Monday, 9th June 2014

Our Day Penrhyn Castle Bodnant Gardens Evening Please Read Me

Our Day - Penrhyn & Bodnant

The day started with some magnificent downpours, so we decided to play the tourist in the hope that the sun might smile benignly on us later on in the day - which indeed came to pass. Some of us visited the cultural attraction that is Penrhyn Castle, while others visited an example (in a generic sense) of how the construction of Penrhyn Castle and the accumulation of its erstwhile associated wealth was financed - namely the slate mines at Llanberis, with their history of "back-breaking" toil.

In the afteroon we visited the famous Bodnant Gardens.

In the afternoon, the Penrhyn contingent continued to the world famous Bodnant Gardens, which, by this time, were appropriately basking in the pleasant afternoon sunshine. Our slate mine contingent also managed to get in an afternoon walk based on Capel Curig. So it was an interesting day for all of us. Thanks, Melissa, for skillfully driving some of us, without undue hesitation or deviation, to Penrhyn and Bodnant. In the evening most of us met up at the Tyn-y-Coed Hotel and Restaurant, to celebrate what had been a successful and enjoyable CLOG away break.

Penrhyn Castle

Penrhyn Castle was originally a mediaeval fortified manor house which was reconstructed around 1780. The present building is a further and complete reconstruction and transformation dating from between about 1822 and 1837. The work was carried out for the Pennant family who had made their money in the sugar trade and latterly with their local slate quarries. Indeed, the castle itself is also built of slate. Today the railway museum, mainly of industrial locos and associated rolling stock, opened early, and so was first on our agenda. Then we looked at the sumptuous interior of the castle itself - "life upstairs". The subsequent opportunity of seeing some of the upper floors of the castle was not be missed; these floors are not generally accessible to visitors because of ongoing restoration work. Apart from seeing some of this work, we were also able to admire the impressive views into the distant countryside. Some more impressions of the sumptuous interior on the ground and first floors was followed by a look at "life below stairs". Our Penrhyn visit ended with a look around the spacious castle grounds and gardens.

This gatehouse welcomes visitors as they come through the vast grounds.

Penrhyn - Museum of Industrial Locos

This rare specimen is the 4 foot gauge "Fire Queen" built in 1848 to pull trains of slate from the mines at Llanberis to the coast.

This loco used to run at Beckton Gasworks, East London. It is an 0-4-0 Well Tank, built in 1870 by Neilson & Co.. So, a bit more of railway history.

Here is an 0-4-0 saddle tank engine, built in 1885 by Black Hawthorn for Kettering Furnaces, and appropriately named and numbered "Kettering Furnaces No 3". It looks a bit like the engine sent out in "Toad of Toad Hall" to try and catch the errant Toad as he was making his well described escape dressed as a washer woman.

"Charles" was built in 1882 for a 1' 10¾" gauge. He used to pull slate trains from Penrhyn Castle's own slate quarries to the quay at Bangor for onward trans-shipment to different parts of Britain. His sisters, "Linda" and "Blanche" are seeing out an active retirement on the Ffestiniog Railway.

Some More of the Crenellated Exterior

One of the imposing entrances to Penrhyn Castle.

The tower is in fact an early food refrigerator, where other country houses made do with "ice houses" built partly below ground.

Grandeur Within

The grand entrance hall looks a bit like the inside of a church.
It's the stained glass that does it.

Outside, important visitors would have had this view across to the Great Orme before ...

... going through this Norman-style entrance.

Passages leading to the grand entrance hall ...

... and the grand entrance hall itself were obviously meant to impress.

From the entrance hall there are views into the distance, like this one towards the Great Orme.

Near the entrance hall is the library - at least I think it is, because of the globe.
But where are the books?

Here's the library again ...

... with its intricate ceiling.

Then we come to a sort of sitting room (or withdrawing room?) ...

... simply oozing at all corners and crevices ...

... with gold and ornamentation.

A more modest (by Penrhyn standards) room ...

... then awaits. What did the erstwhile occupants talk about as they nestled into all this ornamental ebullience? Did they like the ceiling?

Just when you think you have had had your fill,
you find next door a staircase that will to take you to more splendors above.

What a stairwell! What a ceiling!
What hands did dextorously fashion this gateway to the heavens?

How well did the sleepers sleep in this bed? What did they dream of?

The chapel for divine service was almost next door.
A separate balcony (pew) provided. Separate from the other worshippers.

The erstwhile owners of Penrhyn Castle made their fortune through the sugar trade, with its slavery, and through the hard and dangerous work of the men in the local slate mines. How did the erstwhile owners reconcile these aspects with Christian teaching?

We make our way down to the grand entrance hall to join the special tour of the castle's upper reaches - an area still being actively restored.

On the way down to grand entrance hall, this nice wardrobe catches our gaze.

Now this slate bed - all two tons of it - has a bit of a history. It was built especially for the visit of Queen Victoria and her Prince Consort in 1859. She didn't like it and asked for another bed. Indeed, people say she was somewhat superstituous. Her Consort died in 1861, and at least his death could not in any way be connected with this slate bed. The bed now stands here in all its apparently unused glory for visitors to gaze at.

