Favourites on Friday - Cestyll Cymreig - Castell Coch & Cardiff Castle

… Which, translated, means ‘Welsh Castles’; no prizes for guessing where I’ve been :)

Another much-needed weekend away, not even the dismal weather was going to discourage me.  ‘My first visit to Wales’, I mistakenly said, and it was pointed out to me that I have been to Wales before – Chepstow.  I forget that, because Chepstow is on the border with England, whereas Cardiff is ‘Wales proper’ … for me, anyway :)

About 6 miles northwest of Cardiff, is Castell Coch or the Red Castle (‘castell’ being Welsh for ‘castle’ in the singular – and that’s the easiest Welsh word I came across!  That and ‘heddlu’ which means ‘police’ … the number of police vehicles in the city centre – yeesh!).  The castle is a 19th century Gothic Revival castle, and looks like something out of a fairy tale, but there has been a castle on the site since the late 11th century, first built by the Normans.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the same cast of characters who featured in Tewkesbury's history also featured here and in Cardiff – the de Clares, and the Despensers.

Castell Coch was rebuilt between 1267 and 1277 by Gilbert de Clare, the 9th Earl of Clare (William Marshal’s great-grandson), who also held the Lordship of Glamorgan.  On Gilbert’s death, his widow, Joan of Acre (daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile), took over the castle, which by this time was being referred to as Castrum Rubeum (Latin for ‘the Red Castle’).  Their son, also named Gilbert, inherited the property, but was killed at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.  The native Welsh, not surprisingly, were a constant thorn in the side of the English, and in one of their uprisings, Castell Coch was destroyed beyond use, and the site was abandoned.

The history of Castell Coch is tied with that of Cardiff Castle, but for now I’ll skip ahead to 1848 when John Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, inherited the castle.  One of Britain’s wealthiest men, he set about reconstructing the castle.  The architect, William Burges, was given free rein to create “a country residence for occasional occupation in the summer”, which would complement the Marquess’ main residence, Cardiff Castle.  Even though Burges died before the castle was ready, his team ensured his work was completed.  The family’s visits to the new retreat were infrequent, and in 1950, the 5th Marquess of Bute placed it in the care of the state.

The layout of the castle is circular, as is the courtyard, which isn’t very big … it actually made taking ‘proper’, satisfactory pictures difficult, but I hope you get an idea of what it’s like.  None of the rooms were that big; I think the biggest was the Banqueting Hall.  My most favourite room is the Drawing Room; I could have happily spent the day in there, there’s so much to see and take in - the walls are painted with scenes from 'Aesop's Fables', and they are exquisite.

A little door - no idea if there is anything behind it, if it leads anywhere ...

Imagine having this on your doorstep

The kitchen ...

The Banqueting Hall ...

Standing in the Drawing Room, looking into the Banqueting Hall

Decoration around the arched door of the Drawing Room

Domed ceiling of the Drawing Room ...

Painted walls of the Drawing Room ...

Detail on one of the painted walls

Painted panels in the Drawing Room ...

Detail on one of the panels 

Fireplace in the Drawing Room, with the Three Fates

I have no idea what the point of this is ... surely no one is that skinny!

Way, way upstairs is Lady Bute's bedroom - the bedposts are decorated with crystal balls!

Domed ceiling above the bed ...

Detail of painting on domed part of ceiling

The sink!

Looking down at the spiral staircase, which leads up to Lady Bute's bedroom

Lord Bute's bedroom, on the floor below; smaller and minimalist compared to Lady B's ... like the stool though

Looking up at the light (heh) 

Leaving the castle ...

In Cardiff ... I did not appreciate just how patriotic the Welsh are, there are flags everywhere!

Cardiff city

The park around Cardiff Castle ...

Don't know what this building is, but the dragon on the top caught my eye 

Cardiff Castle is located right in the city centre, which I think is great.  Imagine every time you go shopping or to the cinema or whatever, you get to see a castle … though I guess it’s just part of the scenery for the locals.  There was a Roman fort on the site in the 3rd century, which the Normans built on in the 11th century.  The castle, which was commissioned either by William the Conqueror, or by his cousin, Robert Fitzhamon, formed the heart of the Marcher Lord territory of Glamorgan. 

There are animals all along the wall ...

On the death of William FitzRobert (Robert Fitzhamon’s grandson) in 1183, his daughter, Isabella, became Countess of Gloucester and was declared FitzRobert’s sole heir by Henry II, which was contrary to normal legal custom.  But Henry wanted FitzRobert’s lands, and he acquired them by marrying Isabella to his youngest son, Prince John.  John retained control of the castle after he divorced Isabella, but had to relinquish it to her when she married Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1214.

