Gwydir Castle is situated in the Conwy valley in north Wales, a mile to the west of the ancient market town of Llanrwst, and 1.5 miles to the south of the village of Trefriw. The castle is located on the edge of the floodplain of the River Conwy, and on its western side are the now-forested slopes of Gwydir Forest.
There has been a fortification of some sort on the site since AD 600, and in the Dark Ages a large number of skirmishes were fought in this area between the various rival princes and their forces, the most significant being in 610 and 954.
Gwydir became the ancestral home of the powerful Wynn family, descended from the Kings of Gwynedd, and one of the most significant families of North Wales during the Tudor and Stuart periods.
By the 14th century some form of manorial house had evolved, and the first recorded owner was Howell ap Coetmore, who fought in the Hundred Years' War and was a commander of longbowmen under Edward, the Black Prince at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356.
Following the Wars of the Roses the castle was rebuilt by Meredith ap Jevan ap Robert, the founder of the Wynn dynasty. The house incorporated re-used mediaeval material from the dissolved Abbey of Maenan. The square turret at the rear of the Solar Tower contains a spiral staircase taken from the Abbey and many elaborately carved stones can also be seen. The turret was added around 1540 and Sir John Wynn's initials can be seen above the main entrance in the courtyard gatehouse along with the date of 1555. The surviving buildings date from around the year 1500, and there were alterations and additions in c1540, c1600 and c1828.
Although called a castle, it is a fine example of a Tudor courtyard house, rather than a traditional castle, such as those built in North Wales by Llywelyn the Great and Edward I.
Gwydir was home to Catherine of Berain, cousin of Queen Elizabeth I. King Charles is also said to have visited Gwydir in 1645 as the guest of Sir Richard Wynn, 2nd Baronet, Treasurer to Queen Henrietta Maria, and Groom of the Royal Bed Chamber.
More recently King George V and Queen Mary stayed here as the Duke and Duchess of York, in April 1899.
The 20th Century
In 1921 the castle was desecrated. The 1640s panelled main dining room was totally stripped, the carved and gilded panelling being bought at auction by William Randolph Hearst, the American press baron. On his death, the panels were inherited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and until recently languished in storage. The new owners of Gwydir succeeded in tracing these long lost panels and negotiated with the museum which generously allowed their return to Wales. They have been carefully replaced in their original setting and the restored dining room was recently re-opened in 1998 at a ceremony attended by the Prince of Wales.
In 1922 a fire broke out and gutted the Solar Tower, leaving it roofless. A subsequent fire in the West Wing made the place untenable, and it was abandoned, remaining unoccupied until 1944. In this year it was bought by Arthur Clegg, a retired bank manager, who, together with his wife and son, started a 20 year programme of renovation.
A further period of abandonment followed, when damage was caused by squatters.
The castle is now privately owned by Peter and Judith Welford, who are continuing sensitive restoration with authenticity as the main consideration. The story of this recent restoration (which is being done with the backing of Cadw) is told in Judy Corbett's book "Castles in the Air".
The castle is set within a Grade 1 listed, 10-acre garden, which contains some ancient cedars ó one of which was planted in 1625 to commemorate the wedding of Charles I to Queen Henrietta-Maria. One yew tree, known as the "Lovers Tree" or "Giant Yew", is estimated to be between 600 and 1000 years old, and therefore pre-dates the castle itself.
The raised terrace contains an imposing renaissance arch, probably dating from the 1590s.
The Old Dutch Garden contains ancient yew topiary and an octagonal fountain.
The Royal and Statesman's gardens contain oaks planted during the royal visit of 1899, and in 1911.
An Elizabethan causeway called the Chinese Walk runs across the felds to the River Conwy, where the remains of the Gwydir Quay can be seen. The River Conwy is tidal up to this point.
The castle has the reputation for being one of the most haunted houses in Wales, the "Grey Lady" being the most commonly seen, together with the ghost of a monk said to have been trapped in a tunnel leading from the secret room, and Sir John Wynn himself. Many local people will testify to having seen ghosts in the castle.
Gwydir Uchaf Chapel
Gwydir Uchaf Chapel, in the woods above Gwydir Castle, was built in 1673 by Sir Richard Wynn as a family memorial chapel for the Wynns of Gwydir. The simple exterior provides a direct contrast with its beautifully painted ceiling, depicting the Creation, the Trinity and the Last Judgement.
This chapel should not be confused with the one adjoining Llanrwst Church, called Gwydir Chapel. (This was built in 1633 by an earlier Sir Richard Wynn, and issaid to have been designed by Inigo Jones. It has elaborate wood panelling, several family tombs and a stone coffin said to be that of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, moved from Maenan Abbey at the Dissolution.)