Castell Coch (Red Castle)
Rebuilt gothic castle, Tongwynlais, north Cardiff, Wales
Photos and report by Mike Slocombe, October 2004
Perched high over vertical cliffs and surrounded by dark, wooded glades, Castell Coch (Red Castle) was rebuilt in 1890 as a country retreat for the 3rd Marquis of Bute.
The castle was built on earlier foundations of a medieval structure, and W. Burges' design incorporates a fully operational drawbridge and circular towers crowned by conical roofs.
Located a few miles north of the city (close to the village of Tongwynlais), the fairytale castle is now maintained CADW (Welsh Historical Monuments).
Although the castle looks somewhat Disney-tastic, it was rebuilt from the ruins of a medieval castle and, with a few exceptions, its external appearance is reasonably authentic.
There's not much known about the history of the original building. It started out as an earth and timber motte castle, built sometime around the end of the 11th century or early in the 12th century.
During the 1260's, de Clare and other Marcher overlords were fighting the native princes of Wales (men like Gruffydd ap Rhys of Senghenydd who controlled the area around Cardiff).
In an attempt to keep the rebellious Welsh at bay, Gilbert de Clare erected a series of large fortresses in South Wales, including Castell Coch and nearby Caerphilly Castle.
Gilbert de Clare's Castell Coch was essentially triangular, constructed with gently curving curtain walls connecting three angle towers and featuring a small oval courtyard.
It seems that building continued at the site until the 14th century (Reid, 1973), but sometime in the 15th century, Castell Coch was ravaged by fire and undermining, and rendered derelict.
By the late 19th century, the remains of the castle belonged to the 3rd Marquis of Bute, who was one of the richest men in the world.
Lord Bute had gained his enormous wealth through the mineral resources of his Glamorgan estates, and had already enlisted the services of Willliam Burges from 1866 to transform Cardiff Castle's lodgings.
Here he created lavish and opulent themed interiors, rich with murals, stained glass, marble, gilding and elaborate wood carvings.
In 1872 Lord Bute asked Burges to compile a report on the possible restoration of Castle Coch and by 1875 work had commenced on the complete restoration of the castle.
Although Burges died in 1881, his colleagues took over the work, and the richly decorated and highly imaginative Victorian fantasy was completed in 1991.
The interior is lavishly furnished with stunning ceilings, scenes from Aesop's Fables on the walls, bird and animal mouldings around the doors and fantastic furnishings and fireplaces.
Exquisite wooded carvings cover the interior, often decorated with gold leaf. This large carving shows The Fates, or Moirae, who were the goddesses who controlled the destiny of everyone from the time they were born to the time they died.
From left to right is Clotho, the spinner, who spun the thread of a person's life, Lachesis, the apportioner, who decided how much time was to be allowed each person, and Atropos, the inevitable, who cut the thread when you were supposed to die.
View from the upper balcony down into Castell Coch's compact cobble-stoned courtyard, a mere 55 feet across. For a small admission fee, you're free to roam all over the castle, and get lost in the spiral staircases and nooks and crannies.
On the top floor you can find a small room decorated with stained glass panels - this images shows St David, patron saint of Wales.
The uppermost story of the Keep Tower holds Lady Bute's Bedroom, painted in brilliant colours with with gilt and mirrors lighting up the double-domed chamber.
The walls feature paintings of various animals, including birds, monkeys and squirrels, as well as mythological beings.
Note the glass orbs atop the bedposts - well cool!
Apart from the large bed, the furniture in Lady Bute's Room is simplistic and uncomfortable - a result of Burges determination to keep true to the medieval character of the castle!
Inside the the Kitchen Tower. Note the flamboyant fireplace with heraldic arms.
There's a lovely family run cafe on the ground floor called The Bakestone, serving tea, coffees, home-made meals and cakes.
Their traditional Welsh cakes are absolutely fabulous - some of the best I've ever tasted!
Not surprisingly, there is a ghostly tale of haunting associated with the castle.
The story goes that a considerable amount of treasure was hidden in a subterranean passageway by a Royalist during the Civil War and the same Cavalier has been seen making sure that his beloved possessions have not been touched!
Castell Coch, Castle Hill, Tongwynlais, Cardiff, CF15 7JS
Tel: 029 2081 0101