Now, this may not be an issue that many Americans face, but over in Europe, it’s a serious concern.
What to do with the many, many castles, keeps and stately homes whose purpose have fallen from favour?
Let them crumble? Rebuild? Restore? Reuse? Remember, whether through commerce (a striking hotel conversion) or creative means (document thoroughly before letting nature take its course.)
The Aberglasney House and Gardens in Carmarthenshire, have taken a rather different approach.
They’ve built a sub-tropical glassy atrium.
Technically, the buildings were a house rather than a castle but with stone-walled cloisters, crumbling gates and an origin that involves the words King Henry VIII and the first High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1541, I’ll stick with my romantic description a little longer.
As for the gardens, they include a myriad of Downton Abbey-sounding names: the North Lawn and Yew Tunnel, Cloister Garden, Bishop Rudd’s Walk, Asiatic Garden, both Upper and Lower Gardens, a Pool Garden, Stream Garden, Pigeon House Wood, Jubilee Woodland, Sunken Garden and more.
But it’s the deliciously named Ninfarium that stood out the most for me: this magnificent glass-ceilinged creation where sub-tropical phaleonopsis orchids and Madagascar jasmine bloomed amid the sticky humid air and incongruous cool-cold stone castle walls.
Aberglasney blasted through the centuries from the 16th to the 20th, passing through bishops, lawyers and well to do families, before tragedy and decline arrived in step with the 1900s.
It was requisitioned by the army during the Second World War before a combination of untimely family deaths and the rising costs of maintenance in a world without widespread butlers and domestic service made the project “no longer economically not viable.”
And it’s at this stage of the story that we return to the idea of Americans and their role in European architectural preservation.
Manhattanite Francis Cabot, “a financier by profession and a horticulturalist by disposition,” set up the Aberglasney Restoration Trust to rescue the by now derelict shadows of the Aberglasney House and Gardens.
And so it is today that just a short drive from the Welsh towns of Llandeilo and Carmarthen, you can combine the cool stone of castle history with the sub-tropical sweetness on skin.
Disclosure – I visited Aberglasney as a guest of Discover Carmarthenshire. More on that to follow, including daffodils, gastronomy and staying in an original Welsh House. In the meantime, rest assured that as ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, what is the point?
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