It's a castle moat stuffed with carp and you can fish it for £40 a year. What's not to like? We went to Wales to have a closer look...
If angling gripped you from an early age then school trips to castles and stately homes could offer something other than ascending ramparts and buying bookmarks in the gift shop. If you were lucky, the big old building that took two hours on a coach to reach would have some water attached to it.
Sometimes you’d spot a fish or two, and then invariably you’d notice the ‘No Fishing’ sign and trudge back to do some brass rubbing overseen by a member of staff dressed as Henry VIII.
In Caerphilly, things are different. There’s a huge castle, a massive moat, loads of carp – and fishing is positively encouraged! It’s enough to bring out the kid in any jaded carp angler.
Built in the 13th Century, Caerphilly Castle looms large over the South Wales town and, according to one historian, features “the most elaborate water defences in all Britain”. There are two separate bodies of water here. The first protects the main entrance, while the second moat spirals out from the castle walls and forms two large pools on the north and south sides. You can literally position your baits against the castle’s medieval foundations.
Also overlooking the castle is Tony’s Tackle Shop, and it’s here that our enquiries began. “I’m looking at it right now,” said Tony when I called to ask if he knew much about the fishing there. “There’s plenty of carp in there and one of my boys has been having a few recently.” It was all the encouragement we needed to head west and meet up with 16-year-old Owain Watkins for a day at the castle.
If you’re used to day-ticket venues and their on-site cafes, large car parks and dug-out swims, then fishing Caerphilly Castle will come as a shock, but it’s certainly not a chore. A town-centre pay-and-display car park is the best place to leave your car before you wheel your gear up the winding paths to an entrance at the side of the castle.
On this chilly Monday, Owain and I were the only anglers present. “Sometimes it can get busy,” he said, “but usually I’ve got it all to myself in the week”.
The carp stocks have been topped up at various points and there are plenty go at. On our visit, the water was still chilly and the winds fresh, but having a local expert on hand put us on fish.
Regularly fishing the castle during the colder months, Owain had found the carp shoaled up along a secluded treeline. The fish here aren’t huge but there are still plenty of upper doubles and a few twenties. The lake’s biggest resident, and most recognisable character, is a mirror called Rip Mouth which has succumbed to Owain’s net a number of times. At around 25lb, it’s a bit of a boilie lover and not shy of anglers’ baits.
Single hookbaits – bottom baits, not pop-ups – have served Owain well and it was no exception on the day we visited. Before the morning was out, one of his rods cast tight to the overhanging trees pulled up tight and produced a typical Caerphilly mirror. Even a fish that struggles to make double figures on a cold day can look pretty special when it’s held up for the cameras in front of a 750-year-old fortress.
It wasn’t long until I got my chance to land a moat-dweller, but the carp, which looked like a common in the clear, shallow water, shot off towards the snags and shed the hook. Getting up on to a bridge over a narrow part of the moat that fed into our swim, I could see fish still cruising about and was confident of at least one more chance.
In the end I was made to wait until the final moments of our session. A drop-back bite on a rod positioned close to the treeline had me clutching the spool and walking quickly backwards to guide the fish from the snags. The carp obliged and came splashing to the surface in the 3ft-deep water and eventually into my net.
At a similar size to Owain’s fish it wasn’t going to add to the castle’s list of notable events, but as dusk fell and the water calmed it wasn’t far off being a fairytale ending at this Disney setting.