The pill box peeking over the top of the massive stone ramparts that tower over the river Teifi are perhaps the only clues to the history hidden within. Cardigan Castle is now open to the public after a 4 year and £12 million pound restoration.
It’s a renovation project on a grand scale. The restoration of the buildings and gardens to immaculate detail was made more complex by the mosaic of historic periods on the site.
Archaeologists have found flint scrapers from the Neolithic period on site (c4500BC to c2200BC), however historians think that the present castle site was probably first occupied by Gilbert fitz Richard de Clare in 1110. Then in 1165 it was captured by Rhys ap Gruffydd (Lord Rhys) who promptly demolished the castle and built a new one on the same site. To celebrate the completion of, what is believed to be, the first stone castle built by a Welshman he hosted the first Eisteddfod in the grounds. The Castle underwent numerous sieges, captures and rebuilds over the centuries until in 1808 a mansion house was built on the site.
When you visit the Castle today you walk through over 900 years of history. Careful consideration has been made to the materials used to restore the old buildings to ensure that they are as authentic as possible. Everything from the thick old Medieval ramparts to the Georgian mansion have been treated in a style fit for their period.
The older thick stone walls of the visitors reception have had breathable products applied over the stone walls inside and out to maintain breathability and avoid damp problems, the broken panes of the window glass that light the staircase in the mansion house have been hand made to match the original panes and some uncovered wallpaper has been matched to the original, hand printed and hand cut in what is now a hireable function room.
My favourite part of the restoration is where new meets old. When you walk into the ground floor kitchen of the old castle north tower (which was incorporated into the Mansion House) you step on the original welsh slate flag stones that were untouched by the restoration process. Moving over to the tiny window you stand next to the original hand-carved welsh slate sink – about four feet long and one and half feet deep made from one single piece of slate. In contrast, upstairs, state of the art conference facilities are arranged under a new beautiful exposed timber round roof (the old roof was in need of major work and had to be totally rebuilt).
There are lots more hidden delights held within Cardigan Castle’s walls; the restaurant, the Mansion House Gardens, the B&B and self-catering appartments – too much for just one blog post. Not to mention the calendar of events that take place within the grounds. You can discover it all when you visit Cardigan Castle.
At Celtic Sustainables we specialise in environmentally friendly products for decorating and renovating. We were delighted to play a small part in this project by supplying paint, pigment, casein distemper and lime putty to the restoration team.