Castle on hill visited by thousands must come down

The castle will now have to be taken down [BBC]

A castle on a Welsh mountainside, visited by thousands, will be demolished after an Army veteran fell foul of planning rules for a second time.

Mikey Allen, 43, built the castle near Wattsville, Caerphilly county, to help cope with his PTSD and help others struggling with their mental health.

But in February, Mr Allen, formerly of 2nd Battalion, the Royal Welsh, was told by planning officials it breached regulations on land use.

Caerphilly council said it had to "enforce planning laws consistently".

Mr Allen served in Afghanistan and also used to be homeless.

He started building the castle in 2019 after a log cabin he made previously on a different site was pulled down by officials from Natural Resources Wales because it was built without permission.

Following that, a landowner in Wattsville allowed him to stay on her private land and his second project began.

"It started as a little cabin but what I tend to find, if I was having a bad time, I’d come back up here and I find it stress-relieving to go and collect loads and loads of stone - I didn’t know what I was going to do with it all to start," Mr Allen said.

Over five years, the cabin has became a castle with two floors and a two-tier tower.

Mr Allen said more than 10,000 people have been to visit from all over the world.

Marcus Hadley and Nina Romeu were amongst the visitors on a sunny day in May.

"We saw a few things on TikTok, that an ex-Army veteran had built it - we just come up here, it’s a nice day and it’s actually not what we were expecting, it’s really really good -it’s great,” said Marcus.

Nina added: "It’s beautiful."

But council officers told Mr Allen they believe the number of visitors means the land is now being used for recreational purposes, not agricultural for which it’s registered.

The castle and Mikey Allen
The castle has great views over the valley [BBC]

"Someone complaining was a disappointment but I have been through far worse," Mr Allen said.

He believes the castle has been a force for good, regardless of concerns from the authorities, with donations helping fund rehabilitation for veterans and others struggling with their mental health.

"The amount of people who have come up here through very difficult times, it’s been overwhelming to be honest - some of the stories I have heard have been difficult to hear," he said.

Despite an appeal to the Welsh government, Mr Allen said he has decided to take the castle down, stone by stone, and rebuild two smaller structures.

Visitors to the castle
Visitors have flocked to the castle which has become a local attraction [BBC]

One will be a barn for the rescue animals, including donkeys, that live on the land and the other will be a "bothy" or basic shelter where people can come to stay.

"It’s going to change for the better," said Mr Allen, who plans to rebuild with cement and treated wood, and retain the castle style.

He thinks the changes should be completed next year.

Donkeys by the castle
Mr Allen looks after donkeys who are on the land as well [BBC]

“I still struggle with PTSD and I guess what that means is I have questions in my head and they just keep going round and round and you can’t really escape them," he said.

"So just having something like this to do just mean I can be more in the moment, I have lot of physical exercise, avoid isolation too much and kind of stay in society.

"The castle has always been my come back to and safe space.”

A Caerphilly council spokesman said: “We are sympathetic to the background to this development and we recognise the level of support that Mr Allen has attracted during this project.

"We have a duty to enforce current legislation, therefore it is important that the council applies a fair and consistent approach to all planning breaches.

"We will continue to work with Mr Allen, along with the owner of the land, to ensure that the requirements listed in the enforcement notice are carried out as quickly as possible.”