Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Cozy Castle Hotel In Wales: Ruthin Castle

The red dragon flag of Wales flies over Ruthin Castle.
Photo Credit: Stephen Fulljames

Castles have fascinated me since I was a little boy, and castle hotels are something that I’ve devoted considerable time to studying, both for my own travel and that of my clients. If you seek castles, Wales should be at the top of your list with the world’s highest concentration, over 500 castles -- imagine all those castles in an area the size of Vermont.

If you come to Wales in search of castles, you should sleep in one too. In northern Wales, the choice is clear; Ruthin Castle offers a strategic location for controlling the Clwyd Valley (in the past) or for exploring northern Wales as a tourist (present-day). The 62 room hotel is accommodated in an early 19th Century building that sits amid the extensive ruins of a 13th Century Castle.

The grand public rooms are filled with original art and furnishings that transport me back 100 years to the time when Edward VII visited the castle. I found photos of that visit on the main staircase. I also noticed that the group pictured included Lady Randolph Churchill (Sir Winston’s mother). After she was widowed, Lady Randolph married George Cornwallis-West, whose family owned Ruthin Castle. He was over 20 years her junior, and reportedly one of Britain’s most handsome men.

I’m told that Edward VII’s great-great grandson, Prince Charles has visited Ruthin Castle much more recently.

The rooms are each unique with very high ceilings and some with fireplaces. The furnishings are comfortable and old, what you might find in the home of a respectable British granny. That for me was important to the feeling of charm at Ruthin Castle. It felt lived-in, as if the Cornwallis-Wests were awaiting you in the smoking room downstairs while your man unpacked your bags. The modern bathrooms have a cozy feel and feature deep tubs and traditional tilework.

Our bath at Ruthin Castle.
Photo Credit: Christopher Gould

Our room had views over the gardens and ruins with the River Clwyd below and sheep-dotted hills beyond. It was a sunny day in May, but there was a refreshing chill in the stiff breeze that blew in our windows. It was a view that must be nearly unchanged for centuries. Ruthin Castle is for looking out of rather than looking at. I realized this when I discovered that I had no overall view of the castle among my photos. It’s hidden behind trees and a gatehouse as you approach from town – the visual memory I took away from Ruthin Castle was of its commanding views of the Welsh countryside.

Some of the ruins of the old castle.
Photo Credit: Becky Gould

The castle gardens are beautifully maintained and wind around and through the picturesque ruins. Large pieces of curtain wall, windows, and arches remain in the local red sandstone that give the castle its name, which is derived from the old Welsh words meaning “Red Castle.” A number of peacocks live in the garden and walk the pebble pathways with you.

Ruthin Castle is located in Ruthin, a small, pretty town that offers all of the basic services a traveler could wish for. It’s conveniently located in Denbighshire between Chester, England and Caernafon, Wales. I’ve used it as a base of operations for exploring Snowdonia National Park and towns like Llangollen, Betws-y-coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog.

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