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St Donat's Castle (also known as Atlantic College)3079

Brief Description

St. Donat's is the rare survival of a complete, large-scale Tudor terraced garden, attached to a medieval castle.


The castle was partly restored and added to in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

Detailed Description

The size, complexity, state of preservation and rarity make these gardens of outstanding value. Two walled deer parks attached to the castle also remain and an unusual tower stands in the wooded grounds. Randolph Hearst's occupation in the 1920s and 1930s gave the castle a renewed opulence that has in part survived to this day.

To the south of the castle is the site of the main Tudor gardens. This consists of five terraces, each with stone walls and steps, descending 40 metres from the castle to the sea. The two top terraces mainly consist of lawned areas. The third is an Edwardian re-creation of a Tudor garden. The lower terraces, which are sited side by side, are the Rose Garden to the east and the Blue Garden to the west. These have Edwardian layouts set within the Tudor structure.

There are other areas of the garden which were part of the Tudor layout. There are two long parallel grass terraces to the west of the castle which are thought to date to the time of Sir Edward Stradling. There are also the remains of a watch tower, probably of 15th century date, which was a feature of the landscape in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Hilary Thomas describes the gardens as follows:

‘In scale, splendour and sophistication the gardens at St. Donats were rivalled in South Wales only by those at Raglan in Monmouthshire. Sir Edward's travels in Italy and his familiarity with classical architecture and literature clearly influenced his overall concept for the gardens at St. Donats, a concept, which, when realised, must have mightily impressed all visitors to the castle. Poets, among them Thomas Leyshon and Sir John Stradling, were inspired to compose long poems, full of classical and allegorical allusions.....Of particular interest in these poems are the references to plants cultivated in Sir Edward's gardens, plants such as the ‘juicy vine' (fig tree?) mentioned by John Stradling, and the ‘sweet fruits of the vines, nards (spike lavender), amomum (winter cherry), roses and beautiful lilies' praised by Thomas Leyshon...Essentially Italianate in inspiration and design Sir Edward's garden...may have contained marble and polished stones brought from Italy.....'



  • Formal
  • Castle (featured building)
  • Description: The first phase of the castle was constructed in the late-12th century, with additions and modifications throughout its history.
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  • Stable Block
  • Description: 'The Cavalry Barracks', probably stables.
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  • Park Wall
  • Description: There are two deer parks, enclosed by rubble stone walls.
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  • Pond
  • Description: Mill pond.
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Description: Walled kitchen garden.
  • Garden Terrace
  • Description: There are five terraces.
  • Pavilion
  • Description: Italianate pavilion.
  • Rose Garden
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  • Religious, Ritual And Funerary Features
  • Description: Pet cemetery.
  • Planting
  • Description: Blue Garden.
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  • Tower
  • Description: There are also the remains of a watch tower, probably of 15th century date, which was a feature of the landscape in the 16th and 17th centuries.
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Access & Directions

Access Contact Details

The castle is now an independent school but there are guided tours between mid and late August.

Detailed History

The site, in a commanding position above a steep-sided valley, has been continuously occupied since the 12th century. The house was occupied by the Stradling family from 1289 until the 1730s. A spectacular Tudor garden was created by Sir Edward Stradling (1529-1609) in the late-16th century, many features of which are still surviving.

The last of the Stradling occupiers, Sir Thomas, died in 1738, after which time the castle was neglected. Owners of the late-19th and early-20th centuries made some improvements and restoration. Extensive, and not always sensitive changes were made by William Randolph Hearst between 1925 and 1937, at which date the house was put up for sale and remained unsold until 1960. The property has been the site of Atlantic College since 1962.


  • Tudor (1485-1603)