As usual I was on the lookout for mouse ornaments but I didn't need to stop at every stall; there wasn't a mouse to be found anywhere but I did get myself a lovely black, white and silver glittery 'going out' top for £1.50, and another couple of quid got a nice new rug in a neutral colour for my son's room. Back at the van I took the dogs for a good walk right to the top of the field, all the way round the next field and back, then set off to my second port of call, Chirk Castle.
Not being exactly sure where the castle was in relation to the car boot field I asked one of the marshalls near the gate and was told to turn right at the entrance, turn left at the end of the lane, go straight on at the roundabout then turn left at the next roundabout and go past the Co-op shop. Simple enough you might think, but as I got onto the first roundabout I realised that going straight on would take me onto the A483 heading north, which was totally in the wrong direction - I should have gone left, so I went all the way round and came off onto the A5 heading back towards Llangollen.
At the next roundabout there was a 'castle' sign pointing left and as I turned onto that road I realised that was the way I'd gone to get to the car boot sale. If I'd turned left out of the field instead of right I would have been on the right road within seconds; instead I'd just needlessly driven round in a big circle. So much for that marshall and her directions! From then on it was easy to find the castle as there were several signs for it but even when I got there I hadn't done with the minor irritations.
Car parking was in a huge field with marshalls directing the way and indicating where to park. I was directed to the right where I would be parked in the open near a fence, but seeing some cars parked in the shade of a line of trees on the left I asked if I could go over there as I had two dogs in the back, only to be told abruptly by the young marshall "No, there are no spaces!" It looked to me like there was loads of room so I asked again, only to get the same abrupt reply; it did cross my mind to drive round and park there anyway but I didn't - instead, just to confuse the issue, I parked several car-widths along from where I was told to, and if it messed up their system then it was their problem!
Fortunately the rest of my castle visit was undertaken with no problems and I really enjoyed going up and down various staircases and looking through all the different rooms. It was a big place, built in a square round a central courtyard; completed by Roger Mortimer in 1310 it served as a border fortress until 1595 when Thomas Myddleton bought it to create a family home. Since then its many occupants have left behind lavishly furnished interiors, a diverse collection of art and curiosities, and acres of beautiful gardens and parkland. The castle is now in the care of the National Trust but members of the Myddleton family actually lived there until 2004.
The first place I looked in was the dungeon, almost 30ft below ground down a steep and uneven stone spiral staircase at the bottom of one of the towers. There was nothing down there, it was just a large circular space with two simple narrow benches and would have been in total darkness if it hadn't been for the dim light which had been set above the doorway. Back at ground level another steep staircase led up to a barely-furnished room which had been used by Thomas Evelyn Ellis, 8th Baron Howard de Walden, as a study while leasing the castle from the Myddleton family between 1911 and 1946. This simple, almost empty room was certainly a great contrast to the opulence of all the grand state rooms in the rest of the castle.
Just off the entrance to the 'lived in' part of the castle was the Cromwell Hall with its medieval-style fireplace and collection of English Civil War armour and 17th century muskets, originally purchased in 1680 to commemorate the family's exploits during the conflict. From there I found my way to a grand staircase which led to a large and airy landing with marble pillars and decorative coving round the walls and ceiling, and if I'd read every information board in every room after that I would have been there all day so I just wandered round and took photos where I could without really registering which room was which.
Eventually I walked through the long gallery with its ornately carved chairs, benches and tables set along the walls, and just off to one side was a bedroom with decadent wallpaper and a four-poster bed adorned with heavy brocade drapes. Then at the end of the gallery and through another door I came across something totally unexpected; thinking I was walking into another room I was quite surprised to find that I was on a balcony in the chapel, with a vertigo-inducing view over the rail to the floor below. I don't normally mind heights but I certainly wasn't expecting that one!
From the chapel I only had another couple of rooms to see, one of which I knew was the Bow Room. A couple of ornaments on top of the fireplace roused my curiosity as I couldn't make out what they were; they could have been jugs but they looked more like animals of some kind - maybe sheep, but having seen them on an internet picture they could possibly be dogs. The little blue rabbit sitting just down below was a modern addition though - it was part of an Easter rabbit hunt specially for kids and there was one to be found in some part of every room.
With my look round the castle rooms over it was time to explore the gardens, but that's for another post. I wasn't sure how well my indoor photos would come out as I'd been asked not to use flash so I was relying on the camera's night shot facility and any natural daylight in the rooms, but if I got just one decent shot of each room I'd be happy.