Rising out of a picturesque woodland, on a hill above the Welsh village of Tongwynlais, Castell Coch (Red Castle) is like something straight from a fairy tale, and visiting feels like stepping into the pages of an epic fantasy.
In a way, Castell Coch really is a fantasy. Although it is built on the site of a Norman castle dating to around 1081, Castell Coch was actually constructed in the 19th century. It is a beautiful example of Gothic Revival architecture and design, a movement which sought to re-create and revive the Gothic architecture of medieval times, with a Victorian twist.
William Burges, who designed both the exterior and interior of Castell Coch and was also responsible for the interiors of Cardiff Castle, was a key proponent of this style. He was a dreamer, an "art architect" with big plans for stunningly crafted, medieval inspired buildings and interiors which had meticulous details, rich colours and more than a little whimsy. Of course, I love his vision and his work, and visiting Castell Coch had been a long held dream of mine.
At Castell Coch, a building designed as a country residence for part time occupation during the summer, I feel Burges was really at the peak of his skill and vision. He was allowed a lot of freedom in creating the beautiful fairy tale fantasy that it became by the huge wealth of the owner, the Marquess of Bute. Every detail both inside and outside, from the painted roof tiles and shutters, to the exquisite murals and stained glass indoors, has been taken into account and carefully thought out.
But while Cardiff Castle's interiors, while stunning, are ornate to the point of distraction at times, Castell Coch's decoration is rich and detailed, but a little more subtle and liveable.
One of the most spectacular rooms of Castell Coch is the drawing room, decorated with murals showing scenes from Aesop's fables. I was particularly taken with the vaulted ceiling, decorated with birds and stars.
Lady Bute's bedroom was a whimsical delight, I especially admired the fantastic painted and gilded bed, adorned with crystal balls. This room was actually completed after Burges' death, largely by Horatio Lonsdale, but it is very much in line with Burges style.
The castle washstand made my heart beat faster, it was both ridiculous and fabulous. I think that is one of the things I love about Victorian Gothic Revival design- the thin line and large amount of overlap between the beautiful and the bonkers.
I think perhaps my favourite room in the entire castle was Lord Bute's bedroom. I could see why he chose this particular room for his own quarters, as it had a beautiful view across the castle rooftops and to the wooded hill beyond. The decoration in this room was still detailed, but kept to a more restricted colour palette, and overall there was a wonderful feeling of tranquility. I could genuinely imagine myself living somewhere like this, it was so peaceful and beautiful!
The ceiling was gorgeous, curved and painted with floral designs. An amazing view to look up on while lying in bed-although if it was me I would start looking at all the details and never sleep!
If you want to visit Castell Coch, details and admission prices can be found here: http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/castell-coch/?lang=en