CRAIG-Y-NOS CASTLE, BRECON BEACONS
WHAT’S THE SCOOP? If you don’t think your budget will stretch to staying in a castle, think again: Craig-y-Nos makes it surprisingly affordable. This Neogothic Mansion overlooking the River Tawe is packed full of history – and is actually one of Wales’ most dog-friendly hotels.
Built in 1841, it is the former home of Spanish opera singer Adelina Patti who used to perform for Queen Victoria by private invitation. The supposedly haunted castle was practically a ruin when it was bought by the current owners in 2000, but they plan to bring it back to its former glory.
So far, thousands of pounds have been spent on renovations – restoring the outside clock cost £23,000 alone. Work on the 11-acre site is very much ongoing but more than 30 bedrooms are now complete and the castle also serves as a popular wedding venue. It’s very grand but as long as you’re not expecting 5* luxury, you’ll love it.
ARE MUDDY PAWS WELCOME? Oh yes. Dogs are allowed in all the bedrooms and public areas of the castle, excluding the function room, gym and conservatory. Grab yourself a complimentary dog bed and curl up in front of the roaring fire in the Patti Bar or relax with a drink in the Nicolini Lounge. You can’t take the dog beds up to your room so remember to pack your own. You will, however, be able to sneak your pet a sausage at breakfast. There is no extra charge for dogs.
AND WHEN I’M DOG TIRED? Read up on the castle history while relaxing in your room. We stayed in the Atrium Block, which was once Adelina Patti’s staff quarters. Our comfortable en-suite room – number 21 – was located on the first-floor of the castle and had views out across a courtyard. But for simpler stays, check out the self-catering Nurses’ Block which has shared bathroom facilities.
Our classically-decorated double room had a TV and DVD player as well as tea and coffee-making facilities. The large bathroom had a rolltop tub and separate shower, not to mention a quirky compass design on the tiled floor. At the time of our visit, WiFi was only available in the Patti Bar.
Guests can make the most of a free on-site gym overlooking the castle grounds, and there’s also a hot tub where you can soak away your stresses and strains. Alternatively, just relax in one of the aforementioned bars or lounges which are well-stocked with local spirits. We loved the Brecon Botanicals gin.
During your stay, it’s well worth signing up for a tour of castle to learn about its historic past. You can also get a sense of the castle’s size – it even has a Grade I listed theatre, built by its former opera-loving owner. Tours run every day at 10.30am and can be booked at reception. They’re free for guests but £10 per person otherwise.
HOW ARE THE SCOOBY SNACKS? Very good. The locally-sourced bar menu changes daily depending on what’s in season, but usually consists of four starters and five mains. Favourites include West Country crab cakes (£6.95), Welsh lamb steak (£17.95) and the perennial pub classic, gammon, egg and chips (£14.95).
Breakfast is a relaxed self-service affair with fruit, cereal and a selection of hot food. Make sure you have one of the delicious Welshcakes and try the fresh bread from Cwtch bakery, in next door’s country park.
I can also highly recommend the homemade food at the Ancient Briton, a former CAMRA Pub of the Year. Located a short drive from the castle, it has lots of real ales and the veggie curry (£9.95) – served with chips, rice or half and half – is particularly excellent. Well-behaved dogs are welcome in the bar area.
ANY FOUR-LEGGED FRIENDS TO PLAY WITH? Castle dogs Jack and Sheba will be on hand to check you in and you’re more than welcome to join them on their daily walks. You’ll probably come across a few other four-legged guests, too. We certainly did!
WHERE’S GOOD FOR WALKIES? Craig-y-Nos Country Park is right next door – it literally backs on to the castle grounds and you can access it through various gates. The 40-acre Victorian garden is a joy to explore with its mix of woodland, meadows and waterside trails. There’s even a small lake and you can buy food to feed the ducks.
These days, Craig-y-Nos Country Park – in the secluded Upper Swansea Valley – is managed by the Brecon Beacons National Park. There’s also a tea room onsite so you can really make the most of your visit. If you’re not staying in the area, two hours’ parking will set you back £1.50.
Craig-y-Nos Castle is surrounded by the Brecon Beacons mountains and is also close to Henrhyd Falls – the highest waterfall in South Wales. The National Trust suggests a lovely walk that takes in both the falls and the river of Nant Llech. The 3.5-mile walk should take approximately two-and-a-half hours. For more information, click here.
The castle owners have also put together a booklet containing 50 recommended walks in the local area. All the walks are either circular or semi-circular and cater for all ages and ability – of both human and dog. They also list local landmarks and dog-friendly places to stop along the way. To check the walks out, click here.WHAT ERNIE LOVED: Having the country park right on the doorstep, getting lots of fuss from staff, trying (and failing) to catch the castle cat
WHAT I LOVED: The rural location, the lovely country park, the friendly service
GET ON THE DOG AND BONE: Budget stays at Craig-y-Nos Castle start from £80 per night, including breakfast. This price is for a basic room in the Nurses’ Block with a shared bathroom. En-suite rooms start from £140 per night (with breakfast), but look out for “Jack’s Dog-Friendly Deals”. At the time of our stay, you could get 50% off a second night when visiting midweek. For more information or to book, call 01639 731167 or click here.