A pub has reopened after shutting its doors 23 years ago and remaining derelict ever since.

The Morlais Castle Inn in Pontmorlais, Merthyr Tydfil, had been left untouched and was falling into disrepair.

That was until 18 months ago when local man Dayle Evans took on the project to reopen the pub with his partner Kirsty to create a venue that offers live music and traditional Welsh food as well as hosting community outreach projects.

Though challenging, Dayle said he knew all their hard work had paid off when their were fully booked for their opening weekend on Saturday, June 12.

You can read more about some of Wales' best pubs in our 2021 guide here.

Dayle, who is originally from Dowlais, said: "I wanted to create a business where I could employ friends, family and local people. We were attracted to The Morlais Castle Inn because living in Merthyr, you pass it every day and it has so much history, we just knew it was the right place for us. There was talk of it being demolished, but we rescued it."

The interior is modern and inviting
There has been a huge transformation

The 41-year-old first started working in pubs during university when he was 21. He enjoyed it so much that he ended up managing one of Worcester's largest clubs before he graduated and left for an operation management job on the railways.

After 10 years working in different parts of the UK, Dayle returned to Merthyr hoping to find a project that would allow him to give something back to the community that means so much to him.

And when you look around the pub, it's clear to see how much the refurbishment reflects Merthyr and its history.

"The building dates back to the 19th century and has always been a public house and it's always been under the same name. It has been a focal point of the heritage area for probably 50 or 60 years," said Dayle.

"We had an opportunity to change its name but we decided to keep it to carry on that tradition. We even kept the old sign from the previous owners which we just wiped over and put up just as it was 23 years ago.

"We've gone for the theme of white, black, iron and dark wood. It's like the name of the pub, we want to carry on that historical element and its links to the castle. We are in the process of sourcing pictures of Merthyr to hang up as well."

The Dowlais Castle pub, Merthyr Tydfil
The pub is now open for business

But the local Merthyr theme goes deeper than just the walls with the pub serving meals with only seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.

Dayle said: "It's important to us that we help the local economy in Merthyr and use produce from local sellers. If you want your business to do well, other businesses have to do well and we want to support local food producers as well as other businesses in Pontmorlais.

"We will only serve food that is available to us within the local area at that time. If asparagus isn't in season, we won't be using it, so we'll adapt to the seasons."

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In terms of alcohol, the pub will serve around eight well-known international favourites, but everything else will be sourced from Welsh breweries and distilleries.

It's unsurprising that coronavirus led to the biggest challenge faced by the couple during the pub's refurbishment.

The building looks so different following a makeover

Dayle said: "The most challenging aspect was actually doing the work with Covid restrictions. Sourcing materials was almost impossible sometimes. Because nothing was open, we had to rely on people we know to help us and it was often a case of picking stuff up outside working hours. It was also a challenge because we had to completely refit all the plumbing and electrical fixtures because it had been disused for so long. But we are happy with the result. It's worked out how we wanted it to.

"When we started it was in the condition of somewhere that had been closed for 23 years and so it needed a lot of work and structural evaluation before we could even step foot inside. it needed asbestos testing as well as the plumbing and electrical fixtures being completely re-fitted.

"Apart from the electrical and plumbing work which needed professionals, it was just me and Kristy working away at it when we were free because we also have a five-year-old son Noah.

"I would get home from work, read my son a story and put him to bed and then go to work on the pub. He's what motivated us because as far as I'm concerned, it's his pub."

Dayle said the floor plan of the pub hasn't been changed from how it was 23 years ago. The space is just being used in a different way. So, where the bar was, it's now the live music area; the kitchen is now where the back room used to be and the bar is where the old toilets used to be.

The seating area

There is a courtyard which is five-metres-by-five with some outdoor seating, heaters parasols and plants. They also have temporary shared use of the car park, with a couple of seats so people can sit in the sun. At the moment because of coronavirus restrictions, there is room for 35 to 40 people indoors and around 14 outside.

The Morlais Castle Inn means more to Dayle than simply a business venture. With it, he aims to support and host a range of community outreach projects including one particularly close to his heart.

"Our business plan is that we don't just want to be a pub," said Dayle. "We want it to be a sustainable restaurant as well and we'll be hosting live music and after dinner events.

"Something that has driven me was losing my grandparents to vascular dementia a couple of years ago, which was horrendous. So we are going to be linking up with local care homes and we'll be having themed 1950s nights with old music and slideshows. It's because music can enhance memory recollection for people who might have dementia. We'll also be sponsoring day trips for them.

"We've already been in talks with a few care homes in the area that are interested in working with us, but when that happens will depend on Covid restrictions."

Dayle and Kristy also hope to run alcohol safety sessions for local teenagers and Wales-themed cooking workshops for anyone wanting to gain skills in the kitchen.

Dayle said: "I'm just happy that we've been able to provide something for our community that will be able to stay here for a long time, so when we move on we'll be able to tell our grandchildren that we set it up and brought it back after nearly a quarter of a century".