GoNW 2022: five highlights

We’ve just enjoyed the best part of a week in north and mid Wales. I wouldn’t want to overdo it but it was a reasonably emotional trip for me because I grew up in Wales and visiting places I remember from those days, seeing the Welsh signs and place names and hearing the language spoken brought back memories. It’s made me resolve to return!

However emotions notwithstanding it was a holiday with highlights, experiences which were a surprise or over and above what would be expected. Here’s my list of five (and a bonus sixth).

Views of the beaches at Portmerion: one of the reasons I booked us onto this particular tour was the opportunity to visit Portmerion, the fantasy Italian village developed by Clough Williams-Ellis. To be fair there’s not much depth to it, once you’ve seen it you’ve seen it!

But it is in a beautiful location with a small peninsula between Afon Dwyryd and Afon Glaslyn which come together before exiting to Cardigan Bay. Sandy beaches are the norm in this part of Wales, I remember Black Rock Sands as a child, and the views from the peninsula are typical. I guess the town in the distance is Borth y Gest.

Chris Pilkinton at Plas Cadnant: it was a gardens tour and we visited our fair share of gardens and no two were the same. At the end of day two we visited Plas Cadnant on Anglesey which has been rescued in recent years.

The current head gardener at Plas Cadnant is Chris Pilkinton and he impressed with his enthusiasm and knowledge and his ability to engage with us. As we walked through the lower garden it was impressive to witness his exchange with our tour guide. I remarked at the time that it was as impressive as what happens on Gardeners’ World between Monty Don and his fellow experts.

Crab sandwiches at Tŷ Newydd: there comes a time when you want an escape from gardens and National Trust catering and so it was on day three. We were in Aberdaran and took lunch on the deck overlooking the sea at the excellent Gwesty Tŷ Newydd.

We’d been talking about crab sandwiches for most of the morning so it was obvious what we should order. It’s a simple dish, all it needs is fresh bread and dressed crab. Perfect. I washed mine down with half a pint of Brother Houdini, a light ale from Cwrw Llyn.

Emlyn Jones at Plas yn Rhiw: I guess the National Trust is famous for its volunteers, people who work for nothing, make sure visitors don’t misbehave and, just sometimes, provide extra insight into the property they’re attending. Not many do the latter very well, that’s not a criticism it’s not easy, but their are exceptions and Emlyn Jones at Plas yn Rhiw is one such.

Emlyn told us he’d visited as a twelve-year old and met the Keating family who’d lived there then. The mother and three redoubtable daughters did an amazing job to develop the property and to then hand it on to the National Trust.

Montgomery: on day five we ended up in mid Wales which is not a long drive home but I decided to stay another night and we booked in to the Maesmawr hotel in Caersws. That in itself almost deserves a mention but more importantly it gave us the opportunity to visit Montgomery the next day. It’s barely a town but it was once the county town of Montgomeryshire and has a fine castle giving splendid views over the Marches.

Montgomery itself seems to be a town at ease with itself. There’s a hotel, a fine restaurant, a couple of coffee shops and an old fashioned ironmonger which sells everything. And because it’s to some extent isolated with no major roads coming in or going out it really is rather nice.

The bonus is The Haughmond but it’s in England so doesn’t really count.

Lunch at the Haughmond: we drove to Wales on day zero and I planned lunch just off the A5 near Shrewsbury. The restaurant I knew did not respond so I took pot luck and chose the Haughmond at Upper Magna.

Sometimes you get lucky and so I did. The Haughmond sports a MasterChef semi finalist and we eat superb food. The asparagus with poached egg and charcoal hollandaise was a bit of an optical challenge but was to prove the best meal of my holiday!

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