Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Wales, United Kingdom 72-Hour Vacation

Wowed by Wales
Land of Myths and Legends

Tyddyn Llan
Tyddyn Llan


Drive along the River Dee to Corwen then towards Llangollen. Before you reach the town, turn off on the B5103 then the A542 to Valle Crucis Abbey, set in a remote and peaceful stretch of land. Its ruins stand out sharply against the sky and the hills behind, the outline of the buildings a testimony of the importance of this huge Cistercian abbey that in 1535 was the second richest in Wales, after Tintern, until dissolved by Henry VIII in 1537. The town itself became important with the building by Thomas Telford of the main London to Holyhead road from 1815-30, followed by the canal, then the railway in 1862. Seven and a half miles of railway track are accessible on steam trains, and in summer you can either take a 45-minute horse drawn ride along the canal, or a two-hour ride on a traditional canal narrow boat across the world's biggest aqueduct at Trevor.

Llangollen steam railway
Llangollen steam railway

Just above the town, Plas Newydd was the house that all Regency society wanted to visit. It was the home of the Ladies of Llangollen (1780-1829), Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, two Irish ladies who eloped to north Wales to live together. Their taste ran to the Gothic and they transformed a small cottage into a striking black-and-white timbered house filled with extraordinary oak carvings collected from old houses and pieces of furniture and stained glass windows. It's surrounded by lovely gardens, overlooked by the ruins of Dinas Bran Castle. Llangollen's greatest annual event is the internationally known National Musical Eisteddfod.

The Corn Mill, a converted Georgian mill with a terrific view from the terrace built over the old mill stream, serves an excellent lunch. If you want a meal away from it all, just nine miles away, take the A5 towards Chirk then the B5070 deep into the Berwyn Mountains and Ceiriog valley. The West Arms has all the charms of a 17th century hostelry and some seriously good cooking.

Vale of Llangollen
Vale of Llangollen

Chirk Castle lies just off the B4500, the last Welsh castle from the busy 14th-century fortification building programme of Edward I. It's a grand medieval fortress with an imposing Long Gallery and State Apartments full of old furniture, tapestries and portraits. The gardens match the castle and are divided into different areas from shrubs to a rock garden and with an 18th century landscaped park. Chirk itself is a pretty town, but dominated by a huge chocolate factory belching smoke and owned by Cadbury Schweppes, not Willy Wonka.

Continue north up to what is one of the most interesting, and quirky properties owned by the National Trust. Erdigg was built in 1684 for Joshua Edisbury who went bankrupt and sold it to John Mellor in 1718. On Mellor's death, the house passed to his nephew, Phillip Yorke (1743-1804) and it was the Yorkes who began the unusually benevolent master/servant relationship that lasted until 1973 when the whole estate was bought by the National Trust. John Mellor and the Yorkes extended the house and filled it with furniture from different periods—all of which is still there.

Chirk Castle
Chirk Castle

They were an unusual family: the first Philip Yorke 'chused to dine on vegetables' at the age of 5; some were teetotallers, and the last two Yorkes were recluses. The family were also avid hoarders and archivists and the house is full of personal items. They regarded their servants as members of the family, to the extent that all their portraits were painted or later photographed with verses about each servant added to the images. The life of the staff is evocatively seen in the out-buildings and yards used for the estate, from the Laundry Yard to the New Kitchen which boasts a large Venetian window and three huge arches, a measure of the respect the owners had for their employees.

The 18th-century landscaped park stretches out behind the red-brick façade of the back of the house; the walled garden planned around a canal is delightful and appropriately holds the idiosyncratic National Collection of Ivy. The estate is large; you can hire a bicycle and there's a restaurant for much-needed refreshment. Don't miss Erdigg; it's a gem and as you turn onto the A483 for an easy drive back to Chester, it will leave you with a remarkable impression of this varied, glorious area of Wales.

For more information, visit the Wales Tourist Board at


* Tyddn Llan hotel courtesy of the hotel. All other images© Crown copyright (2009) Visit Wales
(Updated: 05/06/09 SG)

From night swimming with manta rays to stargazing from the summit of the world's tallest mountain, GAYOT has selected 10 exceptional activities to help you make the most of your stay on Hawaii's Big Island.
Sail the seven seas on one of GAYOT's Top 10 Cruise Lines. Enjoy luxuries such as full-service spas, gourmet restaurants, live entertainment and more.