February 2021 Update

Castles, Celebrities and Cotoneaster

We hope this update finds you all safe and well despite these very trying times. 

ITV announced in August 2020 that the 20th series of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! was to be filmed at Gwrych Castle. Ant & Dec hosted an adapted version of I’m A Celebrity live on ITV from the castle in November and December 2020, which saw 12 celebrities take part in a raft of gruesome trials and challenges. Giovanna Fletcher was crowned Queen of the Castle after spending three weeks battling the elements (and creepy crawlies) – congratulations to Giovanna! Congratulations also to ITV as I’m A Celebrity has been named the biggest television show of 2020. An average of 11.2 million viewers watched across the series, up almost a million on the previous year.

Many of the businesses within Abergele took part in welcoming the television show to the Castle with shopfronts improvements and floodlighting of the main gates, both sponsored by Abergele Town Council. Oriel Colwyn created art installations throughout the town – which captured and celebrated the town‘s enthusiasm. Oriel Colwyn’s curator Paul Sampson teamed up with photographer Niall McDiarmid to highlight some of the local people and personalities of ‘Celebrity Town’: https://www.celebritytown.co.uk/

Together with our neighbours, Abergele Golf Club and Manorafon Farm, we would like to thank ITV for choosing Gwrych Castle and for supporting so many local businesses. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic we are yet unsure when we will be reopening, as we are subject to Welsh Government’s restrictions.  During this time, we are carrying out essential repairs and maintenance to the Castle and estate. Due to the castle and estate being essentially a building site with movement of heavy goods vehicles and other plant, there is security presence 24/7 to ensure safety. 

Urgent Repair Works

During an inspection of the Castle in 2019, our architects, Chambers Conservation, identified three of the most pressing structural issues. In conjunction with Cadw, Conwy Council, and Natural Resources Wales, the necessary licences and permissions were obtained to undertake the urgent repairs package in the late-summer and autumn of 2020. 

Work Area 1: The south wall of the keep facing the courtyard, comprising the south wall of the inner hall, former picture gallery and bedrooms above.

Work Area 2: The decay and failure of the embedded timbers to the north library bay.

Work Area 3: The failure and collapse of the lintels and relieving arch between the dining room and the music room.

With the filming of I’m A Celebrity, the Castle and local regulatory bodies agreed that this would be an opportune expansion of the repairs package beyond the original three work areas. Grosvenor Construction, as principal contractor, undertook the works with the guidance of Chambers Conservation. ITV and the Castle on conserving wall tops, window and door openings, and other essential elements to allow safe access into the main house without personal protective equipment.

This has not only pushed the Castle’s rescue years ahead, but it will enable us to have a much-improved visitor experience that will take the public into the heart of the main house. When the lockdowns end and we are able to reopen, we would be pleased to show you all of the good work that has taken place in the last six months. Even with such a small window of opening in 2020, we were able to welcome 27,000 visitors to the Castle!

Flood Alleviation Works

Griffiths Civil Engineering and Construction have been appointed by Conwy County Borough Council, to carry out work on the Eldon Drive Flood Alleviation Works. They will be carrying out work on the stream, Y Fron, which flows from the valley by Nant-y-Bella lodge, through Abergele Golf Course, and out by Manorafon Farm. The projects seeks to install:

  • New culverts.
  • A trash screen (which will prevent debris from blocking the stream).
  • Open ditches.
  • A large storm water holding pond.
  • The flood works will also include temporarily pumping and diverting streams, felling trees, and landscaping work.
  • Historic tree reintroduction is to be carried out in the first planting season following the construction works. This is anticipated to be October/November 2021.

Site vehicles will use the exit out of Manorafon Farm to get onto Abergele Road, with works continuing until summer 2021. During the construction of the new culvert, access will be limited to the golf course and Castle via the main drive. 

Nant-y-Bella Drive was upgraded by ITV for the filming of I’m A Celebrity, and we have continued the works by carrying out emergency repairs to the Nant-y-Bella bridge following a structural survey. When we reopen, this will form part of the new visitor route. Works are still ongoing with the post-filming repairs to our car park and the main drive within the castle’s ownership.

Further details on the flood alleviation works

Natural Resources Wales Leasehold

Gwrych Castle is a privately owned Estate and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) – legacy Forestry Commission Wales – has a long-term lease over areas of the woodland within the Estate since 1951. There is no dedicated open access, public rights of way or permissive paths within the NRW leased land. NRW and Gwrych Castle Trust are working together to manage the castle and surrounding woodland and to improve public access for visitors to the castle. There have been no changes to land ownerships or boundaries.

NRW are reviewing elements of Llanddulas Limestone and Gwrych Castle Wood SSSI as a recent study on stands of the Scapanietum Asperae has shown that it is under threat due to the invasion of parts of the SSSI by Cotoneaster Integrifolius and other scrub. NRW are also in talks for thinning and felling sections of the commercial timber plantations within the Great Castle Wood. This follows routine felling of dangerous trees last year as part of their maintenance of the plantation. Moving forward, part of our vision for the woodland is to have dedicated areas for mountain biking and other outdoor pursuits, which avoid the SSSI and historic features. Another ambition is to formally open access to the caves at Tan yr Ogo, which are part of the Estate, for visitors and for organised rock climbing activities. This will link in the restoration works on Lady Emily’s Tower and the Gamekeeper’s Cottage, both of which are excluded from the lease and are in hand with the castle. 

Lady Emily's Tower

By means of a winding path, the ridge of the cliff was gained, and luncheon was partaken of at a height of 560 feet above the sea level, and near the Observatory. The view from this point is an extensive one, embracing within its scope part of Lancashire on the one hand, with the Snowdon range of mountains on the other. On a clearer day the Isle of Man could be easily perceived. No doubt this panorama suggested the very appropriate Inscription on the Observatory tower –

‘The sea Is His and He made it, and His hands prepared the dry land.’

Cambrian News, 8th September 1876. For further information on the designed landscape, please click here

The castle are commissioning Ned Sharer of The Natural Building Centre/Y Ganolfan Adeiladu Naturiol, Llanrwst, to undertake Phase 1 emergency works to Lady Emily’s Tower. This will include stabilisation of internal walls, window openings, fireplace, and localised pointing following years of theft and vandalism. In the near future, we would like to open the tower for visitors when it is fully restored.

Water and Electric Supplies

Following our fundraising since the summer of 2020, we are delighted to announce that the necessary monies for part of the project has been raised and we will be reconnecting the main electric. We are continuing to fundraise for the water reconnection monies. The utilities were disconnected in 1995 when New Age Travellers took over the castle and grounds. This is a landmark moment in the rescue of the castle when we will be able to officially to turn on the lights!

We hope this update provides an overview of what has been a rather busy but productive time.

With Kind Regards,
Gwrych Castle

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