We made the most of the dry and sunny weather this weekend and headed to Castell Coch, Wales’s famous fairy tale castle nestled in the woods at Tongwynlais.
As regular readers will know, we’re blogger ambassadors for Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service, and are spending a year writing about our visits to some of Wales’ most important ancient monuments.
I used to love visiting Castell Coch – which means red castle in Welsh – when I was a child. It was the perfect place to bring to life my imaginative day dreams about life as a princess. My two eldest children, Little Miss E, now 6 and Little Man O, aged 4.5, have visited a couple of times – but the last time Toddler Boy I – fast approaching his second birthday – visited, he was a tiny newborn so I was intrigued to see what he would make of it.
Castell Coch was built under the instruction of the third Marquis of Bute – who also owned Cardiff Castle and Bute Park. Built on the site of an ancient castle, which fell to ruins in the 15th century, it is an accurate representation of a 13th century castle in working order.
Despite its fairy tale appearance, the castle was never properly lived in. It was more of a ‘play’ castle for Lord Bute, a rural retreat for when he fancied a few days away from his main residence. It was also a place to showcase the elaborate décor he favoured meaning it’s a beautiful place to visit, full of 19th century elegance and romance.
We arrived at about 2.30pm and it wasn’t especially busy, with plenty of space in the adjoining car park.
The path up to the castle and the main court yard are buggy friendly – but the spiral staircases are not, so to fully explore the castle’s turrets and rooms, you’ll need a baby carrier, sling or strong arms for non-mobile babies. There are toilets and baby change facilities available, plus a small gift shop.
Toddler loved running around the circular stone court yard, and especially looking through the slotted windows. He did a good job of managing some of the narrow spiral staircases, although we carried him on most of the steps.
We started our exploration on the left hand side as you come into the castle, journeying up the stairs to the grand dining room and drawing room.
The drawing room has always been my favourite part of the castle – the walls are decorated with a woodland nature theme, with an ornate display of birds, butterflies and other creatures, while I could stare for hours at the domed ceiling with its grand chandelier, gold beams and stars, birds and butterflies. It’s no surprise it’s so popular as a venue for smaller weddings.
From there we headed next door to the Victorian kitchen with its traditional wooden dresser and large oven, before climbing the stairs to Lady Bute’s circular bedroom in one of the turrets. Little Man was in awe of the castle-shaped sink and has vowed to have one in his house when he’s a grown-up. The other two bedrooms of Lord Bute and Lady Margaret are nowhere near as grand and my children weren’t impressed at how lump the beds were.
On the opposite side of the court yard is an exhibition charting the history of the castle – I would have liked to have spent longer here, but it’s not easy when you have three energetic and excited children with you.
Back on the lower level left-hand side is an interactive room perfect for children to learn about the castle in a hands-on way. We had fun building a replica of Castell Coch from large wooden pieces, as well as using stencils to make designs similar to some of those around the castle.
You probably won’t need more than an hour or two to explore the castle – although if you want to make a day of it, then it’s a good base from which to explore the nearby woods, which you can access from the car park. Or you can drive a couple of minutes down the road to visit the Fforest Fawr sculpture trail, which is a brilliant family-friendly woodland walk, featuring an array of intricately carved wooden sculptures.
Selected Cadw monuments and buildings – including Castell Coch – will be opening their doors for free this Tuesday 1st March, in celebration of St David’s Day. You can find more information here.
For more ideas of local family-friendly days out, see the Cardiff section of Cardiff Mummy Says.