They had to start somewhere, but bet you didn’t know that the National Trust, the UK’s largest heritage body, began life with a mere 4½ acres of land. We’ll also be surprised if you know where and when the acquisition of that land took place.
The year was 1895. The place was Barmouth on Cardigan Bay. Actually, it was a tiny headland above Barmouth known as Dinas Oleu, the ‘Fortress of Light’. Since then, the Trust has grown into a major landowner and protector of Britain’s wild spaces, including great swathes of Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons. But it’s perhaps best known for its work in preserving our built heritage.
Although the stereotypical Trust property is a grand, many-roomed mansion stuffed with period furnishings, it endeavours to cover the entire spectrum of houses of special significance. In Wales’s case, that translates into humble farmsteads as well as country houses, the homes of medieval merchants and industrial slate barons, Roman gold mines (near Pumsaint) and even a complete coastal village (in the case of Porthdinllaen).
Chirk Castle. The only castle in Wales in continuous occupation since the 13th century. See if you can trace its evolution from border fort to comfy stately home.
Erddig, Wrexham. An unusual house that is as much about the servants’ ‘downstairs’ as it is the master’s ‘upstairs’.
Penrhyn Castle, Bangor. It’s overpowering. It’s overwhelming. It’s Castle Gormenghast. Its builder, a Victorian slate magnate, was VERY wealthy. And he wanted you to know it.
Plas Newydd, Isle of Anglesey. A beautiful Georgian Gothic mansion set in an equally beautiful spot on the shores of the Menai Strait. Its Italianate Rex Whistler mural, almost 18m/60ft long, is a masterpiece.
Powis Castle, Welshpool. Did this opulent mansion really begin life as a rough-and-ready border castle? Actually, it’s more than a statement house. Its gardens and Italianate terraces are gorgeous too.
Tudor Merchant’s House, Tenby. A very fine residence of its time that pays homage to Tenby’s prosperous medieval seafaring days.
Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant, near Penmachno. You could say that this small stone farmhouse was the saviour of the Welsh language. It was the home of William Morgan, born in 1541, who went on to become a bishop and translator of the Bible into Welsh.