Penrhyn Castle, on the edge Bangor, is one of those historic sites that does an impressive job acknowledging and talking about its conflicted history. It’s one of those “castles” that’s really a castle-like mansion — and this one was built by a family that first made its fortune from sugar plantations in Jamaica, owning hundreds of slaves and strongly supporting the slave trade. Later, the family’s money came from its dominance in the slate trade, owning what was at one time the largest slate quarry in the world (the site of a long, fraught strike at the start of the 20th century). Throughout the castle, the various displays of wealth are accompanied by a sober reminder of where that wealth came from.
After entering the castle grounds, you head down a long lane until you reach the car park. On this visit, my parents and I had taken public transport, so we walked and enjoyed all the trees and brush along the way. Next to the car park is the National Trust entrance — once you go through, you have the whole property to explore, from the castle to the chapel to the many gardens.
We walked around the outside of the castle and decided to explore the outdoor areas first (surprise, surprise!). First up was the little chapel, tucked away not far from a picnic and play area.
From the chapel we walked to the very civilized walled garden, with victorian touches like wrought iron benches and lily ponds where I spotted dragonflies flitting about.
We then followed the steps down into the bog garden, which felt like going back in time and into the wild. We walked along the prehistoric plants, tall grasses, and water, enjoying the juxtaposition with the more orderly garden above.
Finally it was time to head to the castle itself, although we took the long way around and looked up close at the vines growing along the castle walls. I particularly enjoyed a door that looked straight out of Lord of the Rings, and the incredible views toward Snowdonia and along the coast.
I don’t have any photos from inside the castle, as photography isn’t allowed there. But if you go, it’s worth taking a good look around and asking plenty of questions about what you see. That said, I’ve never felt the urge to go inside again, although I’ve enjoyed plenty of visits to the castle grounds since my first visit (especially for their Yoga on the Lawn events).
If you do visit, don’t miss the hide — it’s before you get to the car park as you enter, and we stopped by for a quick look on our way out: