Our visit to Penrhyn Castle : An honest review
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, this year we decided to become members of The National Trust. This is solely because the kids love adventuring, and I love excursions and day out where we all get an education. All three kids are born explorers, and having an age range of between two and almost fourteen it’s difficult to find things to do that give all three that sense of wonderment. So, on family Sunday fun-day, we visited Penrhyn Castle in Bangor.
History of Penrhyn
The castle and grounds have a very interesting past. It’s a huge ostentatious family home built between 1820 and 1833 by the Pennant family. Beautifully situated on the banks of the Menai river with views towards the Conwy valley, the Carneddau and Snowdonia. The castle was built from wealth accumulated by the slave trade. This wealth also funded the opening of one of the world’s largest slate quarries nearby. In it’s heyday the estate was one of the largest in Gwynedd. In the gardens especially, you can spot plants which don’t belong in North Wales. Plants who’s ancestors were bought back from the plantations in Jamaica.
Richard Pennant was the first baron of Penrhyn, and was responsible for the planting of 600,000 trees on and around the estate, some of which you can still see today.
We were so lucky with the weather the day we visited. I must admit, the National trust has taken a lot of care with Penrhyn. From the gatehouse up to the house winds through the forest. There is a sense of magic, even before you reach the car park. The entry fee for a family of four is around £31 but there is plenty to do. You can spend the day quite easily within the grounds, and there is a lot to see here.
There are some gorgeous views on your walk up to the house. Most of the paths are completely accessible by pram and wheelchair, being loose stone chippings. The kids seemed to want to get to know the sheep on the way up and climb the dead trees. G enjoys playing peekaboo in tree trunks, and that is all part of the fun as we all search for him and wait for him to go boo!
When we reached the top, G announced the castle was his castle. Good start, as all three then threw themselves into story building around G’s castle. We decided to go and have a look for a café before exploring the gardens, grounds and finally the house.
Food at Penrhyn
Having visited Plas yn Rhiw and Plas Newydd recently we were little bit disappointed in the variety of menu in Penrhyn. It has a kitchen, but the variety of food on offer was very poor especially as it was peak season for family visits (last weekend in half term). It was a Sunday, but talking from a hospitality point of view at lunch time on a warm day in June, when visitors will visit your café should be stocked. I would love to see jacket potatoes being offered here. The food from any National Trust café is bound to be a little more pricey than normal and for a family of five you’re looking at £30 for refreshment.
The food is of a good quality, but next time we will be bringing a picnic, but it hasn’t put us off visiting again. There are two cafe’s the Stables café and the castle café. We visited both during our trip. There were only three panini’s left at 12:15 and they were tomato, mozzarella and rocket. The kids weren’t impressed!
Simply loads. There is a steam museum open all years. These are cargo engines, carriages that all belonged to the family and their industry in North Wales. These are proper bonafide trains you can touch, climb into, sit on. A great little historical fil you sit in a carriage to watch.
We headed for the play park next, and there is a gorgeous hideaway for kids of all ages tucked into the forest walk. This includes a wooden playground with swing, slide, adventure circuit and hidey house. I made friends with some really friendly blackbirds whilst the kids played!
Walking down to the gardens was a bit much for G because he wanted to be entertained but you can easily push a pram down there. It is a tiered garden with steps so you’ll be stuck on the top tier when you get there, but well worth seeing! The opulence of the garden will prepare you for inside the house too.
The kids all enjoyed roaming the garden. From the top terrace with the fountains (where we found a real life newt G called Greco) we followed the path down to the fishing lake and watched the hugest dragonflies I have ever seen dance along it’s surface. There are beautiful little details here like the oriental bridges and the tikki house. Plenty of other paths to follow if you don’t fancy walking back up the stairs too!
We spent maybe an hour and a half here, looking at the plants and wild life. We found Bamboo and Sugar cane and something that looked like giant Rhubarb! When we’d had enough of herbology 101 we left to search for the ruins of a medieval chapel in the grounds and we found it was actually really well preserved!
If you love art, you will definitely enjoy the array of it in Penrhyn. The house is like a gothic work of art. The outside is modelled on some of the surrounding Welsh ‘ring of fire’ castles built by Edward the 1st. But the inside is opulent, beautiful and steeped in history. I have a friend who volunteers at the castle and she runs her own blog about the ghostly going on at the castle. I highly recommend you have a read here.
The kitchens have been restored to Victorian glory, and workshops are often run here especially in holiday time to entertain the troops. Walking through the servant quarter to the family occupied rooms is a bit of upstairs downstairs experience. I was astounded how few local people worked in the house itself. Most servants hailed from Essex and Northumberland according to the log kept in the kitchen.
Every detail of the gothic architecture of the family quarters is a wow waiting to happen. Even the windows are lush.
It is exciting enough to entertain all three children and us adults. You can get lost in the exhibits here. Always improving. My last visit must have been a few years ago, and it has improved so much since then!
We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Penrhyn Castle. Even though it was built as a sign of oppression of welsh workers (and Jamaican slaves!) it just has that magical wow factor that will keep us visiting again and again. Why? Because it’s a sign of times past, and money spent in making a true gothic castle. The wealth here is obvious, but I think the lesson the castle teaches, needs to be passed down to our children. I’m so glad that we went today, thanks to the National Trust, can visit and take a step into our own histories.
*all opinions in this post are my own, and not endorsed by any affiliation to Penrhyn Castle or the National Trust