Driving past Cardiff on the M4, Castell Coch appears like a mirage of a fairytale castle, a scene taken straight from the pages of a Brothers Grimm story. The castle, a folly built for the 3rd Marquess of Bute in the 1870s, sits on the ruins of a genuine 13th-century fortification on a steep, wooded hillside above the village of Tongwynlais. But while many see it from a distance, few make the 15-minute drive from the capital to enjoy its conical towers and turrets up close.
John Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, was reputedly the richest man in the world following a marriage to local heiress Charlotte Windsor. A scholar, antiquarian and philanthropist, the marquess indulged in a range of interests, from architecture to the occult.
Together with William Burges, an architect with a fantastical imagination, the pair embarked on projects that resulted in two of the finest examples of late Victorian Gothic Revival: Castell Coch and Cardiff Castle. Both buildings ironically represent the potential of industrial wealth, coupled with a wish to escape the scene of that wealth’s creation.
Enter via a drawbridge over a dry moat then pass through a tunnel guarded by a working portcullis to explore the three towers: the Keep, the Kitchen Tower and the Well Tower. Some rooms, such as the bedroom suites, are spectacularly decorated and show the marquess’s fancy for opulent interiors, stained glass and marble.
After exploring the castle (and visiting the exceptionally friendly café), take a short walk in Fforest-fawr (Welsh for great forest, although it’s actually quite small). In April, wood anemones carpet the forest floor, while in May these mainly broadleaf woodlands offer one of the best displays of bluebells in south Wales. But among the wildflowers and ancient trees lurk a giant’s cauldron, pots of gold and monsters with many eyes on an enchanting sculpture trail called Lost and Found. The well-marked paths are perfect for an unplanned ramble, but if you’d like a little direction, our route takes you past the very best bits.
Facing the castle, turn right and pick up a path heading out of the car park. Ignore a left turning and carry on along the right-hand path. Go past a Sustrans route 8 marker, then bear right/straight ahead, and keep on the main path until you come to the wooden arches on your left, marking the start of the Lost and Found trail.
1. ONE MILE
Turn left through the arches and, as you follow the trail, look out for many-eyed monsters hidden in the undergrowth, cauldrons brimming with unfortunate forest creatures and sleeping dragons, with human feet sticking out of their mouths. At the edge of the woods, enjoy views over local hills Craig yr Allt and the Garth.
When you reach a path junction, turn right and follow the fence line downhill. Turn right down a deeply gouged footpath, signed Rhondda Cynon Taf, then left at the main track, signed Taff’s Trail. Follow this path uphill and round to meet another path then, at signposts, turn right back to Castell Coch.
Clearly signposted, wooded paths, which may be muddy.
HOW TO GET THERE
By car: From Cardiff Castle follow the A470 north-west for 12 miles, until you see signs for Castell Coch. Turn almost back on yourself at a roundabout, then keep right (rather than rejoining the A470) and follow signs to a free car park.
By public transport:
Taff’s Well train station is 1½ miles walk, or catch a number 26 bus from Cardiff to Tongwynlais.
The Bakestone Café
Castell Coch Castle Hill, Tongwynlais, Cardiff CF15 7JS
☎ 029 2081 3076
Castle Street, Cardiff
☎ 029 2087 8100
Adults £3.60, concs £3.20, family £10.40
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 151.
Grid Ref: ST 131 826
☎ 029 2081 0101
www.cadw.wales.gov.uk Open Apr-Oct daily, 9am-5pm; Nov-Mar, Mon-Sat, 9.30am-4pm, Sun 11-4pm. Adults £3.60, concessions £3.20, family £10.40.