Up to the Heights

We enter the secret world of those hidden, yet to be restored,
upper rooms, through an elegant carpeted landing, ...

... with another nice wardrobe.

As we ascend the spiral staircase ...

... the views get better and better.

This looks like William Morris wallpaper - but let experts educate me on this aspect! This wallpaper has survived the ingress of rain and snow - the effects of which the restorers are actively battling against. Apparently much of the restoration work is voluntary, as is characteristic of a lot of work done on National Trust properties.

We have got up on to the roof of the main tower. We see views across to Beaumaris on Anglesey, ..

... to Bangor Harbour, ...

... to Anglesey and to the Great Orme and ...

... towards the slate quarries - an important source of Penrhyn's wealth - inland to the east.

Then we get to the end of this special tour, but not before we have a look at the study of the master (owner) of Penrhyn.

The study contains some interesting artifacts and pieces of furniture.
This chest of drawers looks French ...

... but I'm not sure of the provenance of this majestically carved wardrobe.

This glass artifact looks Germanic, the stag crests reminiscent of the Porsche crest.
The inscription "Solo Animo" refers to legal property rights as recognised in parts of the European continent.

More Grandeur

There are still some of the main rooms that we haven't yet seen. This, without too much stretch of the imagination, is of course the dining room.

Nice tableware and ornaments. Nice wall coverings. What do you expect of a dining room that is meant to impress? Those of you who have watched Downton Abbey may remember the scene where one of the kitchen servants puts "unexpected" substances into the food meant to be taken up to the elegant diners. Who knows how often this may have happened for real!

Norman-style arches grace this view along one of the many passages.

A picture gallery was a Victorian must-have - if you could afford it!

Here, lots of pictures grace the walls - walls covered with red flock wallpaper ...

... under a ceiling with ornamental carvings. Very nice!

This clock looks as if it could be a star attraction on "the Antiques Roadshow".

Life Downstairs - the Servants

This looks like the butler's room. In a country house there was often a strict hierarchy amongst the servants - and the butler was generally at the top of that hierarchy.

One of the large kitchens.

Another room where the servants congregated.

Servants were at their masters' beck-and-call - as these two long lines of bells indicate.

To the Castle Gardens

There is an interplay between distant views and ...

... the cosier intimacy of the garden.

Ornamental lawns and ...

... box-edged parterres and ...

... how about a "tunnel" of red hanging flowers?

It's once more into the main, expansive (and expensive too), castle grounds, before our departure.

Bodnant Gardens

Bodnant Gardens are the wider grounds of Bodnant House, home of the family of the late Lord Aberconway. An arrangement with the National Trust keeps these gardens alive; on our visit we realised why, because the cost of maintaining these vast gardens must be enormous. We made a quick (but legal!) dash from Penrhyn Castle to see these gardens, which, in the afternoon and evening sun looked very fine indeed.

The visitor's entrance to the Bodnant Gardens is through the famous "Laburnum Arch".
A few days later, and the blossom probably will have already faded - we were lucky to catch this impressive spectacle just in time!

Bodnant House still watches over its erstwhile gardens, with which the National Trust is now very much involved. Times have changed.

Near the house there's a nice view over to the mountains of Snowdonia.

A bench for meditation - and not far from the house.

Dolphins are often associated with ornamental fountains.

Wherever you turn, there seems to be a riot of floral colour.

Here's the house again, with its "Kew Gardens style" conservatory on the right.

Here is a view from one of the terraces near the Hall towards the mountains of Snowdonia.
On the middle left is the ...

... "Pin Mill", a Georgian building brought from Gloucestershire as late as 1939
and now looking for all the world as if it had always been at Bodnant, forming, as it does, a much publicised icon or "centre piece" at Bodnant.

Another view of the gardens looking towards the Pin Mill and ...

... and looking out from the Pin Mill.

Here is another view of one of the garden terraces that work their way down from Bodnant Hall. On the left you can just about see the camera crew who were making a film about the Bodnant Gardens, and other gardens. The film is planned for release on BBC 2 in the autumn (of 2014).

Bodnant Hall casts a picturesque reflection in one of the ornamental terrace lily ponds.

In the southern part of the gardens is a well tended wooded valley, fed by a stream and home a number of exotic species ...

... including this gigantic Sequoia (California Redwood) tree.

Here is another view of Bodnant Hall in its verdant setting ...

... and more floral colour. Then it's back to Capel Curig after a culturally very stimulating day!

Gastronomy in the Evening

Of the three local hotel-restaurants, the Tyn-y-Coed Hotel seemed to offer a nice combination of customer friendliness and a good range of reasonably priced fare. So in the evening most of us met up at the Tyn-y-Coed Hotel and Restaurant, to celebrate what had been a successful and enjoyable CLOG away break. Tomorrow many of us, filled with pleasant memories of the last few days, would start our respective journeys to the south.

This Holyhead stage coach is designed to attract
customers arriving on the A5 in more modern horseless carriages.