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Chan Cham Perou

A Taste of Wild North Wales    —    Stepping through the door of the White Horse Inn, we were greeted by a raging blaze in the fireplace. We were here not for a grab-and-go, but a sit-back-and-savour kind of lunch in a Welsh roadside pub after a morning of driving on hedgerow-bordered winding roads past fields of sheep. 

Wales is a part of the United Kingdom and Great Britain. It is small in size, only 270 kilometers north to south and 97 kilometers east to west, but it would take a lifetime to see all of the treasures this country has to offer. The Welsh language is still frequently spoken, giving this country a feeling of having a truly distinct culture.

The saying: “Wales has more sheep than people,” is true, as there are estimated to be 11 million sheep and only 3 million people. Flying into Manchester makes for an easy drive west to North Wales. Our group of wandering writers came to taste a sample of the sights while experiencing the unique culinary offerings of wild north Wales.

A Cookery Class with Taste 

We arrived at the Caffi Florence, in the Loggerheads Country Park, in Mold, to visit an eatery known for its traditional baking and to participate in a cooking demonstration. “Getting Ahead for Christmas” was a workshop about the century old culinary traditions of a Welsh Christmas. With passion, Chef Catherine Metcalfe showed us step by step how to make a Christmas cake, mincemeat pie “from scratch,” and a Christmas pudding to be soaked in brandy. We used some unfamiliar ingredients, like vegetable suet and treacle. Of course, we tasted all of the rich desserts being made, and I left with recipes and full of resolve to serve Welsh sweets next Christmas. Caffi Florence offers affordable cooking courses on a regular basis that teach both traditional and current culinary trends.

A Stately and Kindly Estate

Heading out from Wrexham, we drove down a long lane and across the fields we could see the stately National Trust home of Erddig, built in 1687. It was once the home of the Edisbury family, nobility who prided themselves in filling their estate home with unique furnishings and possessions. Now Erddig is popular as a finely preserved example of an estate that provided a good life for the downstairs servant staff. Paintings and photos of each staff member line the hall with descriptions of their lives – gifts from the owners. The well- lit, large kitchen dons an impressive collection of copper pots and pans and over two arches the words "Waste Not and Want Not" are painted as reminders of the expectations of the day. It is a good message for all to take away from the past.

A True Welsh Dining and Shopping Experience

Tyddyn Llan, a quiet country inn, close to Llandrillo, is known as "A Restaurant with Rooms". The comfortable elegance of this inn makes it a perfect setting to enjoy a memorable meal and spend the night while on a road trip of Wales. Chef Bryan Webb has been awarded a Michelin star and we dined on the results of years of his culinary musings. Welsh traditions are tasted in both old and new presentations in the seasonally and almost daily changing menu. Pre-dinner canapés included laverbread crisps with deep friend cockles and Scotch eggs. Laverbread is a paste prepared from local seaweed and is still a popular traditional Welsh cooking ingredient. The taste of the laverbread varies with the harvest location of the seaweed. After a starter of smoked salmon terrine, cucumber salad and Horseradish Cream, and a main dish of Wild Roast Bass with Butter Laverbread Sauce, my dessert choice was Whimberry crème brûlée. Chef Webb sources much of his food locally, and from other parts of Britain, so to dine at Tyddyn Llan is truly a Welsh dining experience.

Rhug Farm Estate, outside of Ruthin, is a massive property that has been with the Wynn family since the 18th century. As time has changed and circumstances changed, the estate began to support itself through farming. It is now one of Britain’s top organic farms, producing top quality meat and poultry. Beginning with a modest food trailer, the farm now has a large Farm Shop and Café selling and cooking the produce of local farmers. The farm’s herd of bisons looked strangely exotic grazing on the Welsh landscape.

High Tea at Bodysgallen Hall

On the way to Llandudno, we stopped for afternoon tea and a garden visit at Bodysgallen Hall, close to the village of Llanrhos. This 17th century manor house was once the tower house for the nearby Conwy Castle and now has a second life as a hotel and spa.

Looking up from the formal gardens, the 17th century manor house stood majestically against black clouds and the fiery shades of autumn. I opened the ornate, heavy front door, entering a hall with guests enjoying High Tea in front of a blazing fire. We took our tea in a sitting room surrounded by elegant period furnishings. The formal service gave us the experience of a long tradition of afternoon tea.

“Mae tegell yn ferwi and ty’n barod,” The kettle is boiling and I’m ready, an old Welsh saying reads; and it felt for two sweet hours like we were living the good life, as we feasted on delicate pastries and bites of sandwiches while sipping on fine tea and enjoying the garden views through the old panes of the windows.

A Victorian Seaside Resort

It was dark when we arrived at the grand St. Georges Hotel on the waterfront of Llandudno, a seaside resort that was popular in Victorian times. This elegant hotel first opened in 1854 and has been catering to seaside tourists since that time. The immense sandy bay is lined with traditional Victorian style hotels and sits between two mountains. Strollers braved the autumn wind and waves to enjoy the sea air on the wide beachside walkway. St. Georges has a fine dining sea view restaurant that serves elegant dinners and another dining room for the full Welsh buffet breakfast in the morning.

