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Powis Castle is a medieval castle in mid-Wales. Over the centuries it has slowly been modified from a fortified castle into a family home. It now contains a fine collection of artifacts from all periods of its history, as well as a separate museum dedicated to Clive of India and displaying an impressive array of items relating to that country.
Powis Castle is very easy to find. It sits just outside Welshpool and Newtown and is well signed with the usual brown signs. There is a huge, free car park located just outside the castle itself, so even on busy days, parking should not be an issue.
The castle is an imposing sight. It sits high on a hill overlooking the countryside and you can see what a statement of power it would have been in medieval times. For modern day tourists, though, it offers impressive views over Welshpool and the surrounding area.
The property is entered by way of a huge stone gateway that opens out into a beautiful courtyard. This is surrounded on all sides by buildings which once again act as a reminder of the power and influence of the people who lived there. Today, it's a lovely place to sit and admire the surroundings (particularly on a hot summer's day as it was when we visited) or to make acquaintance with the peacocks that roam freely in this area.
The interiors are no less impressive, with a huge number of rooms open to the public. Each room has been sympathetically maintained in terms of furniture and décor so that each room reflects the castle's changing history and function. It also gives a sense of how have fashions changed over the centuries. Some of the furnishings are Elizabethan or Jacobean (durable, practical pieces of wooden furniture); other exhibits date from Georgian times and are more elaborate and ornate.
Much of the original structure still survives, so you get a real sense of what it would have been like to live there. Most impressive is the wood paneled Elizabethan Long Gallery which is simply stunning. Many of the other rooms are just as impressive in a different way and Mrs. SWSt and I spent a lot of time just wandering around and browsing.
For the most part, Powis Castle provided excellent information on the history and content of each room. Individual rooms had specific information sheet (usually around 2 sides of A4) and these were well written and interesting; giving just enough detail to tell you what you needed to know without getting too bogged down in minutiae. Each room also had a room guide who could tell you more, although these were a bit of a mixed bag. Some were fine and knew their stuff; others admitted that they didn't normally work in that room and so knew little more than was on the information sheets. A few were downright bonkers! This included one guide who insisted on following you round and reading the exhibit labels to you and practically chased one poor young harassed family across a room to make sure their children didn't miss one particular exhibit! On the whole, the room guides were perhaps a little more intrusive than we personally hold have liked.
One thing that we did find mildly annoying was the labelling on the furniture. Rather than saying things like "this table dates from 1762" they read "I am a 230 year old table". Aside from the fact that you had to do a quick bit of mental maths to work out when it was made, it also wasn't a true reflection of the item's true age (do they really go around every year and change all the labels?) or tell you anything about its history.
On exiting the main house, you can also visit the Clive Museum dedicated to Clive of India. This houses a whole range of treasures and artifacts from India, including entire costumes and an impressive collection of swords and daggers. This was interesting, although sometimes a little difficult to browse. Large numbers of artifacts were often crammed into and this could be overwhelming. Many of the labels were also handwritten in a script which, together with the lighting could make them tricky to read.
Once have done the house and museum, it's nice to take a walk around the formal gardens, complete with maze and croquet lawn. Formal gardens are not normally my thing, and Mrs. SWSt can often be seen dragging a reluctant husband behind her, whilst she utters some incomprehensible thing like "Oh look! They have some 'Anaxyprobia Perisillinium'. We have that in our garden". To which, of course, I reply in the way only a perpetually plant challenged husband can: with the words "Do we, dear?" Still, even I had to admit that the variety of plants was incredible and on a summers day it makes for a pleasant walk. A word of warning though: since the gardens are tiered, the bottom level is quite significantly below the house and it's quite a steep climb back up to the top.
For such a large place, the facilities were rather disappointing, particularly when it came to eating and drinking. Although there are two cafe/restaurants, these do not appear to be terribly well stocked. Mrs. SWSt and I went shortly after 2pm with the plan of getting a light snack, but on entering the main one a sign told us that hot food was only available during very limited hours (something like 12-2pm). Then when we tried to buy a sandwich, we discovered they had none left and were not planning on making any more. It was the same story at the second cafe in the gardens.
Pricing varies considerably, since you can choose to visit everything or just pay for access to the main house, the gardens or the Clive Museum. If you want to do the whole lot, it's £11.80 (£5.90 for children). This might seem like a lot but there is a huge amount to see and it does offer reasonable value for money. We spent well over 3 hours there and even then could happily have wandered around for a bit longer had time permitted.
