Roost­ing bats and an­gry bees de­lay cas­tle chim­ney re­pairs

South Wales Echo - - News - LAURA CLEMENTS Re­porter laura.clements@waleson­line.co.uk

NOTH­ING sig­nals au­tumn more that the tur­rets and chim­neys of “fairy­tale” Castell Coch ris­ing out of the an­cient beech for­est as the trees turn glo­ri­ous shades of red, yellow and am­ber.

But those chim­neys, which can be seen as far away as the M4 north of Cardiff, have been leak­ing.

Hi-tech sur­veys have high­lighted weak­nesses in the huge chim­ney stacks on the keep and gate­house.

Cadw, which man­ages the cas­tle, used drones to fly close up and take de­tailed pho­to­graphs.

These showed tiny fis­sures in the stone and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion to the point­ing, al­low­ing wa­ter to seep in to the bed­rooms be­low.

The dam­age to the highly dec­o­rated bed­rooms, where Lord and Lady Bute once slept, was so bad, Cadw had to in­ter­vene.

Re­pair­ing chim­neys fairly rou­tine project.

But on Castell Coch, high up in the woods above the vale of the Taff, it’s no easy task.

From roost­ing bats, to an­gry bees, and to 50-tonne chim­neys, work­ers have had to over­come ev­ery chal­lenge thrown their way.

To start with, the scale of the build­ing makes the chim­neys hard to get to.

That’s why they used a spe­cial­ist sys­tem of scaf­fold­ing which rises up the last third of the cas­tle, and rests on what are called “gal­low brack­ets” jut­ting out from the walls.

Cadw has a rule that any work it does must not cause ir­re­versible dam­age to any part of its his­toric land­marks.

There­fore, each bracket was at­tached to the curv­ing walls us­ing six­inch is usu­ally a bolts drilled be­tween each brick.

While the bricks can­not be eas­ily re­placed, the mor­tar can.

But as the team started drilling in June, they no­ticed clouds of an­gry bees start­ing to emerge from the air vents in the walls.

Re­mov­ing the air­bricks, they were amazed to find a colony of around 100,000 bees, which had made their home deep in the walls of the cas­tle.

Work was stopped to al­low pro­fes­sional bee­keeper Lorne East to come in and sal­vage the colony.

But there was so much honey, it poured out of the walls all the way to the floor.

Stephen Jones, Cadw’s pro­gramme and op­er­a­tional plan­ning man­ager, sneaked a taste of the golden honey and was blown away by its taste.

He said: “We could see the hon­ey­comb was dif­fer­ent colours. The darker colour was the blue­bell honey, which the bees had col­lected from the blue­bell woods around the cas­tle. And the lighter colour was from the black­ber­ries.” into the mor­tar

Mr East said the colony he res­cued from the cas­tle were still go­ing strong in hives in his back gar­den.

Af­ter the bees, came the bats...Castell Coch is home to sev­eral species of bats, in­clud­ing pip­pistrelle, long-eared and brown-eared.

“You name it, we had

Jones.

Work was again put on hold to al­low NRW to is­sue a bat li­cence. It meant work­ers had to check ev­ery crevice and crack in the 143-year-old build­ing be­fore they could make a start on any­thing else.

Even while they were re­paint­ing the rafters in the deep red colour, they had to stop and check no bats had got stuck in the dry­ing paint.

It took three months in to­tal to build the scaf­fold­ing and get the skilled stone­ma­sons in place be­fore they could even make a start.

The con­ser­va­tion project, cost­ing £850,000, is fo­cus­ing on two chim­ney stacks above the two main bed­rooms.

Cadw hopes it will then be able to re­move the scaf­fold­ing so vis­i­tors can en­joy the cas­tle in all its glory. it,” said Mr

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