A couple of weeks ago, I took myself up to Criccieth for a yoga and writing retreat with Literature Wales at Tŷ Newydd. Very bloody lovely it was too, I highly recommend it.
On our last day, we had some free time in the afternoon so I mentioned to our tutor that I might just go off wandering and get lost in the countryside somewhere. She suggested I go look for an old abandoned mansion that was in the nearby wilds (she had been there before and written about it for a book – here’s the entry from her collaborator) and that I ask the Tŷ Newydd staff for directions.
Directions would have been sensible – but I would always rather work things out myself (ending up traipsing across fields and covered in cow shit than just ask for directions). So I thought I’d use Google Maps and do some online research, and see if I could work out the way like that.
From the satellite view, I could see the driveway to the mansion (at least a mile or so long), which seemed to link up to a main road. Easy.
On arrival at the spot, I realised it might not be so easy. The driveway was right next to a house, with a sign warning of no public access. Although I didn’t see anyone around, I’ve never been good with blatant trespassing, so I thought I’d do some more investigation to see if I could find a way to illicitly reach the mansion. There is another access road that leads straight to it (which you can see running from left to right), but this goes past a couple of farms, which raised the concern of being eaten by an overzealous guard dog (or possibly chased off by zombies – always a worry when wandering around woodland by myself).
After driving around the outside perimeter road a couple of times to orient myself, and some more consultation with Google Maps, I eventually found a public footpath that looked like it might skirt around some fields and intersect with the driveway.
I parked my car up on the verge, tucked in the wing mirrors, and armed only with the GPS on my phone to orient myself, I set off, heading for Plas Gwynfryn Mansion.
It was a pretty boggy field, and stupidly I’d only brought mesh running trainers so it wasn’t long before I was walking through massive pools of pure, liquid cow / sheep shit.
The path ran around the edge of two fields, with stiles in between (so I could make sure for the most part I wasn’t trespassing too much). Eventually, after dancing around cow pats for about 20 minutes, I reached the driveway leading up to the mansion. There’s still a fence on either side of the driveway so the animals can’t wander across it, so I vaulted over the very rusted barbed wire at the top, and did the rest of the walk along the concrete.
Weeds have started to overpower this route. Each side is thick with brambles, and ragwort has started cracking through the concrete underfoot. I reached a point where the driveway was so thick with weeds I couldn’t carry on, so I had to jump back into the field for the last part of the walk.
Plas Gwynfryn is visible through the shrubs above. You can see it from about a mile away, peeking out above the overgrown thicket, guarded by arable land, grumpy cows and skittering sheep.
There’s been a house of some kind here since the 1500s, but the building you can see above was built by Hugh John Ellis-Nanney in 1876. It was the Nanney’s family home for half a century, but after that rotated between a retirement home for the clergy, a hospital, and finally a hotel. It finally burned to the ground in 1982, and has remained vacant ever since.
Tŷ Newydd (where I was staying) was once the home of Prime Minister David Lloyd George. It’s now home to Literature Wales and its writing retreats. One of the other women on the course remembered coming to Plas Gwynfryn for afternoon tea as a child, when it was still a hotel.
In a twist of synchronicity during my trip, I found out that Ellis-Nanney was also a politician – an MP, defeated by Lloyd George in 1890.
The entrance to the house is along the side, shown in the portrait photo of the archways above. Most of the original external stonework is still standing, but internal walls and roofs are long since gone.
There’s an iron fire escape tacked onto the outside of the house that’s still relatively sturdy. I climbed to the top, but there’s very little to see from up there – only the tops of green, reaching for escape from within the walls.
There are other strange bits and pieces that have been left to rust: like the trolley by the front door (presumably for carrying luggage in and out), and various frames, fallen to the ground, over original tilework.
Original tiles still looking class
This bakery never got their trays back
Old sewing machine …
Charred chandelier …
Remnants of books burned in the ’82 fire …
For my first real ever urban exploration expedition, I was pretty pleased. I managed to get myself there, not get eaten by dogs or zombies – and get back to the car, all by myself …
You can see all my photos over on Flickr: Plas Gwynfryn Mansion – urbex August 2017.