Gwrych Castle stands proudly in the hills above the seaside market town of Abergele, North Wales. To motorists on the busy A55 main expressway below, this dramatic landmark may conjure up romantic images of medieval knights and fair maidens, the truth is that the castle was built in the 19th century as a private residence.
Living less than a mile from a remarkable piece of history that we have admired for many years, together with other historic castles and country houses, certainly added to the decision to begin our exciting new chapter in Abergele.
Constructed between 1812 and 1822 by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh, the castle was a memorial to his mother's ancestors, the Lloyds of Gwrych, with 128 rooms, including 8 bedrooms and 18 towers. Set on a sloping hillside with panoramic views of the Irish sea and surrounding countryside, it was everything a fairy-tale castle should be and remained in the family for generations.
During World War II the Government requisitioned the property to house two hundred Jewish refugees and it survived at least one German bombing raid. The family finally ceased ownership in 1948. In the decades that followed, the Castle was opened to the public as a major tourist attraction and was known as 'The Showplace of Wales'.
Ownership of the property changed hands a number of times and the castle began to fall into disrepair. The estate closed to the public in 1985, plans to renovate the building into a luxury hotel and casino were not fulfilled. Whilst standing empty for several years extensive looting and vandalism at the hands of squatters left little more than a derelict shell.
Created on a romantic dream, the luxurious residence of the ancient Heskeths was eventually allowed to decay for decades. Its opulent interior that once included a grand marble staircase vanished, the extensive park and gardens became overgrown through neglect. If not for the admirable efforts of historian Mark Baker, who has campaigned for the restoration of the castle since being twelve years old, Gwrych may have fallen even further into disrepair, if not entirely vanished. The Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust, founded by Mark Baker, is painstakingly rebuilding Gwrych and its grounds. The Gardener's Tower has been restored to the same state as when the property's last resident, Winifred Bamford-Hesketh, Countess of Dundonald, lived there a century ago. New life has also been given to the grounds and both the tower and gardens are now open to the public. There is still a enormous amount of work required to restore life and pride back into the castle and the trust is dependant on the valiant efforts of volunteers. Events are held on a regular basis to provide much needed funds.
There are no shortage myths and legends in North Wales and Gwrych Castle has its own mysterious stories to share. Visitors speak of ghostly encounters and sightings whilst dog walkers tell of the strange behaviour of their pets when nearing the castle. Halloween ghost hunts are organised by the trust and as part of the new year celebrations a Haunted New Year Eve event has been planned.
For photographers, Gwrych Castle is a must-see location with endless photo opportunities.
Photographs captured on an iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone X. All images © Adrian McGarry 2017.