Bees and bats delay repairs to turrets of fairytale castle
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 is usually a 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 six-inch bolts drilled into the mortar 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.”
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 it,” said Mr 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.
> Renovation work at Castell Coch