On a rainy day in August, one of Cardiff Castle’s distinguished guides agreed to chat with us about the place’s history, his favorite rooms, and all the good and bad that comes with managing tourists from around the world. Dorian Haworth has the quick laugh and easy smile of a man who knows he’s lucky to spends his days surrounded by such grandeur. When he speaks, there’s an avuncular charm mixed with a schoolteacher’s firm authority. “A necessary trait for any guide,” we’re told.
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BH: How long have you been working here?
Dorian Haworth: I’ve been here 12 years now.
BH: Give me a brief history of the castle in one minute, Romans to now. Go!
Dorian: [Laughs] Okay, the Romans built the castle here in the 1st century. They were here for 400 years. The next people to build here were the Normans and they built a small keep—a traditional Norman keep here on this site. In the 15th century, they evacuated the keep, if you like, and moved into the more spacious apartments of the new castle, which would have been at that time. And in the 19th century, a very rich man called the Marquess of Bute [the third Marquess, John Crichton-Stuart] employed an eccentric architect to redevelop the interiors of the castle in the Gothic Revival style.
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BH: Yes, I just toured his rooms. I like the Arab one.
Dorian: The Arab room is quite spectacular, yes. It’s also one of the most valuable rooms in the castle.
BH: Okay, how much is it worth?
Dorian: They do say the insurance value is somewhere between £10 and £15 million.
BH: Wait, 15 million pounds?!
Dorian: Yeah, that’s because of lots of reasons, obviously. The gold leaf, etc. But also the providence, as they say, of the room—the very fact of the room. Such a unique room!
BH: This castle is a lot closer to the city center than in a lot of places, right? I see kids at night meeting up at the gate before they go out drinking and partying.
Dorian: Yeah, it’s a general meeting-up point. We’re right in the heart of the city, which is quite unusual.
BH: And the city kind of built around it?
Dorian: That’s right, yes. Without the castle, there would be no city. It was built by the Romans to guard the river crossing and [the city] has developed since.
BH: So tell us: what’s your best tour ever?
Dorian: The best tours are with people who are very interested in the architect I mentioned, William Burgess, because then you can dispense with a lot of the basic stuff and go into the architecture and the decorations—the history.
BH: I actually meant by nationality. Who’s the nicest and who’s the rudest?
Dorian: Who’s nicest? Well, the nicest people are probably the Americans and I’m not just saying that!
Dorian: Yes, I mean that! But you can also be the rudest. [Laughs] As a general rule, I’d say I really like taking Americans around. I’m excluding British people from this, of course. Welsh and English people are quite nice as well. The rudest people are actually probably the French.
BH: Well, you’d say that no matter what, wouldn’t you?
Dorian: Yeah! [Laughs]
BH: Best question ever?
Dorian: I don’t know. Generally, the best questions are from children who ask really off-the-wall questions. “How can you have a bath in that bath when there’s no plug to keep the water in?” It’s quite true because it’s a valve and not a plug. They notice these things. They ask the questions you wouldn’t think of.
BH: What’s your favorite part of the castle?
Dorian: I would have to say the banqueting hall because there’s so much history in there and so much of what I’m interested in—the medieval history of the castle, especially. That’s the period I’m mostly interested in, so, as it’s represented in the banqueting hall, that’s the room I like the best.
BH: Ever have a runner? Somebody who just takes off during a tour and goes where they’re not allowed?
Dorian: Oh yeah!
BH: What do you do?
Dorian: We just quietly move them out.
BH: No resistance?
Dorian: No, no. We did have someone who managed to get himself locked in one night and we freed by the cleaners the following day. He slept all night here. He couldn’t get out and he didn’t want to cause too much trouble so he just went to sleep.
BH: How do you keep an unruly group together? Is it like herding cats?
Dorian: It is, especially the teenaged school groups. They’re probably the hardest ones to do. What I tend to do is keep the information to a minimum. I keep them on the move, firmly but in a friendly manner.
BH: So teens making out is an occupational hazard?
Dorian: Yeah, that’s right. Much kissing. A lot of tongues down throats in the castle! You just say, “Can you guys please do that someone more private?”
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BH: It’s not exactly the sexiest atmosphere. All this cold stone.
Dorian: But if they’re in love, they’re in love. They don’t care.
BH: So a lot of our readers are historians. A lot of teachers. How do you feel about know-it-alls on your tour?
Dorian: Know-it-alls who actually know what they’re talking about are fine. Know-it-alls who do not, well…I don’t resent anyone saying something. If it’s completely wrong, I will correct them. But no, I don’t mind. Yeah, they can pretend they know something, but you just let them carry on and you eventually correct them, slowly and quietly.
BH: Can you tell the difference between..?
BH: They ones who don’t really know much reveal themselves?
Dorian: Oh yes! We do get some questions phrased in such a way where you think, “My god! I would have to explain the entire history of England and Wales to answer that!” Usually about religion. Catholics and protestants, that sort of thing. People find that interesting. The fact, for instance, that the state officers in this country cannot be catholics. Even to this day. Because their allegiance must be to the queen and not to the pontiff. If you remember, Tony Blair, when he ran for Prime minister, announced he was not a catholic. He wouldn’t have been able to be prime minister if he was a catholic.
BH: Last one: Dumbest question you’ve ever had?
Dorian: One gentleman, who completely misunderstood the history of the castle, was looking at some light switches and said, “Wow! 15th Century!”
BH: And he was…?
Dorian: Oh, he was an American, I’m afraid to say.
Cardiff Castle is open every day at 9am. To plan your visit, go to www.cardiffcastle.com.