Named after the family responsible for its creation in the 14th century, Candlewood Castle was a small, fortified mansion rather than a true castle, built atop a wooded spur above the River Ogmore, one mile from the Glamorgan coast. The place was inhabited for nearly 500 years, abandoned relatively recently in the early 19th century, though is now ruinous and overgrown, lacking roofs and upper floors, yet is interesting and atmospheric.
The location is rather remote, at the end of a narrow road from the nearest village (Merthyr Mawr, one mile east), and enclosed on all sides by thick woodland, though to the west the trees give away after a short distance to the extensive, grassy dunes of Merthyr Mawr National Nature Reserve, the second largest dune system in Europe. These are currently stable, in part due to recent plantings, but in earlier times the sands were more mobile and much less vegetated, and on occasions encroached very close to the castle, however this was just sufficiently elevated to keep the dunes at bay, unlike nearby Kenfig Castle (on the far side of Porthcawl) which was abandoned when it became partially buried.
The manor of Candleston was associated with a village of the same name, situated a quarter of mile away, on the far side of a shallow valley containing a small stream, the waters of which are prone to disappearing underground at varying points, and the amount of flow is greatly dependent on recent rainfall. The valley forms a natural divide between the inland woods and the coastal dunes, and it was originally crossed by a continuation of the road from Merthyr Mawr, linking with the village of Tythegston the west; now this section is lost beneath the sands, as is the site of Candleston, where remains, visible until a few decades ago, included a cross, a windmill and several building foundations.
The parking area at the end of the road is shared with that for the nature reserve, this being the main entrance; from here several paths head south and west thorough the bushes and grassland, towards the coast and the river. There is also a track, for 4WD vehicles only, that follows the valley upstream, past the site of an old quarry that probably supplied building material for the castle. The ruins, which are not visible from the road, are reached by a very short path, approaching from the south, beneath the tall wall of a square-based tower, the most imposing section of the mansion. The tower has a dark, damp basement, and an upper floor, linked by a short stairway, still accessible. Behind, at the centre of the castle, is the hall range, originally two-storey, and connected to the more recent west range. The whole structure is bordered to the west by a grassy courtyard enclosed by a D-shaped curtain wall, now overgrown and mostly hidden (at least during the summer months) but once fully visible, rising prominently above the old road to Candleston village. The far side of the castle appears to have been undefended, despite adjoining land that slopes gently upwards and so leaves the site vulnerable to attack from this direction. There are plenty of masonry remnants indicative of a high standard of construction, and the surviving walls are thick and sturdy, most rising to or near their original height.
Candleston is a corruption of Cantelupe, the name of the family who were granted ownership of this region, probably in the 13th century. The first fortification on the peninsula overlooking the dunes is thought to have been an earth and timber structure, replaced by a stone manor in the mid 14th century. The earliest sections were the hall and the curtain wall around the courtyard, soon followed by the tower on the south side. The hall was substantially modified around 1500, by which time the castle had passed by marriage to the Cradock family. The west range was added in the 17th century and the mansion remained fully occupied until the start of the 1800s, the final modification being the addition of a stable block, on the east side of the tower.