Excellent food and accommodation in Wales’ idyllic Ceiriog Valley.
‘’A little bit of heaven on Earth’’ was Lloyd George’s description of the Ceiriog Valley and it’s easy to see why – its steep hills, pastured and white-dotted with sheep, have been the inspiration for poets. And on this crowded island, it still remains relatively undiscovered even though it’s only a few miles from the main tourist routes into North Wales.
Where the B4500 gives up, the roads beyond get narrower and the skies bigger, lies Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, an ancient settlement with a lovely old village inn, The Hand.
Located at the crossroads of two old drovers’ roads, The Hand at Llanarmon has been a warm and welcoming place for travellers for centuries and has continued to attract guests under the careful eyes of husband and wife team of Jonathan and Jackie Greatorex.
Starting out as a 16th-century farmhouse, it’s now an excellent little hotel, restaurant and pub full of old world character but with all mod cons including a new spa facility. The Hand’s all-round quality has earned it a deserved place in upmarket hotel selections like Welsh Rarebits, which speaks for itself.
Whether you’re dropping in for dinner or lunch-time soup and sandwich, the food at The Hand is seriously good and has won numerous accolades. Its reputation for award-winning dining brings in visitors from all over the North West as well as further afield, and they often return again and again to see what Head Chef Grant Mulholland and his team have created.
Eating in the lively bar or the quieter restaurant, the food is just the same standard and is excellent value. There’s always at least one vegetarian option, as well as fish, and with a bit of notice, the kitchen is happy to cater for special diets. The five-course tasting menu (£49) lets the Head Chef really show you what he can do for your taste buds.
The menu has a range of starters and mains for all tastes which vary daily and reflect the team’s creativity and flair for innovation.
As an example, the Smoked Fish and Crab Spring Roll starter (£7.50) we had was packed with flavour; the Cauliflower Cheese Brulee, served with cauliflower puree and cauliflower crumbs was an inspired delight (£6.50).
The main course of Welsh Lamb (marinaded with black garlic, paprika and mint) (£18.50) was served with a Red Leicester and Caramelised Smoked Cauliflower puree and a red wine reduction but a wedge of Black Pudding added a special touch. As well as daily choices, there are The Hand Classics, meat and vegetarian burgers, fish & chips and local pies, all very well priced.
Sunday’s fixed cost menu (three courses for £22.50) has traditional Welsh Beef and Yorkshire pudding or for those who fancy something a little different, Mushrooms on Toast with Halloumi, Poached Egg and Samphire (delicious, by the way).
The star pudding was the Valrhona Dark Chocolate and Pistachio Delice with Ice Cream but fans of cheese are well catered for with the selection of Welsh produce.
The Hand has a good selection of wines, well-priced by the glass or the bottle but with one or two more expensive ones (the Conundrum sounds a bargain at £60) for a special occasion (or just because you want to).
After dining, the residents’ lounge is a peaceful haven of soft sofas and a warm fire, or you can practice your Welsh with some of the locals in the bar: The Hand isn’t just for those eating and sleeping, it plays a full part in Llanarmon village life.
If you’re staying overnight, the hotel’s 13 bedrooms (don’t worry there is no Room 13!) are tastefully decorated in an attractive, modern country style and come in different sizes to suit. The four Superior Rooms including the Suite are in the old farmhouse part of the building overlooking the crossroads; most of them have wonderfully comfortable super king-size beds and luxurious bedding. Bathrooms come with quality toiletries and while not all have showers, the bathtubs are deep enough for, and almost demand, a good long soak, especially after a long walk in the hills.
The nine Country Rooms are in the old stables and barns, south-facing, and looking out onto the hillside. Four of these are on the ground floor and two are wheelchair-accessible. Dogs are welcome in The Hand’s canine-friendly rooms.
Room rates may vary according to the season but start from £110 for a Small Double, £130 for a Country Room and £150 for a Superior and include breakfast. (The breakfast, probably needless to say, is excellent and has all the elements you might expect. For those who want to get that Ready Brek glow, porridge is available with or without a warming tot of whisky…).
There’s also occasional special offers, such as two nights for one, and The Hand’s two-night package for Christmas 2019 looks to be a really memorable occasion.
Room rates also include free use of The Hand’s new Pump House Spa where you can enjoy an indoor sauna or outdoor hot tub with a view. A range of spa days including lunch or dinner are available as are spa treatments such as facials and massages.
National Trust property Chirk Castle is well worth a visit for its history, splendid rooms and beautiful gardens. For those seeking some more active pursuits, there is plenty to drag you away from The Hand and they can arrange horse riding, fishing and shooting for you. For hikers, the Ceiriog Valley is one of the most peaceful in Wales and leads to the Berwyn mountains.
These hills are often overlooked by hikers set on visiting Snowdonia but they are much quieter – you won’t see too many other people (maybe apart from some looking for the UFO which supposedly crashed in 1974…) and offer some excellent high-level, scenic walking. You can combine a hike to Cadair Berwyn to with a visit to the impressive Llanrhaeadr Waterfall.
So a stay at The Hand gives you lots to do within a short drive or walk. You can easily fill a weekend break with some special memories and you really should!
How to reach The Hand at Llanarmon
Llanarmon DC is off the beaten track but is easily reached: it’s only 34 miles from Chester, about 80 from Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, and 196 from London. From the A5 at Chirk, follow the B4500, signposted to the Ceiriog Valley.
Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog
Telephone: 01691 600666
Disclosure: We were guests of The Hand, Llanarmon. All content is editorially given.
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