castle to escape the nightmare landscape he and his family had helped to create!
- Eating and Drinking in Cardiff, Capital of Wales (lynnee8.wordpress.com)