Sunday, January 31, 2010

More of my favorite castle of Wales

We will start off today with Cardiff Castle in the center of Wales capitol city, Cardiff. Spanning over 2000 years, the Castle has been a Roman Garrison, a Norman stronghold and in Victorian times a Gothic fairytale fantasy. In the early 19th century the castle was enlarged and refashioned in an early Gothic Revival style for John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute by Henry Holland. But its transformation began in 1868 when 3rd Marquess of Bute commissioned William Burges to undertake a massive rebuilding which turned the castle into a 19th century fantasy of a medieval palace. This relationship culminated in dazzling architectural triumphs of which Cardiff Castle is the greatest of all. Not to be missed in the castle are the Winter and Summer Smoking Rooms, the Chaucer Room, the Arab Room, Lord Bute's Bedroom and the Roof Garden. Each time I am in the castle I wander around in awe at the incredible wealth and beauty it represents. The castle is administered by the Welsh Historic Trust and is open to the public.
Just a short drive from Cardiff we find Castell Coch. What was created at Cardiff Castle was done on a much smaller scale with the creation of Castell Coch. The castle is a fairy tale come to life and was built reproducing a small medieval Welsh chieftain's stronghold. Another collaboration of the 3rd Marquess of Bute and William Burges it was built in the 1870's and has the most remarkable interior decoration. Burges was given free rein on this castle and the result is a delight! The Drawing Room and Lady Bute's bedroom have ceilings and wall paintings that are almost equal to those at Cardiff Castle. Although the castle was never meant to be a permanent residence, I find that I could move right in tomorrow and be quite happy! The castle is administered by the Welsh Historic Trust and is open to the public.
Our ninth castle is Bodelwyydan Castle in Denbyshire in the north of Wales and is reputed to be one of the most haunted! The castle has been the subject of two episodes of television's "Most Haunted" and Sci Fi's "Ghost Hunters International". The history of the house and estate dates back to before 1460 but the association with the Williams family only from around 1690. As well as being a historic house and museum, the Castle are resplendent with large areas of formal garden and natural woodland. Bodelwyddan Castle is a regional partner of the National Portrait Gallery, housing many wonderful portraits from the 19th Century collections of the London national museum. In addition, the Castle displays collections of furniture from the Victoria & Albert Museum, and sculpture from the Royal Academy of Arts. The castle is run by a charitable trust and is open to the public.
The 10th castle in this series is Chirk Castle in the Northeast of Wales. As one of Edward I's ring of castles, Chirk has been occupied continuously as a castle and stately home for almost 700 years. It was built in the late 13th century by Roger Mortimer, Justice of North Wales. The castle was sold for 5,000 UK pounds to Sir Thomas Myddelton in 1595 and his descendants continue to live in part of the castle today. The interior of the castle includes the Gothic style Cromwell Hall, with oak panelling and impressive arrays of arms and family heraldry. The neo-classical Grand Staircase is a hugely impressive feature, hollowed out of a circular tower and hanging in the gallery a fine collection of family portraits. The state dining room boasts a ceiling with fine plasterwork and mythical images as well as exquisite period furnishings. One of the most impressive of the older sections is Adam's Tower, which housed a former dungeon where French prisoners from Agincourt were locked up. The castle is managed by the National Trust and is open to the public.
Another National Trust Property is castle number eleven, Powis Castle. Powis is a medieval castle, fortress and grand country mansion located near the town of Welshpool in Mid Wales. The residence of the Earl of Powis is known for its extensive, attractive formal gardens, terraces, parkland, deerpark and landscaped estate. The 1660's State Bedroom still survives and is the only one in Britain where a balustrade still rails off the bed alcove from the rest of the room. Such a design derives from the days when the English gentry wished to emulate the elaborate etiquette that regulated the court of Louis XIV at Versailles. A visit to the castle by Charles II is still part of the family tradition. The window latches in the shape of the Prince of Wales's feathers commemorate the visit of the future King Edward VII. His son and daughter-in-law (later King George V and Queen Mary, visited in 1909.
The last castle in this series is The Hall at Abbey-Cwm-Hir near Llandrindod Wells in mid Wales. Built in 1834 by Thomas Wilson the great Victorian improver, the house was doubled in size by the Philips family in 1869, who then added the snooker room in 1894. The architects were Poundley and Walker of Liverpool. Paul and Victoria Humpherston bought the Hall in late 1997 and spent 9 years restoring it to a building of Gothic splendour; boasting stunning interiors and fascinating collections. They have also restored 12 acres of Victorian gardens in a beautiful setting above the ruins of the 12th C Abbey of the Long Valley. The Hall has appeared on many television documentaries on historic houses including "Discovering Welsh Houses" and "How the other Half Lives". The Hall is very much a family home and guided tours of the 52 rooms are conducted by a family member. Tours must be booked in advance.
Remember that this is not a complete list of castles in Wales or a complete list of my favorite Welsh castle. Happy castle hunting!

Shannon McDonald Tate.

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