Snowdonia: Stay in a Castle

Last issue I was shivering in a bivy bag in the line of duty for my ‘Stay in a…’ OAG page. It’s about as low as I could go for unusual places to stay. So this issue I decided to aim a little higher – right up to the ramparts in fact. Five-star ones. Could the butler carry madam’s rucksack up to her suite in the tower? Yes he jolly well could.

The weather had closed in and the rain had worsened the further I drove into Wales’ green interior. It had been a disappointing day all round – I’d been unable to see Snowdonia’s highest mountains or the sea – so as I pulled in at the castle, I felt ready for a bit of pampering.

OAG: Stay in a Castle

After a soak in a big white bath à la that famous Cadbury’s Flake advert, I took up position at my table for one. As my starter arrived, a pianist with slicked-back hair in full evening dress sauntered in and began to play.

“This is the life!” I thought, then proceeded to do what Bill Bryson does on his travels: pretend to read a book while eavesdropping on my neighbours. A boy of around 12 was saying: “Mummy, it’s simply awful, Henry’s going to Harrow rather than Eton. I say, this partridge is a trifle overcooked…”

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I decided to focus my thoughts on the wilderness first aid course I’d be attending next day. The gale conditions outside promised make it a miserable weekend, pretending to rescue classmates from imaginary injuries and making makeshift splints out of twigs.

The very thought made me shiver, so after dinner I sat by the baronial stone fireplace in the castle’s oak-panelled lounge and revelled in the heat. I took the opportunity to read up on the castle’s history over a cheeky little glass of Chateau quelque-chose.

The first recorded mention of the original Castell Deudraeth was in 1188: “There are two arms of the sea, one large and one small. Two stone castles have been built there recently. The one called Castell Deudraeth belongs to the sons of Cynan and is situated in the Eifionydd area, facing the northern mountains.”

The original castle fell into ruin, and the present turreted and towered hotel is actually a 19th century ‘mock castle’: there are a series of them dotted along the north Wales coast. Converted in the 1850s, Deudraeth managed to avoid the full High Victorian Gothic treatment that other castles received. It was built as an expression of the owner’s elevated social standing.

It’s certainly very grand. The castle was then bought by Clough Williams-Ellis, the famous, if eccentric, architect who built Portmeirion village in 1931, later used as the setting for the 1960s TV drama series, The Prisoner.

Portmerion itself lies just a short stroll down the hill towards the sea. If you haven’t been, the townscape is a bizarre glimpse into the architect’s psyche. Buildings are Italianate in style, with fountains, statues and campanile bell towers, in bright Mediterranean colours quite at odds with the muted Welsh landscape. Buildings are ranged across the hillside overlooking the sea. My uncle is an architect, and he described it as ‘full of architectural humour – elements of different styles are oddly juxtaposed on purpose’.

Clough bought the castle to protect the woods surrounding his village from outside development. He said: “Some day it is to be hoped that really informed and sympathetic state protection may make natural beauty less precariously dependent on private piety.”

The architect duly renovated the castle with central heating, mains water, electric lighting and bathrooms and made it into a hotel. Further renovation plans were thwarted by the outbreak of war and subsequent building restrictions. The castle was then completely renovated in 2001, with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, as well as the Welsh tourist board.

Today its handsome facade is set off by lawns to the front, a formal garden to the west and surrounding parkland.If you can’t afford to stay, go and have a look anyway – admission to the hotel and gardens is free.

STAY THERE

Castell Deudraeth Portmeirion, Gwynedd, LL48 6ER COST from £215/night (deduct £35 for single occupancy – bargain late room rates available online) CONTACT 01766 770000 www.portmeirion-village.com

OTHER CASTLES TO STAY AT

Amberley Castle Amberley, near Arundel, West Sussex BN18 9LT www.amberleycastle.co.uk

Augill Castle South Stainmore, near Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria, CA17 4DE www.stayinacastle.com

Camelot Castle Hotel Tintagel, Cornwall, PL34 0DQ www.camelotcastle.com

Ackergill Tower By Wick Caithness, Scotland KW1 4RG www.amazingretreats.com/ ackergilltower

Hazlewood Castle Paradise Lane, Hazlewood, near Leeds & York, North Yorkshire LS24 9NJ www.hazlewood-castle.co.uk