You would be hard pressed to find a more romantic, fairytale Castle than Castell Coch (Red Castle) on the outskirts of Cardiff. Set high on a hill, peeking out from the trees, with its tall red turrets, it conjures up images of knights rescuing princesses and them living happily ever after. When I was younger I used to call it the Sleeping Beauty Castle and still do today if I’m honest.
Despite being built on ancient foundations, on the ruins of Gilbert de Clare’s 13th Century castle, Castell Coch is not your typical medieval castle. Instead it is the work of the flamboyant William Burgess and was created in the 19th Century.
Whilst the exterior has tried to replicate some of the characteristics of medieval castles, the interior is anything but. It is lavishly designed in Victorian Gothic style with it’s opulent ceilings, plush furnishings and flamboyant wall designs.
If Grand Designs had been around then, Kevin McCloud would no doubt have been salivating over the contrast between medieval and victorian, all coming together to create this fairytale castle worthy of a princess. It even has a dungeon, working draw bridge and a moat.
The Castle was designed by William Burgess for the 3rd Marquess of Bute. It was essentially Butes holiday home, a rural getaway from his main residence of Cardiff Castle. What a holiday home! William Burgess was also responsible for a major renovation project at the main Cardiff Castle, which is similarly victorian and extravagant in design.
We visited Castell Coch with the little ones and they loved exploring the fully decorated rooms and climbing the spiral stairs of the towers.
Included in the entry price is an audio guide which was very informative and provided lots of information on the background of the build and design along with a detailed account of the stories behind each room. This was both a hit with my boys (ages 9 and 7) and with ourselves.
There was a mix of rooms, from the flamboyant drawing room and opulent Mrs Butes bedroom to the more practical kitchen and Lord Butes more humble bedroom.
The drawing room, with its vaulted ceiling decorated with butterflies and birds flying up to a starry sky is truly impressive. Its walls are also beautifully decorated with animals from Aesop’s fables, which were written by a slave from ancient Greece.
Lady Bute’s circular bedroom is equally as flamboyant, with a double dome ceiling and the whole design centred on ‘love’, with carved monkeys and nesting birds and the scarlet and gold bed taking centre stage. Reportedly Lord Bute found it all a bit much and thought the monkeys inappropriately “lascivious”.
In addition to the very informative audio guide there was also an informative exhibition room which provided information on the background of the castle.
For my 2 year old, the Fairy App which you could download for free, was much more interesting and engaging than the audio guides. In every room, via your phone you were able to ‘catch’ a fairy and if you got them all at the end you could collect your fairy stickers from the gift shop. This was of course a huge hit!
We spent a couple of hours venturing round the castle and the time seemed to wiz by. At the end of our visit we stopped by the cafe and had a nice cup of coffee, some welsh cakes and a slice of Bara brith which was lovely.
Castell Coch makes for a great afternoon or morning out which both adults and little ones will enjoy. Why not combine it with a picnic and a walk around the Fforest Fawr sculpture trail to make it a full family day out.