Regular visitors of the Valley Mill website will be aware of the Welsh slate products we hand craft and sell from our website and shop in Neath. However, you may not be aware that from our workshop in Crynant, we actually stock hundreds of gift shops, all over the UK with our Welsh slate products, soy candles and natural soaps.
Most recently, Cadw, the Welsh government’s historic environment service has become one of our stockists, which means that Valley Mill products are now available in the gift shops of various historic landmarks around Wales, including Caerphilly Castle and Castell Coch. In celebration of this, we went along to both sites to find out a little bit more about them. In this, our first Cadw blog, we take you through our experience of Castell Coch…
The fairytale castle
Firstly, anyone who has driven the A470 between Cardiff and Pontypridd will be well aware of Castell Coch (or in English, Red Castle). It rises up and out from the mountainside, its red stone exterior almost glistening as you drive past it on the road below. I remember when I was younger, my friends and I would call it the “fairytale castle” and gaze up at it in wonder every time we passed it on our way to and from Cardiff on various family outings and shopping trips.
Indeed, it would be fair to say that the majority of children in South Wales have done the same. There’s something about the castle which really captures the imagination and even now, I can truthfully say that as I approached the castle drawbridge, I was excited to see what Castell Coch had in store for me.
Eccentricities and dreams
Although it rests on ancient foundations (the first castle on the site was built around 1001) in reality Castell Coch is relatively modern. In very simple terms, it is the product of an incredibly wealthy man and his exceptionally talented and eccentric sidekick.
John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd marquess of Bute, was a man with a lifelong interest in architecture and with the accumulated wealth of his father at his disposal, he wanted to create a rural retreat to complement the opulence of his main residence, Cardiff Castle. To fulfil his dream, he enlisted the help of William Burgess.
As the Cadw audio guide seamlessly takes you around this magnificent piece of Burgess’ imagination, you realise that the meeting of minds between these men created something quite spectacular! As you enter the grand banqueting room, you can’t help but be taken aback by the sheer detail which surrounds you. On every single wall surface, there is something different and intriguing to gaze at – and the audio guide talks you through the meanings of each image and sculpture.
When it comes to aspects of the décor, a personal favourite of mine just has to be the drawing room ceiling – which is lavishly adorned with a multitude of stars and butterflies. It is only when you listen to the guide however, that the symbolism in this room truly comes to life. It really is something very special.
As I climb and descend the numerous spiral staircases, I am the little girl again who gazed up at the castle some years ago – playfully (and secretly!) imagining I am the marquess’ wife, Gwendolen, tentatively stepping down, modestly raising my Victorian dress above my ankle, so as not to trip on my way to luncheon!
Calm and tranquillity
It’s not difficult to understand why so many brides and grooms choose to have their wedding ceremony here. There’s a magic in and around the castle which is difficult to explain – but easy to experience. Even as I head back to the car, as I look up into the trees there is a sense of serenity; you would never guess you were just a stone’s throw away from one of the busiest roads in South Wales.
It’s that sense of calm which I suppose inspired the marquess of Bute to create this summer residence. Sadly though, the castle, however beautifully appointed, was seldom used. Thankfully for us, the 5th marquess of Bute placed it into the care of the state and now that Cadw has responsibility of it, we can rest easy that it will be preserved for further generations of little (and much bigger!) children to enjoy.
At Valley Mill we’d highly recommend a visit to Castell Coch – not only to visit the castle itself, but to also enjoy the land surrounding it and nearby walks. When it comes to days out in Wales, it has to be one of the most interesting and magical of the bunch. For more information, visit http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/castell-coch/?lang=en