Newest Review: ... history and function. It also gives a sense of how have fashions changed over the centuries. Some of the furnishings are Elizabethan... more
Powis Castle (Powys)
Member Name: SWSt
Powis Castle (Powys)
Advantages: Lots to see and do; well-written guides to each room
Disadvantages: Disappointing facilities; sometimes intrusive room guides
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
Summary: Definitely worth a visit