Owning Carreg Cennen really all comes down to a quirk of circumstances. When my father-in-law bought the farm in 1963, it was part of the Cawdor estate. He bought it as a sitting tenant and because of the change of ownership they had to draw up a new set of deeds. When that was done a red line went around the outside of the property which ended up including the castle. It was a basically a clerical error. Lord Cawdor did try to correct it, but my father-in-law was quite an obstinate sort and he said ‘Tough, the deal’s been done now.’ They said it was inappropriate to for him to own it, but the Cawdor family weren’t in any position to maintain the castle at that time anyway.
Looking after Carreg Cennen is a big responsibility. The way I look at is that we’re really just passing through, so I want to be sure that the site is left in better condition than we found it. Everything we’ve done is to try and improve people’s enjoyment of the site.
That’s probably why our visitor numbers have held up. People coming here can have some refreshments in the tea rooms and we ‘dress the set’ so to speak. We try and make sure that it’s more than just a big pile of stone in a field, by showing off the rare breed animals like longhorn cows and a selection of sheep we have on the farm too.
I always remember the first bunch of longhorn heifers that I sold, probably 40 years ago, was to a pick-your-own fruit place down in Kent. He bought six heifers and all he wanted to do was park them by the side of his farm to attract visitors. So we graze our rare-breed sheep around the castle just to give it that bit more interest.
We also have an old Welsh longhouse which was the original house on the property. We’ve filled it with various purchases from farm sales. My wife calls it a pile of rubbish, but I refer to it as a collection of agricultural antiquities. We don’t really market it as such, but people like to pop in there and have a nose around. It’s just another aspect of making a visit here about more than just the castle. You should always try to exceed people’s expectations, so these unexpected bonuses can have a big impact. I doubt if there is any country in the world that we’ve never had a visit from. One day last summer about 900 percent of the cars in the car park were either hired or with overseas plates.
The light and the weather conditions change here so dramatically that you always see a new side of the castle, even after all these years. It’s a case of location, location, location. The weather has an impact on our visitor numbers, but there are very few days when we have no one at all. If it snows, that attracts people. The last thing we want is very long hot summers as that sees people head to the coast rather than come inland.
If I had to pick something about Carreg Cennen that always captures people’s imaginations, it would have to be cave beneath the castle. Some people refer to it as a dungeon, but it probably relates to the beginnings of the use of the site, long before the castle was built.
The cave has been incorporated into the fabric of the castle, which is a really unusual feature in a building of this type. Some recent findings down there suggest that is was one of the oldest inhabited caves in the whole of Wales. People have been drawn here since prehistoric times and I expect they’ll continue to visit for quite some time yet.