The Seahorse Restaurant, in Llandudno, is seafood dining in a casual, small, rustic setting. Our group enjoyed a chat with Chef Don Hadwin, who is an avid fisherman and travels far and wide to catch exotic fish. Some of his catch lands on the plates of lucky diners and the rest is sourced from local fishermen.

Bodnant Estate

A short drive south takes us to the countryside Bodnant Food Centre, a place that truly celebrates Welsh food. Located on the grounds of the Bodnant Estate, a National Trust property, old farm buildings now house the innovative Welsh Food Centre. In the 1870’s, the estate was owned by chemist Henry Pochin. Refurbished stone buildings house a bakery, cheesemaking and beekeeping centres, butchery, restaurants, a cookery school, and wine cellar. Accomodation is available on site. Most products sold at Bodnant are Welsh, and almost half are produced on the farm. Chef Dai is an imposing celebrity chef who loves to teach visitors the roots of Welsh cooking in his acclaimed Bodnant Cookery School. There is also a Wine School that also offers courses to visitors.

The Ugliest House in Wales?

Along the roadside close to Conwy, we passed a charming stone home known as The Ugly House, dating back to the 15th century when custom dictated that if you could build a house between sunset and dawn, with smoke coming from the chimney, the landowner was compelled to give you the land. We all agreed, this was no ugly house. It now houses a tearoom and honey bee interpretive centre.

Conwy Food Festival

There was an air of festivity as we drove into the walled castle town of Conwy to attend the annual Food Festival, held each year in October. Wandering the streets and waterfront, we sampled our way through street side and tented displays that celebrated the traditional and new tastes of Wales. Hand churned butter, liquors based on historic recipes, cheeses, chocolate, baking, fish, to name only a few were featured, as well as the ethnic tastes new to Wales. This festival was truly a taste of Wales.

Isle of Anglesey - Sleeping in an old Inn and a Coastal Hike

After crossing the bridge to the agricultural Isle of Anglesey, we made a brief stop at the village with the longest name in Britain – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantsiliogogogoch

An overnight at Ye Olde Bulls Head Inn in Beaumaris dating from 1472 gave us a taste of spending the night at an inn. Dark wood, fireplaces ablaze, crooked floors and the lively ambience of a gathering place for friends left a lasting impression. Charles Dickens slept here and wrote about his stay in "The Uncommercial Traveller".

A morning hike along the beach led us to the legendary island of Llanddwyn, a small island with a romantic history. High tides meant we could not walk across the sandbars to the island but the crashing waves gave us a taste of the coastal scenery that surrounds this part of Wales.

Caenarfon Castle and a Train trip into the Snowdonia Mountains

A visit to the Caenarfon Castle felt like a knightly taste of life in one of the 641 castles in Wales. This well-preserved castle is used for the celebration of present day royal occasions.

At the old railway station in Caenarfon, we boarded the Welsh Highland Railway to travel 25 kilometers into the Snowdownia Mountains across to Porthmadog. Chugging slowly through the foggy, chilly landscape we had mysterious peeks of the mist covered peaks, so popular with walkers and mountaineers. The farms in the valleys spoke of the harsh conditions for the backcountry settlers of Wales.

Portmeirion - An Italian Village in Wales

We drove to our night’s accommodation at the Gwesty Portmeirion Hotel, in Portmeirion Village, in Gwymedd, on the rugged coast of Wales. A bird flying overhead would have thought himself in the wrong country. Portmeirion is a tourist village built in the Italian style by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975.

We spent the night in the original waterfront structure that was a mansion built in 1850. In 1926, it was renovated and opened as a hotel. It is famous as the setting for the popular television series, "The Prisoner", filmed in the late 1960s. The large sitting rooms are furnished with elegant furnishings of the past, but the hotel houses a restaurant in modern décor.

Dinner that evening served a taste of new Wales made from traditional Welsh ingredients. Our starter course included soya marshmallows and the one main dish served included Assiette of Pork, black pudding pomme anna, spinach, roast celeriac, and tarragon. Dinner was memorable but the full Welsh breakfast is not soon to be forgotten. It includes a choice of mushrooms, black pudding, baked beans, sausage or bacon as well as eggs cooked any way imaginable, fish, breads, fruits and cereals.

On the cliffs high above are the shops, cafes, and village buildings of Portmeirion that overlook sea views.

A True Taste of Wales!

Driving back to the airport in busy Manchester, I reflected on the quiet countryside of Wales, with villages, castles and estates that surprised us around many of the turns in the road.

Closing my eyes, I could smell the aromas that have filled Welsh kitchens from the smallest cottage to the grandest estate throughout the centuries. I will always remember the tastes of food harvested from the seas and grown and raised on the rugged landscape of Wales.

Jan Feduck


 

Chef Catherine Metcalfe

Erddig National Estate

Tyddyn Lian Inn

Chef Bryan Webb

Rhug Farm Estate

Bodysgallen Hall

Llandudno, victorian seaside resort 

Chef Dai at the Bodnant Culinary School

Hand churned butter at Conwy Food Festival 

Tents around Conwy Castle for the festival 

View on the Gwesty Portmeirion Hotel

Gwesty Portmeirion Hotel

 

 

 

 


  

 

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