Kinneresley Castle: Katherina Garratt-Adams' Family Home

PUBLISHED: 11:02 09 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:48 20 February 2013

Kinnersley Castle

Kinnersley Castle

Kinnersley Castle is one of England's most magnificent houses; but it is also Katherina Garratt-Adams' family home. Charlie Ryrie talked to her about its dramatic history, and its renowned music festivals. Photographs by Joao Sampaio.

Kinnersley Castle is one of England's most magnificent houses; but it is also Katherina Garratt-Adams' family home. Charlie Ryrie talked to her about its dramatic history, and its renowned music festivals. Photographs by Joao Sampaio.

Considered by historian Simon Jenkins to be as architecturally important as Buckingham Palace, Kinnersley Castle was built by the Normans as one of their many strongholds along the Welsh border. Extensive remodelling by the Tudors added another storey and gables, and the castle today looks predominantly Jacobean, though there is still evidence of the medieval structure.

Katherina Garratt-Adams and two further generations of her family live in the castle, which was purchased by her father in 1954. At that time it had seen many changes of ownership and was by then in a poor state, retaining only eight acres of its once fine parkland; but Katherina's father put considerable energies into restoring and conserving the building, and the family are continuing his work. Katherina is philosophical about the task: "The castle would once have had a reasonable income from its estate, and without any of that it's a battle to keep everything in reasonable order. But we are gradually getting there as time and cash allow."

She opens the castle to visitors for 30 days each summer, and architectural highlights include very fine original Elizabethan panelling and plasterwork throughout. The solar - a large and comfortable room found in great English manor houses from the13th to 16th centuries, the precursor of the drawing room and used principally by members of the family - boasts an extravagant 16th century gilded plasterwork ceiling. This is the largest and considered the best example in the Marches.

The stone tiles on the roof of the tower still rest on their original split oak lathes and the roof has not needing re-tiling since Elizabethan times. Katherina says, "The original workmanship was incredible. It has of course seen better days, but as it is still serviceable we keep it going and the only real difficulty is when snow drives in underneath the tiles." Although the castle shows plenty of signs of wear and tear, it is refreshing to visit a historic building that is enjoyed as a relaxed family home.

Kinnersley has become well known as a centre for musical events, not only reflecting the owners' interests - Katharina is herself an accomplished singer and leads a popular a cappella choir - but also because the castle has impressive acoustics. In January students from the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal College of Art came to Kinnersley to work on a multimedia collaboration, voice training workshops are held throughout the year, and February sees the 14th annual winter festival of traditional music and dance.

Katherina lived for several years in central France where she was enchanted by the music festival at Saint-Chartier, a small village with a strong tradition of pipers and hurdy-gurdy players. Its annual event is the meeting point of folk music fans from all over Europe, and it inspired Katherina to start a Kinnersley event in 1993. This has been supported by internationally renowned musicians such as Gabriel Yacoub, who founded the folk rock supergroup Malicorne, and who has sung at Kinnersley several times.

The festival was initially conceived as an informal series of concerts by touring bands. But in 1995 the organisation was taken over by John Leopold, making it the major event of eMade, an educational charity promoting music and dance education. Based in France, Leopold brings new and exciting European bands, as well as established musicians, and this year's line up includes some of the very best artists in their field. Many of the big names of the international folk scene have performed and taught at Kinnersley and the winter festival is an important date for fans from all over the world. There are workshops in traditional music and dance, with opportunities for musicians of all levels.

Accommodation is provided wherever possible, but this is the biggest headache for John: "The castle is primarily a home, and as the family expands the use of the castle for accommodation becomes more restricted. The one thing we need to ensure we can keep this fantastic event at Kinnersley going is more local accommodation, as many visitors from abroad rely on public transport." The nine-day winter music festival has proved so popular that Kinnersley also hosts a spring Music and Dance celebration at the end of May and an informal weekend at the end of November.

Another notable event at the castle is the annual open air Shakespeare performance in July by multi-talented Oddsocks Theatre Company. There is undeniably something magical about watching Shakespeare in the gardens of a building that existed when he was penning his plays.

Although little remains of the original great gardens that complemented the parkland - which celebrated landscape architect Humphry Repton was involved in redesigning in the 18th century - there are distinct signs of the original moat and other ancient features, fine yew hedges provide structure and the gingko tree outside the kitchen window is one of the largest in Britain. The Garratt-Adams family are slowly restoring the grounds, the kitchen garden is now a flourishing Soil Association registered plot, trees have been planted and original features are slowly being uncovered.

Kinnersley Castle is primarily a family home, and as such is less well known but every bit as fascinating as many of Britain's most historic buildings. Katherina takes bookings for group tours in the summer, but why wait until then - what could be more uplifting in the dark days of February than dancing merrily before a huge fire in the oak-panelled Great Hall to the sounds of traditional music? Kinnersley is a unique place, and no visitor will leave disappointed.

Katherina Garratt-Adams 01544 327407

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