Some Welsh properties are so unique, steeped in history and dripping with a tangible atmosphere formed through the centuries that they take your breath away.
They are instantly recognisable, landmark buildings and offer exceptional aspects to their design, boasting stand out features that have evolved through the centuries.
This is certainly the case with the Grade II listed, Gothic-revival, Victorian Coes Faen Hall, better known locally as The Clock House.
This spectacular waterside dream home with a surprising history achieved its Grade II listing in 1995 by being ‘an unusual and interesting Victorian lodge-scale house in a very striking location and with group value with the Barmouth bridge.’
It’s not every home that can claim a landmark bridge as a neighbour either, and this one is just one of the absorbing views that this truly remarkable property in Ceredigion can offer anyone lucky enough to visit or own.
As the glorious Mawddach estuary meets the sea and the towering peaks of Snowdonia and the Cader Idris range dominate the horizon and the start of the Snowdonia National Park is only about 500 metres away. The location is spectacular – nature at its finest.
And the location of The Cloak House couldn’t be better either, announcing its prominence, rising up out of the rocks on the shoreline on a mini peninsula that juts out into the clear blue water.
Current owner Sara Parry-Jones is constantly mesmerised by the special spot that this house calls home and the panoramic views it offers.
She says: “We’re contemporary, so we’d call it a view to break the internet. In the past poet William Wordsworth called the Mawddach estuary the sublime estuary.
“And when I looked in an 1890’s travel guide it said ‘certain it is, that no other spot in Wales has such grand scenery as the Mawddach estuary.”
The location is definitely a winner.
Even before you step inside the historic home and the location has captivated you, the house offers you aspects of life that maybe you weren’t expecting and maybe new to you, centred around its waterside location.
Sara says: “I’ve always thought it’s the closest to being on a boat without actually being on the sea because the water is right below you and we’ve got a slipway that takes you out onto seven miles of beach.
“It is the most amazing family house because you can go straight out onto the estuary by boat and we used to go and do our shopping by boat on good weather days.
“Because it’s a tidal estuary, we used to go out into Cardigan Bay and just watch dolphins, having them all around the boat was incredible.”
The history of the estate dates back to about 1865 when the railway arrived at the Ceredigion coastal community, expanding it from a small fishing location to a popular Victorian seaside resort.
The majority of the Victorian building that exists today was created around that time, adding wings to the existing structure and Gothic style design that demands attention.
Sitting out on the veranda, watching the sunset across the sparkling water with the mountains as the perfect Welsh backdrop is a special experience.
But it hasn’t always been a peaceful and idyllic location, research into the site’s location has revealed that the building actually started life as a courtroom and jail.
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Prisoners were brought to the property via boat and taken through an entrance at water level to the cells inside, maybe with a bag over their heads rather than with bags of shopping.
Thankfully, now you can moor your boat at the floating pontoon and arrive at the house in style, rather than in chains; how very James Bond.
Although the prisoners’ former entrance is now not open as a working door to the house, the pontoon has steps to the garden to the main front door, once you have secured the boat.
But the history of the building has not been forgotten, with the cinema room above the prisoners’ entrance providing not just movie entertainment, but also a window to the past; literally.
A glass section of the floor is a genius addition to the space, as it allows you to look directly down to the prisoner entrance.
How many souls would have been dragged through that entrance, fearful of the fate that was going to befall them in the adjacent courtroom?
Sara says: “Sections of the property date back to the 12th century. There’s a wall downstairs that dates back that far but I know that the lower floor is a lot older.
“The family room is actually the old courtroom because Barmouth only had holding ‘drunk’ cells really.
“So prisoners were brought here by boat, tried in the courtroom and held in the two cells here, one of which is now a wine cellar and the other is a pantry.”
At that time, Sara says the building had two dungeons too.
The Victorian sections of the house have always been attributed to the Lowe family, but this house of mystery and many layers might actually have once been the seat of a local Welsh family.
Sara says: “Going through the deeds, I always thought it was built by the Lowe family but I’ve found information from the granddaughter of the family that said the sun room extension and the clock tower were built by the family but the rest of the building was already there.”
