Gwrych Castle in Abergele used to be famous as the strange, ruined castle that you could spot from the dual carriageway that runs along the top of North Wales. You’d be looking out of the window of the car on your way to a holiday resort or campsite and there it’d be, looking creepy and mysterious on the hillside.
The castle had been abandoned since 1990 and had become a roofless shell through asset-stripping, fires and vandalism. In 2018 it was bought by the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust and saved on behalf of the nation.
The castle became famous beyond North Wales in 2020, when the I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here TV show team were looking for alternatives to their usual base in Australia, which was now off limits. They decided that Gwrych Castle made the perfect location.
Visiting Gwrych Castle in 2021
Gwrych Castle is open to the public and makes a great day out in North Wales. The castle is still very much a ruin, but it’s been made safe for visitors. There’s little in the way of facilities for the time being – just portaloos and a weekend ice cream van – as the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust are working on getting mains power and water back to the castle.
I felt lucky to get to see the castle as it is now, before lots of renovation work has been done, and it’ll be fascinating to visit again over the years as it returns to its former glories.
I’d booked tickets online for entry at a set time slot, we got there a bit late because of traffic jams on the way from Manchester, but the lovely lady at the ticket booth (and her lovely cat who was there helping her) let us in anyway. There’s a car park just past the ticket booth and some overflow parking a little further down the track from Abergele.
You’ll start your visit by walking up a grassy slope to the castle and entering through the Gardener’s Tower. You’ll emerge into the castle gardens, which have been lovingly replanted by volunteers and were looking beautiful when I visited Gwrych Castle in July 2021. There used to be a conservatory here looking out towards the sea, which will eventually be reinstated and become a cafe and shop.
Next is the climb up the romantic Fairy’s Glen steps, visiting the formal Lady’s Walk garden on the way and up to Nant-y-Bella tower.
Entering through the large gate it really feels like you’re going into a medieval castle. This was the family’s private entrance into the house. A little further along the driveway is the outdoor theatre, with the brooding Maiden’s Tower as a backdrop, and the rear entrance to the main building. There’s a small indoor section of the main house here that’s open to the public; take the stairs from the porch down the wide stone staircase, through a narrow passageway and into the chapel.
Through the archway to the right as you leave the chapel, you’ll reach Coach House Court, where you’ll find most of the I’m A Celebrity locations along with the props that were left behind during filming. There are lots of towers and turrets in this part of the castle; most of them were modelled on medieval castles from across Wales. The buildings around Coach House Court were used by the chauffeur, blacksmith and as dog kennels. Up on the hill, the large square tower was a brewery.
A lovely lane leads down the hill past the stables to the main gate and the west terrace. This was originally laid out as formal gardens but has also been used as an event space. The views from here are fantastic and there’s a vintage ice cream van here at weekends.
Gwrych Castle and I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!
In late 2020, the producers of TV show I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! had a problem. The usual location in the Australian jungle was off-limits due to Australia’s borders being closed, but they still wanted the show to go ahead. They considered a number of alternatives in the UK, but Gwrych Castle’s stunning setting and bags of atmosphere made it the perfect setting.
Parts of the set are still in place in and around Coach House Court; when you visit Gwrych Castle, look out for the celebs’ rickety iron beds, the telephone box, the privy and the kiosk.
The Trust have said that, while the fee for use of the castle wasn’t anything like as large as it was reported to be in the press, they benefited from hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of urgent remedial work to make the castle safe for filming. Happily, that means that they’re now around two years further along on the road to restoring the castle, and the work has allowed them to open indoor areas like the chapel to the public.
Is Gwrych Castle haunted?
Looking at the castle, it’s not surprising that Gwrych Castle has had its fair share of unexplained and unexplainable goings-on.
- A figure, believed to be the ghost of the Countess has been seen gazing down the marble steps.
- Some visitors have reported seeing a ball of orange fire. A growling noise and heavy footsteps have been heard at the same time.
- A young woman wearing a long, crinoline dress and a pointed hat with a veil has been seen on the marble staircase.
- The old chapel is reputed to contain a sealed door to a secret room. Anyone who tries to open the door will suffer a terrible curse.
- The duty manager has experienced hearing a chain rattling, and menacing footsteps coming towards them; when they flashed their torch in the direction of the footsteps, there was nobody there.
- Another volunteer has reported being pushed up the stairs at the spot where the Countess’s last steward died.
If you’re interested in the spookier side of Gwrych Castle, you can go on one of the regular ghost tours. There are special tours at Halloween.
How to get to Gwrych Castle
Gwrych Castle is just outside Abergele in North Wales. From the A55 North Wales Expressway, take the A547 through the centre of Abergele. The castle is on the left on the outskirts of the town. You’ll drive through the grand original entrance gate; from here, it’s half a mile along a fairly rough track up to the castle and the car park.
Gwrych Castle is around an hour and a half from Manchester by car and just over an hour from Liverpool.
By public transport
The nearest railway station to Gwrych Castle is Abergele & Pensarn station on the North Wales line from Chester to Holyhead. Trains call at several other North Wales seaside resorts such as Prestatyn, Rhyl and Colwyn Bay so it’s convenient if you’re staying in the area. The station is 2 miles from the castle, but a regular bus service between the two runs from outside the castle gates.
Is Gwrych Castle dog-friendly?
You can visit Gwrych Castle with your dog, but they’ll have to stay on the lead. Since there’s no water to the castle, it’s best to bring your own water and water bowl.
The Castle originally had an extensive estate with some lovely features including caves and a tower; the Trust hopes to open more of it to visitors in future. When it does, it’ll be a great place to come for lovely walks with your dog.