It’s a view to stop you in your tracks — looking across the village and up the valley to the Berwyn range.
“I’ve painted this view numerous times, trying to capture the soft colours and long shadows,” smiles the artist Rosie Davies, surrounded by her sketchpads and work-in-progress watercolours at her Ceiriog Valley art studio.
Rosie changed careers to move to the village of Llanarmon from Cheshire and now devotes her time to capturing the natural beauty of this lost-in-time area of Wrexham County. “The valley is like another world,” adds Rosie, who opens her studio at the Tithe Barn to visitors on the second Saturday of the month.
“I’ve finally found the tranquility and inspiration to fulfill my ambition to paint.”
I’ve come to explore the Ceiriog Valley, a rural 11-mile swathe of pristine landscape sometimes overlooked by visitors to Wrexham County. I’m following one of the new tourism itineraries, backed with a map and a card for money-off discounts, created by The This Is Wrexham Tourism Partnership to showcase some of the lesser-known attractions and independent businesses of the area.
It’s just a 20-minute drive from Chirk to Llanarmon along the wooded, switchback roads of the valley but it’s a drive that plunges me dramatically back through the swirling mists of time. This area thundered to the cacophony of slate and stone quarries in the Industrial Age but today, it’s a haven for walkers, foodies and refuge seekers.
“I’m from Wales but, the first time I drove down the valley, it felt like uncovering a hidden world that I never knew existed,” says Nicky Williamson, co-owner of the West Arms in Llanarmon, the 16th-century drover’s inn where I’m based for the weekend.
“It was a wet Friday lunchtime,” adds Nicky as we sip pints of Wrexham-brewed T-Wrex in the wood-paneled bar, antique furniture and an open hearth adding to the cosy ambiance. “But,” she smiles, “I was instantly bowled over. We moved here soon after.”
After a good night’s sleep, I set off the next morning to explore the scenic valley, downloading the trail app for details of places to visit along the route, such as the Glyn Valley Tramway Museum in Glyn Ceiriog and the former farmhouse home of the poet Huw Morys in the village of Pandy. Sometimes I park up to explore sections on foot, such as strolling in the ancient woodland of Coed Collfryn.
The next day I head to 13th-century Chirk Castle, the historic border fortress set in 480 acres of wooded, sheep-grazing grounds. Chirk has extended its opening hours and now hosts a range of activities from child-friendly games in the Adam Tower to a silent disco. But it’s the estate gardens that best capture timeless ambiance, the seasons reflected in the changing colours of the flora.
“Something about a natural space like this feels increasingly rare,” says Visitor Experience Manager Jon Hignett as we sit on benches in the courtyard of the old house. “I’m a medieval history nerd but I find the tranquility of the gardens always fascinates me.”
I later spend an hour following The Old Golf Walk, a new walking trail, to catch the best view of the castle in the rural context in the landscape. It follows a short section of the Offa’s Dyke National Trail, based along the 8th-century defensive earthwork that once marked a makeshift border between Wales and England.
Then it’s just a short drive onto Llangollen for a late lunch at The Three Eagles, a cosy bar and restaurant set over three floors in the heart of the Dee Valley market town best known for its annual Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod.
Head chef Adam Evans has returned to his hometown after working overseas and is rediscovering the best of seasonal, local produce in his cooking. He says: “Llangollen has always been an outward-looking place with the Eisteddfod, so our menu combines local provenance with eclectic international influences.”
I tuck into a trout paté from the Chirk Trout Farm and Menai mussels, served with bacon and leeks, but also love a small plate of Japanese-style fried chicken with spring onion. It’s simple, honest food mopped up with slabs of homemade beer bread.
“I’ve been discovering my favourite foraging spots from childhood,” adds Adam, whose next project is to revive Llangollen’s Royal Hotel as a fine-dining venue. “This area is great for things like wild garlic and hedgerow fruits for our autumn berry cheesecake.”
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast of locally sourced produce, I walk up the hill behind St Garmon’s Church in Llanarmon to take in the view Rosie had described. There’s still mist hovering over the Berwyns but the valley opens out in widescreen before me with shards of daylight illuminating its timeless beauty.
Taking in the view, I remember her words: “The valley is quite dramatic when the weather comes in. But for me,” she said, “it’s a place of timeless inspiration.”
Above; Artist Rosie Davies works on a commission (c) Rosie Davies 2019
The This Is Wrexham Tourism Partnership who commissioned my visit and their new itineraries have been successful in receiving funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government
Find out more about the Wrexham Wonders itinerary that we followed along with others at www.thisiswrexham.co.uk/inspireme
David Atkinson is a travel writer but always come home to North East Wales, where he was born; more from atkinsondavid.com