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I wasn’t familiar with the Denbighshire area at all, so when I had business there, I really didn’t know what to expect. But, as I drove over the Welsh border, I’d hardly taken on board that the road signs were now bilingual, than I passed a brown sign saying I was entering an "Area of Natural Beauty".
This is countryside as it used to be … fields, trees and hedgerows, not the prairie-like expanses of elsewhere. We are now in the Vale of Clwyd, flanked by the gentle, flowing Clwydian Hills.
We were headed to the town of Ruthin, where we were staying at the Ruthin Castle Hotel. And, here’s a caution … this is NOT to be confused with the castle hotel Ruthin, where most of us went first; I had my suspicions, because it looked nothing like the place I saw on Google Earth!
Ruthin Castle Hotel is only a short way up the road, though … and it really is … or rather, was a castle. The present building was actually built in the style of a castle. But, enough of the original castle remains to make a fascinating exploration.
The castle was first built in 1277 by Dafydd ap Gruffud, the younger brother of Llewellyn ap Gruffud (aka ‘Llewellyn the Last’) the Prince of Wales. At the time, Dafydd supported the English King Edward I against his brother, but was noted for continually changing sides. Even Welsh historians seldom have a good word to say for him.
In 1282, he set off from Ruthin to attack Hawarden Castle, and English stronghold. This so enraged King Edward that he set out to invade Wales. After Llewellyn fell in battle, Dafydd took the title of Prince of Wales upon himself, but he didn’t hold it for long. The following year, he was captured, and sent to Shrewsbury for execution.
Meanwhile, Edward promised the Welsh people a new Prince .. ‘born in Wales, and doesn’t speak a word of English’. Then, he presented his newly-born infant son, and, since then, the eldest son of the Monarch has been styled ‘Prince of Wales’.
Edward strengthened the defences of the castle, which formed part of the ‘Iron Ring’ of his castles around North Wales. It remained in royal hands until 1632, when Charles I sold it to Sir Thomas Myddleton, a member of a prominent local family. A survey at the time declared it to be in a ruinous and badly-maintained state. Nevertheless, when the Civil War broke out ten years later, it was quickly repaired, and held by Royalist forces for four weeks against the Parliamentarians.
Although the defenders of the castle eventually surrendered, it wasn’t ‘slighted’ by the Parliamentarians, but partly demolished after the Restoration, to prevent it being used in any future uprising. Much of the stone went for house-building in nearby Ruthin … the name of which is said to derive from the Welsh for ‘Red Castle’, from the sandstone from which the castle was built, so it’s rather appropriate.
The ruined castle remained in the ownership of the Myddleton family, and the present building was started in 1826 by its owner, Maria Myddleton, who built a castellated, two-storied house of grey limestone, which was extended in red sandstone in 1849. The castle remained as a private residence until 1923, when it became a ‘Clinic for Internal Diseases’ until 1962, when it was converted to a hotel.
There are other connections with subsequent Princes of Wales. The ‘Prince of Wales Suite’ and ‘Bertie’s ‘ dining room are both named after Albert Edward (later King Edward VII) the eldest son of Queen Victoria, who spent a lot of time there … mainly because he was said to be having an affair with the owner’s wife! And Prince Charles, the present incumbent, stayed at the hotel in 1969. But, maybe he doesn’t count, for he wasn’t yet Prince of Wales; he was on his way to his investiture at Caernarfon Castle.
Most of the rooms give good views of the gardens and surrounds, which are based around the ruins of the original castle, much of which remains recognisable to make an exploration unusual and interesting.