Powis castle sits proud on its hill, looking east to England, and in every other direction surveying Wales. Its red-brick, elegant fenestration and statued courtyards belie its early history as a defensive castle for the Welsh borders. The gatehouse is still there. It overlooks what was the main barbican before the carriage road was laid and you can see the remains of the soldiers stairway between floors, cunningly hidden inside the elegancies of later times.
Inside, it is very much a stately home of Britain, now kept as in its Edwardian heyday. A hodgepodge of stuff, from 8th century BCE Grecian urns, doubtless collected on some Grand Tour to fine chonoiseries , the multiple prizes of Clive of India, and the very latest decorative plasterwork. I only had a short time but you could spend a day in these low-lit halls, admiring the spoils of four hundred years of peace at home and conquest abroad. There is even a spectacular Royal Bedroom, prepared by the grateful survivors for Charles II. It’s not known whether he ever slept here, but I was assured that Edward Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), and George VI and Queen Mary had indeed used the balustraded, magnificently hung four poster bed.
Outside, the castle is surrounded by magnificent baroque gardens. They step down the escarpment in broad terraces lined with borders in the grandest of styles. Ancient, topiaried yews dot the landscape and hedge around the croquet lawn, with careful gaps to show off the house or especial statues. Like the house, they are a mixture of the homely – variegated geraniums and species fuschia – and the storied, exotic, unknown plants brought back from wilder spots, thriving in the warm damp of north Wales.
Beyond the formality lies a deer park, a swathe of managed countryside now full of paths and nooks. The rain was a haze blurring the windless surface of the lake so reflections moved even as the water and the trees were still. Amidst all the opulence and confusions of history here was a touch of the eerie, the hills that had been there long before the pond was made.