Ruthin: 23rd September 2014
When you walk out of the grounds of Ruthin Castle, and venture out into the town itself, you’re almost immediately confronted by Nantclwyd y Dre. This house was built in the 16th Century, and is believed to be one of the oldest town houses in North Wales. It’s open to the public at weekends in summer; see www.nantclwydydre.co.uk for details.
There are older houses than this, though. Turning into Well Street, you’ll pass the quirky Siop Nain, a hundred years older than Nantclwyd y Dre. Here, in 1860, the Welsh National Anthem was first printed. Sometimes, it seems every other house in the centre of Ruthin bears a plaque saying someone famous either lived or stayed there, or a notable event took place. Only a few paces away, the timber-framed Wynnstay Arms was host to George Borrow, the author of ‘Wild Wales’, one of the earliest guide books, in 1854.
The County Assize Court, in Record Street is an imposing Palladian style building raised in 1785. It’s a court no longer, though. In 1970, it became the Public Library … and, from outside, it has the air of yesteryear, when talking above a hushed whisper would earn you an icy glare from the ‘book dragon’. But, once inside, all is light and friendly.
The best of the buildings are in St. Peter’s Square, at the top of the hill. One of the first things that struck me about Ruthin is how businesses of all kinds have adapted those old houses to their purposes without wrecking their ambience. There’s a stone outside Barclays Bank, where King Arthur is reputed to have beheaded a rival in love.
Another bank, the National Westminster, is housed in the Old Courthouse, a lovely old building erected in 1401; only a year after Owain Glendower razed the town, and left only three buildings standing. If you look carefully, you’ll see the beam where they used to hang convicted criminals; the last person to be so treated was a Catholic priest in 1679.
One particular building that catches the eye in St Peter’s Square is the Myddleton Arms. It was built by Richard Clough in the 16th Century, based upon designs he’d seen in the Low Countries’ when he lived in Antwerp.It’s the earliest red brick building in Wales … although the red brick is now whitewashed. Its most striking feature, however, is the ‘Seven Eyes’ or the ‘Eyes of Ruthin’ … seven dormer windows, arranged in three storeys in the roof.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the quirky and unusual buildings to be seen in Ruthin. If you go, and are the slightest bit interested in architecture, be prepared to spend a lot of time there. And, take plenty of memory cards!
Disclosure: We travelled as the guests of North Wales Tourism (www.nwt.co.uk) but all opinions expressed are my own.