When Isabella died 3 years later, the castle passed to her sister, Amice FitzWilliam, who was married to Richard de Clare.  Their son, Gilbert de Clare (4th Earl of Hereford, 5th Earl of Gloucester), inherited the Clare estates and his mother’s estates of Gloucester.  He married Isabel Marshal ( William Marshal’s daughter).  The building work that their son, Richard, carried out, included defensive work, possibly to counter the threat posed by the hostile Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.

Richard’s son, Gilbert, the 9th Earl of Clare, was the one who rebuilt Castell Coch, and who married Joan of Acre.  When their son, Gilbert, the last male de Clare, died at the Battle of Bannockburn, the castle passed to Hugh Despenser the Younger through his marriage to Gilbert’s sister, Eleanor de Clare.  The Despensers did nothing to help relations between the Welsh and the English; instead their harsh governance encouraged a Welsh rebellion under Llywelyn Bren in 1316.  This was crushed and, on Hugh’s orders, Llywelyn was hung, drawn and quartered in Cardiff Castle.  Both English and Welsh were highly critical of the execution, but Hugh was a favourite of Edward II.  Soon afterwards, conflict between the Despensers and the other Marcher Lords broke out, and the castle was sacked in 1321 in the Despenser War.  Hugh Despenser was executed in 1326 following a trial before Edward’s queen, Isabella, and the powerful Marcher lord, Roger Mortimer, the 1st Earl of March.

In 1401, Owain Glyndwr led a rebellion that quickly engulfed Wales.  In 1404, the rebels seized Cardiff Castle, causing considerable damage.  The castle eventually passed from Thomas le Despenser (who was executed in 1400 on charges of conspiring against Henry IV) to the Beauchamp family, through his youngest and only surviving child, Isabel, who married, first, Richard, the Earl of Worcester, and on his death, his cousin, Richard, the Earl of Warwick.  Said it before and I’ll say it again – it would make all this easier if they didn’t have the same names! 

Under Richard’s ownership, the castle underwent extensive work.  After the Wars of the Roses, the castle’s military significance began to decline when its status as a Marcher territory was revoked.  During the Civil War, it was used, first by the Parliamentarians, then Royalist supporters.

In the mid-18th century, Cardiff Castle became the property of the Marquesses of Bute.  Under the 1st Marquess, Capability Brown and Henry Holland turned it into a Georgian mansion and landscaped the grounds.  The 3rd Marquess, John Crichton-Stuart, used the family’s wealth, acquired through the burgeoning coal industry in Glamorgan, to carry out further renovations under William Burges.  Burges refashioned the castle in a Gothic revival style.  Old Roman remains were discovered, and reconstructed walls were incorporated into the design, while outside the castle, landscaped parks were built.

Into the 20th century, Bute lands were gradually sold until little was left except the castle.  During the Second World War, air raid shelters, capable of holding up to 1,800 people, were built in the castle walls.  When the 5th Marquess inherited the castle in 1947, he sold the last of the Bute lands, and gave the castle and surrounding park to the city.  Today, the castle is a tourist attraction, and also hosts events, from musical performances to festivals.

Even though the weather was dull on Saturday, the sun was out on Sunday … it was very windy though, but still nice.  The steps leading up to the keep are quite steep, but nothing compared to the original steps up to the tower in the keep.  Because they were so narrow and circular (of course!), I put my camera away to concentrate fully on negotiating them.  It’s so narrow, there isn’t room for people to go up AND down simultaneously.  Did they have child-sized feet back in the day?

The mansion

The Clock Tower ...

The keep ...

Wall in foreground reconstructed using Roman remains

View from the top of the tower ...

Beginning of 'walkway' around the castle walls...

Duck surveying his kingdom?

Air raid shelter under the castle walls

I didn’t spend too much time in the house.  Personally, I didn’t think it looked as good as Castell Coch, but the similarities were obvious – it was clear that Burges had designed both places.

The ceiling of the Arab Room ...

... could only stand at the entrance as the room is roped off, which made it difficult to take a better picture

Ceiling of the Banqueting Hall

Fireplace in the Banqueting Hall ...

Fireplace in the library ...

I know ... I'm so predictable

I did enjoy my weekend, it was magically wonderful.  The only thing that marred it was the number of drunken crowds in Cardiff city centre.  I don’t know if that’s a normal occurrence but honestly!  The number of stag parties and hen parties, loud people … Just after brunch on Sunday, at about 13:30, a group of women walked into the restaurant, dressed to the nines, ready to start their revels!  Already?!

Stunning graffiti

On Saturday, ventured into a vintage shabby-chic kind of place, the sort of thing I like … Tucked away downstairs was a Chinese lady, Jian Chen, and her exquisitely beautiful paintings.  Personally, I think she should have been given pride of place upstairs, her work is stunning!  As you can see from this … simply titled ‘Horses’.  With only a few pencil lines denoting basic shape, she then created this using a Chinese brush.

Took this on the return train journey - the 'Westbury White Horse', the oldest of several white horses carved in Wiltshire, and is on Salisbury Plain.