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“The names listed before the Lowe’s are both Welsh, so I think it’s predominantly a Welsh family house.”
“There are two gargoyles on the front of the house which are very striking, of two men and they’re nothing to do with the Lowe family so I’m wondering if anyone can identify them.
“I think they might have been a family of stonemasons as the building is amazingly well done.”
Another distinctive feature of the house is the clock tower, definitely attributed to being added to the building by the Lowe family and still a functioning part of the property today.
Sara says: “You can go up into the clock tower by ladder but you can get up there for maintenance, but the clock is now not a mechanical clock.
“Since the house was refurbished about 20 years ago it’s a computerised clock, so it’s the same clock but the way of getting it to chime is now computerised.
“So it’s set for 8am to 11pm except on New Year’s Eve, when it goes to 12, but it’s the chime as it used to be and we know that because it’s the same company who deal with it, who originally put the clock in.”
The variety of accommodation on offer at The Clock Tower spans three stories and oozes charm and character. Sara says the property is a versatile and substantial family home.
She says: “The building’s original name was Coes Faen Hall, but it’s been built onto and built onto, so all the rooms are family-sized rooms, so they’re all usable.”
On the lower ground floor, the section that dates back the furthest, you’ll find the stone-walled family room that used to be the courtroom, as well as the converted cells that are now the wine store and pantry, located just off the courtroom.
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These one door, these former cells are the only spaces in the home not to have amazing views of the water, the poor prisoners were even denied that.
Off the family room is a kitchenette with a stable door looking out to the garden and views, so entertaining in the family room is easy, there’s no need to walk up the beautiful Victorian staircase to the kitchen on the ground floor.
This lower level also has a bonus wing that contains a bedroom, bathroom and sitting room or a sixth bedroom, and is used as a self-contained family suite.
But the climb up to the next storey is totally worth it as here, as well as the light and welcoming hallway, you will find arguably the most appealing space, the drawing-room.
This added, frontal extension juts out onto into the waterway, and if the house was a ship it would arguably be the bridge of the ship.
With windows on three sides, including the huge floor-to-ceiling bay the views and light flooding in are constant and make this room very special.
The charming roofed outside veranda and lower terrace offer a number of wonderful spots to drink in the views as well as enjoy a sip of something cool in the sunshine.
On this ground floor a formal dining room and separate sitting room both mimic the layout of the grand drawing room with lots of space and a bay window too.
The kitchen is a stunning space, boasting quarry floor tiles, hand-built Shaker style units including a sizable island unit, plus an eye-catching cobalt blue Aga nestled in the chimney breast.
The study on this level is a charming room with a feature fireplace and looking out over the garden and a utility room and cloakroom completes the accommodation on this floor.
Up to the final floor and the central landing cleverly features a glass lantern roof window, meaning light cascades down the centre of the house, but if you look up there’s the best view of the clock tower to stop you in your tracks.
The principal bedroom occupies the ‘ship’s bridge’ position and can boast oodles of built-in storage as well as water and mountain views.
There are three further bedrooms on this top floor, one of them with an ensuite, and two family bathrooms.
Of course, with this house continually offering something unique around every corner, one of these bathrooms is designed into one of the high roof eave spaces of this Gothic-inspired building.
Its five-star hotel worthy interior design offers luxury as well as quirkiness.
The Clock House has, for many decades, been a family home, and the ambience it oozes is one of a warm welcome as well as steeped in colourful history.
Sara says: “The house just feels immensely solid, and safe as well as the stone acts like a huge insulator.
“Because it’s a waterside property, that’s the magic of it, that’s the distinction of The Clock House. It’s extraordinary as a house and I’ve got huge affection for it, but now it’s time for another family to enjoy it.”
Also for sale, separately to The Clock House, is the estate’s former lodge house, transformed into Coes Faen Spa Lodge, the UK’s first carbon-positive hotel and winner of The Good Hotel Guide 2021 Green Hotel of the Year award. Find out more about that here.
Viewing is strictly by appointment only at both properties with Strutt & Parker, Shrewsbury. The Clock House is for sale for a guide price of £2,150,000, call Strutt & Parker on 01743 284200 to find out more about The Clock House and enquire about The Lodge.
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