Whilst it might not be as famous as some other Welsh castles, this is a real gem and if you find yourself in the area, you should definitely visit.
(c) copyright SWSt 2013
Powis Castle is close to Welshpool, a lovely little market town on the English/Welsh border, in the county of Powys. Standing high above the road, the drive winds round the castle, and there is plenty of parking. It is run by the National Trust and how I wished I had got my membership sorted out as I had to pay £9.45 whilst the rest of the group I was with got in free (well sort of, they had previously paid their membership!)
Powis Castle has been well preserved, and the red walls, looked welcoming in the sunlight. There is a small inner ward surrounding a tiny courtyard, this dates back to about 1200. The stable housed a state coach.The castle has a lot of history, and needed refurbishment in the 1600's, some of this work still survives, in the form of the grand staircase, which is no longer in use but you can admire its beauty from the hall and from above and the state ballroom which houses the Clive of India Museum. Further extensive building was carried out from 1772 by the young George Herbert, the second earl, but he died in 1801 in great debt, but his sister had married Clive of India's son, and so could afford to keep it in good condition.
Bequeathed to the National Trust in 1952, it remained in part a private home until 20 years ago. We were able to wander around and in each room were given sheets of information by the volunteers, ropes prevented you from getting too close to many exhibits and you could only peep into some of the bedrooms at the four poster beds. As is usual in these properties the sun is excluded making it hard to see some of the beautiful wall coverings.
We were amongst the first to visit the kitchen which had been opened for the first time that day, it felt cold and bleak, but we were assured it would have been sweltering hot as the huge fire would have been on all day. The kitchen was empty except for a table and welsh dresser and we were told they would not be adding kitchen tools etc as it wasn't their policy to buy things in only to use products that belonged there. There were some books and menus to see what was eaten at special functions.
It is not suitable for the disabled as the stairs are narrow in places, but wheelchairs are available and there is a route through the beautiful gardens avoiding steps.
The Clive Museum
This was set up in 1987 to display collections of Indian art acquired by Robert Clive, his son Edward and daughter in law Henrietta Herbert in the late 18th century. There is also a video giving the background. There was such an assortment of bits and pieces that there was something to suit everyone and even a display behind glass of the bed Clive used in India, which was very elaborate, he certainly didn't rough it!
Eating and Drinking
Unfortunately we spent too long in the gardens and the tearoom had closed (earlier than stated on my map!) But it was supposed to serve tea and coffees, main meals and light snacks, using locally sourced produce.
There are also picnic areas.
Obviously I can't comment on the men's toilets but the ladies were adequate with one for disabled people. The water was exceptionally hot, and there were notices stating this fact. One block near the stables, and another by the formal gardens which I didn't use.
There were two shops one in the courtyard selling souvenirs and NT gifts and another selling garden products and garden related things including some lovely plants, near the Stable.
I think this is the reason so many go to visit Powis Castle. The gardens were wonderful and we really needed longer to explore it more fully. It is one of a few baroque gardens to have survived more or less in its original form. It was revived by Violet, Countess of Powis in the early 1900's.
In July even though we have had a lot of rain the gardens were stunning, I have never seen so many flowers, mostly named, trees laden with apples lined the paths down to the formal gardens, with herbs growing around their bases. We worked our way along the terraces, sitting sometimes to enjoy the view of the welsh countryside, and absorbing the peace and fragrance of this beautiful garden. Yew trees clipped to a precise shape and box hedges neatly surrounded garden beds. There was also a lake to visit, but by then time was running out so we just walked down to it but not any further. We noticed too that there was a tree tour and a leaflet was available with all the information about various trees, but that will be for another visit, as I know another time I'm near Welshpool I will be visiting Powis Castle again.
