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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 06:01 GMT 07:01 UK
Castle restoration marks 10 years
Gwydir Castle (picture courtesy of the castle's website)
Gwydir Castle was built by the Wynn family in around 1500
If you are one of the millions who struggle with a weekend's DIY, the idea of spending 10 years battling to restore a medieval castle in north Wales will send a shiver up your spine.

In 1994, a young couple bought the ruins of Gwydir Castle, near Llanrwst, and started a remarkable adventure which has seen them troubled by ghosts, ravaged by floods and even sent on a top-secret journey through the back streets of New York.

This year, they have celebrated the 10th anniversary of their work by finishing the roof, allowing them to finally remove the buckets which have been catching drips for decades.

With visitor numbers on the rise, and an appearance on BBC Two's Restoration programme coming soon, their hard work seems to be reaping rewards.

For Judy Corbett and Peter Welford, it was love at first sight when they first stumbled upon Gwydir Castle, which fuses medieval, Tudor and Gothic architecture.

It is all quiet on the ghost front now - the house has a happy atmosphere
Judy Corbett

The castle, on the banks of the River Conwy, was built around 1500, but had suffered years of neglect and abuse in recent years.

With hindsight, Ms Corbett admitted they were not initially aware of the scale of the project.

"Had we thought too hard at the start, we would never have done it," she said.

"But we had nothing to lose, and now, we have become part of the house."

If you think you have heard of the castle before, it might be because of its reputation as one of Wales' most haunted buildings.

But after some early difficulties with the ghosts, Ms Corbett now thinks the situation is under control and that they - and their B&B guests - have been accepted.

Gwydir Castle (picture courtesy of the castle's website)
The dining room in 1896 before the panelling vanished

"It is all quiet on the ghost front now - the house has a happy atmosphere."

The castle also hit the headlines when the couple discovered that ornate panelling from the dining room had been stripped out and sold to media magnate William Randolph Hearst (the inspiration for the film Citizen Kane).

After tracking it down to Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, they managed to buy it back, but only after being taken on a secret trip to one of the museum's giant warehouses full of international treasures, hidden somewhere in the city's sprawling suburbs.

"It was quite strange - we didn't know where we were going or what we would see - it was very Starsky and Hutch," she said.

Now the chase is on again, to find another batch of panelling taken from another room at the same time.

Griff Rhys Jones
Griff Rhys Jones visited for the second series of Restoration

"We have traced it as far as 1937 - it came out that the room belonged to an American antiques dealer in New York, but then we lose track of it.

"We have to pick up the leads on it, and search in a systematic way."

As well as chasing the missing room, the couple are also planning to start work on the four-storey Solar Tower, which was badly fire-damaged in 1922.

And they are also keen to start replanting in the Grade One listed gardens, which were badly flooded earlier this year, after rains which hit Llanrwst and the nearby village of Trefriw.

"The gardens were completely under, but the Environment Agency came at just the right time to pump out the cellar, as it had filled up."

TV stars

Earlier this year, Judy Corbett's book about the couple's adventure Castles in the Air was published, and has helped spark interest in their efforts.

Gwydir Castle
The gardens at the castle are Grade One listed

"Visitor numbers are up, and we have been filming with Griff Rhys Jones for Restoration," she said.

But she admitted she was not quite sure of what the programme was as the couple do not have a TV.

However, she does not crave the multimillion prize that the series gives out to the winner - Gwydir Castle will appear as a feature on the show, but not in the main viewer vote section.

"Too much money can damage a restoration - we can do it slowly and carefully.

"The most critical thing is understanding the building, and not making rash decisions until you know what you are doing."

The new series of Restoration begins at 2100 BST on Tuesday night on BBC Two.

Medieval house's 600,000 grant
24 Jun 04  |  North East Wales
Favourite buildings in Wales
18 Jun 04  |  Wales
Restoration cash fight resumes
30 Apr 04  |  Wales
Tudor garden rediscovered
05 Aug 03  |  North West Wales


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