Castles Of England
Articles View Hits

St Donats Castle

Visited  August 2011


Location St Donats, Vale of Glamorgan
Entrance Fee Yes- visits on public open days only
Railway Station Nearby          Llantwit Major- approx. 2 miles
Parking Yes
Facilities Cafe,Toilets



St. Donats is a rare example of  a twelfth century castle, with later additions, which has been fully restored and is in fact still in use today as an International College. It is a good example of how ancient buildings can be adapted and used for modern purposes, if the money and inclination is there. However, the downside is that when  castles are privately owned it is up to to the owners to decide on public access. At St. Donats the public can use the facilities of the small Arts Centre & Cafe on site, or as we did, by booking onto one of the guided tours which are offered during the college summer holidays.







The castle was mainly connected with the Stradling family throughout its history, like many rich families their fortunes were up & down over the years. One young Stradling son was kidnapped by pirates and a ransom paid for his release. The pirate in question was caught and apparently buried up to his neck in a cave at low tide, and left to drown.


Another story tells of a young Stradling widow who could not live with the grief of losing her husband so threw herself off the top of a tower at the castle. There were also disagreements with various Kings & Queens over religion, as the devout Catholic family gradually changed to a devout Protestant family. Predictably the Civil War was tricky for the Stradlings, as they backed the Parliaments cause and so found themselves out of favour after King Charles' restoration. It was at this point that the castle was slighted, at the order of the King. Eventually the last Stradling heir died without issue, and the subsequent legal battle for ownership dragged on for many years, increasing the dilapidation of the disputed castle.





The castle was tenanted for many years  after that and so restoration did not really begin in earnest until 1901 when it was bought by a Morgan Williams, who began a sensitive renovation of the castle & Grounds. However, the castle's 20th century transformation is mainly attributed to wealthy American socialite William Randolph Hearst, who bought the castle in 1925 , mainly it would seem as a 'party pad' and a place to bring his mistress while in the UK. He added many internal fittings which he bought from other great houses which were being dismantled at the time, adding to the 'eclectic' mix of the interior, which can still be seen today.


The exterior has a good mix of buildings, including a Gatehouse with a portcullis and murder holes. There was a moat at one time, but this is now dry. The Lady Anne tower is impressive, and the Western Range contains the modern day dining hall of the college, which is part of the guided tour. Fragments of curtain wall also exist in places.






The day we visited the castle it was pouring with rain, which was in no way different to all the other castle visits we made in soggy August 2011. The guided tour took us inside the castle buildings as well as the outside, so there was some respite from the rain, but it meant that we could not take advantage of the lovely grounds, or even take a walk down to the nearby beach, which would have been possible on a sunny day.


We were guided around the castle by students of the college, they were very knowledgeable but not professional tour guides, so sometimes there was an awkward silence whilst they remembered what they wanted to say. It was also quite hard to hear sometimes (to be fair that was probably due to my own child moaning loudly about the rain!!)


There is a cafe at the castle, this is used also by the Arts Centre, but it was not particularly well stocked on the day we were there. In particular there seemed to be no provision of drinks for children, just tea or coffee for adults, which was a bit limiting. Also on the down side was the fact that after the tour had ended there was no chance to wander around on your own and get a second look at the castle buildings. When we tried this we were approached by a student and politely advised that this was not possible. However, on our way out we did mange to slip back round again and revisit the area around the gatehouse and outer court. No one seemed to be bothered about our presence in that area, so I guess it is down to the individual students and how zealous they are. I thought it was a shame though that having paid £5.00 for a 45 minute tour we were then obliged to leave the premises so soon. Still, as it is privately owned the owners make the rules.


On a sunny day this must be  a lovely spot, and the castle is certainly impressive. However the lack of facilities and the students practically escorting us off the premises after the tour amplified the disappointment of a wet day. I would though still advise a visit on an open day if the chance arises, just because the opportunity for the public to view the castle is so rarely available.




More info:  St Donats Art Centre

Featured Pics
Build A Castle