I sat down at my trusty keyboard originally to write a glowing review about ‘Walkers Crisps’, my first venture into the Food and Drinks category, only to find that my suggestion was ‘too specific’ and not considered appropriate. Obviously not ‘gourmet’ enough. ‘Pickled Walnuts’ are fine, but try and introduce food for the common man and the great and the good of Dooyoo give you the brush off. Still Walkers’ loss is the National Trust’s gain, so let me tell you about one of my favourite places to visit, a place of peace and tranquility where you can gaze upon the (golden) wonders of nature whilst eating a packet of Cheese and Onion flavoured Lites. When the children were young, we used to be members of the National Trust. Family membership (two adults and two children) cost £45 a year and proved to be tremendous value in our area, with Erddig Hall and Chirk Castle practically within walking distance of our village and Little Moreton Hall, Bodnant Gardens, Carding Mill Valley, Speke Hall, Quarry bank Mill and Tatton Park barely an hour’s drive away. Such a rich seam of beautiful houses, majestic castles and impressive gardens - all within easy reach on a Saturday or Sunday or the occasional week day holiday. As the children grew up and grew out of ‘musty old buildings’ and ‘ornate flower beds’ and chose to do their own thing at the weekends we cancelled the membership, as it was no longer value for money. We still visit occasionally though, and in particular, Powis Castle, which in my opinion is the loveliest of all the National Trust properties I have visited. Whereas most of the great Welsh castles were allowed to decay when the medieval wars ended, Powis survives as a captivating example of a military stronghold, which was preserved and renewed by continual occupation. Located about a mile to the south of Welshpool in mid-Wales the area
is an ideal spot for a weekend away or if you live close enough a day out in the country. My ideal itinerary would be: Arriving in Welshpool in the morning I would park in the large car park by the excellent Tourist Information Office on the Oswestry Road. Well worth a visit to get the flavour of the area, its one of the largest and most comprehensive in the region, with lots of local history and crafts on view, very helpful staff and a surprising number of brochures about local events and places to visit for so rural an area. Walking the short distance into town I’d definitely pay a visit to the art gallery which doubles as a craft and coffee shop adjacent to the car park entrance. Neither me or my wife can remember what its called, but its an experience in itself. The latte’s about the best I’ve tasted, the Starbuck’s Chief Exec would do well to visit here to see how it should taste, and its served in mugs my wife describes as gorgeous with star shaped saucers she’s been searching for, for the last two years. The ambience of the place is great, you can wander round with your coffee and look at the impressive artwork painted by local artists and displayed in really unique frames - all at affordable prices. Sorry I got a bit carried away there, but the place really is worth a review in itself, shame I can’t remember its name. Moving on to Welshpool, the town itself is worth a look around. Aspects of it remain in the 50’s and 60’s yet it retains a lot of rural charm, with some fantastic buildings, small but interesting shops, and a beautifully restored canal basin. What amuses me, is that the town always seems to be full of hippies, or perhaps more appropriately new age travelers. I don’t know why, but for some reason its like Wales’ version of Glastonbury. Pick up something to eat from one of the town’s excellent bakeries and follow the
signposted footpath from the main street for a pleasant walk to the castle of about a mile. When the castle comes into view you soon realise why, despite its sham battlements it has served more as a country mansion than a castle for most of its life. The castle was built, by the Princes of Powys in the 13th Century, as a fortress to control the border with the English and is in such good condition because its been continuously occupied since that time. and its fabric contains architecture of many different periods. It occupies a wonderful position on a rocky ridge with an incredibly steep slope to the south east, now occupied by formal gardens. I won’t go into the history of the castle because it’s so varied there’s enough information for a book on it, and the web-site www.castlewales.com/Powis can provide a very useful summary. Its fabric contains architecture of many different periods and I would point out the lavish Oak Dining room, the Great Staircase elaborately decorated with carved fruit and flowers, the ornate plasterwork of the Long Gallery and the 18th Century Brussels tapestries of the Blue Drawing Room. If you like history you’ll love this place. By way of contrast the castle is home to the Clive Museum a permanent exhibition about ‘Clive of India’ a truly remarkable 18th Century figure whose family had strong links with Powis Castle. Clive was a major player in the formation of the British Empire, a general and statesman who strengthened British control of India. The museum has some fascinating artifacts of his time out there and some beautiful Indian treasures. The castle and the museum are impressive in themselves, but to me the main reason why I enjoy going to Powis is the stunningly beautiful terraced gardens, which are amongst the most famous in Britain. They consist of a series of elegant Italianate terraces, mixed with French formality and adorned with s
tatues, niches, balustrades and hanging gardens all stepped into the steep hillside beneath the castle walls. Created between 1688 and 1722 these are the only formal gardens of this period in the UK that are still kept in their original form. There’s an orangery, an aviary, a woodland wilderness with an ice-house and some of the tallest redwoods in the country, more rare and wonderful plants than any other garden I know sheltered by enormous clipped yews, but most of all there are magnificent views of the beautiful Shropshire/Welsh Border countryside for as far as the eye can see. Believe me its nicer than I’ve described I’m definitely not going overboard on this one and I urge you to visit the website for a flavour of what I’m talking about. On a sunny day its absolutely breathtaking. So there you are, another perfect day out in my opinion, topped off by a visit to one of the many country pubs in the area for a pint and a nice meal – beats crisps any day of the week.