Castell Coch stands above the village of Tongwylais like a French chateau – its spires rising out of the woods that cover the surrounding hills. It is easily reached by bike from Cardiff following national cycle route 8. Heading past the Millennium Stadium from the station I picked up the route on the path running on the west bank of the River Taff. Bute Park provides a green corridor through the city and the route sticks by the riverside most of the way passing fields and wooded sections. A short stretch along roads takes you to the village and the only strenuous part of the ride up a steep hill to the castle gates.
The castle was originally built in Norman times but the building that stands today is a reconstruction completed by the Third Marquess of Bute in the 19th century. It's an impressive fort from the outside but inside it is more homely with lavishly furnished rooms including the ornate chapel and dining room and fairytale decor of the Lady Bute's bedroom.
The kitchen was fully equipped with bowls set out on the table like the Mary Celeste. To one side there were some windows looking through to the dining room. I saw a man in uniform come striding purposefully towards me. He thrust his head through the window and said: "While you're in there you couldn't do me a sausage and chips?" A moment later he entered, looking around as if something might be missing. Then gave an impromptu talk on the characteristics of medieval kitchens, pointing out that what appeared to be cupboards in the walls were in fact ovens. Apparently one oven wasn't enough in those days. It was a lively alternative to the somewhat unreliable audio guides.
On the whole the place is far to cosy for medieval times, the only exception being a staircase tucked away in one corner leading to the dungeon, a dark, bare cell deep underground.
An hour or two is sufficient to explore the charming but compact castle and when I next go I'll leave time to explore the walking trails in the surrounding woodland.