28 MAY 2019: People understand that good food means local food and that the quality of the landscape has a direct bearing on the taste. Cradled within four mountain ranges and a 250-mile coastline, it’s little wonder that a wealth of award winning food producers have been born out of the diverse and picturesque landscape of North Wales.

Although the route of the Clwydian Range Food Trail could be accomplished in a matter of hours, I chose to visit a select group of award winning food producers for a chat and sample their wares. I discovered handmade bread, cakes and pastries, meat from traditional Welsh breeds, cheese, yogurt and beer – and Chilly Cow, which must be the best organic ice-cream farm outside of Italy. And Celtic Woodsmith’s Brian Dacre - a purveyor of honey who summers his bee’s in the high heath land filled with Wild Heather, the results of which his clients eagerly await each autumn - local food is on the menu in a big way.

“Think muddy footprints, not carbon footprints,” says Pamela Morris of Willington Lodge, a luxury B&B in Whitchurch. “We want to encourage our guests to explore this beautiful and productive landscape and demonstrate its wealth in their breakfast menu as the sausages and bacon come from Lewis’s Farm Shop which is just around the corner and the eggs are from our own (Welsh) hens; the fresh fruit’s from a Welsh grower (Bellis Brothers in Holt) and freshly baked bread and croissants from The Village Bakery in Coedpoeth. You can taste the difference.”

Increasingly artisan food and drink is being specifically labelled so that buyers know and trust its source. In the world of food and drink, provenance is everything.

For pâté:

Standing in the factory shop of Patchwork Pâtés, an internationally recognized and award winning artisan producer of pâtés, tarts, pies and ice-creams, is like stepping through the looking glass into an Alice in Wonderland kitchen. It’s stacked high with specialist foods like pâtés created with cheese, fish and game infused in combinations of fruits, herbs, port, nuts and brandy; then there’s rich hummus, soups with attitude, moreish chocolate terrines and grown up’s ice cream. The name may be peculiar but the taste’s exclusive and enjoyed by British Airways passengers. “Although our pâtés are now produced in a small state-of-the-art food factory, there’s no compromise on ingredients,” says Rufus Carter. “And they’re still made in small batches to the original recipes my mum used more than 30 years ago.” www.patchwork-pate.co.uk

For fish:

Llandegla Fishery near Wrexham offers fly-, coarse- and family-fishing with wild-style lakeside camping, B&B and holiday cottage accommodations.  They’re right beside one of the most popular mountain biking centres in Wales and are well positioned for biking and walking in the magnificent Welsh hills that surround us. Says Simon Harrison, “And since teaming up with a local farm, we offer a truly free range breakfast – that’s beside the trout we net from the pond right here outside our restaurant.” The good food and mishmash of fishermen, cyclists, hikers, and hungry travellers makes Llandgla Fishery a great food stop. It may take a little longer to appear on your plate but that’s their freshly made approach. www.llandeglafishery.com.

For beer:

I spent a happy thirty minutes at Heavy Industry Brewing listening to Tom McNeill, a colourful character, relaying amusing tales of how he came to be brew his award winning beers. “I’d had enough of the rock and roll lifestyle and decided I wanted the quiet life. I did an intensive brew masters course and here I am." His nine CAMRA awards lay on his workshop table waiting to be put on display. I took a deep sip of his Nelson’s Eye, a citrusy golden beer, followed by Nos Smoked Porter, a dark pint wreathed in smoky roasted coffee. “To us beer is a form of entertainment,” says Tom. “It’s hands-on stuff.” Find them on Facebook.

For tea:

The Tea Rooms of Chirk, is just what a tea room should be, it’s pretty and atmospheric with fabulous cakes and tea. You could tell it’s a family run business as there’s a buzz in the air – they’re all very proud of what they’re doing. Off the main parlor is a divine little snug fitted with deep settees and armchairs, a beautiful dresser adorned with bunting and fresh flowers. Says Richard Massie, "Our recipes have been passed down through our family for several generations. We prepare everything on site and use only locally sourced ingredients, which is essential nowadays as our customers are acutely aware of the importance placed on quality produce.” He takes me upstairs to the kitchen to meet his mum, who was busy icing raspberry cupcakes. “Cupcakes may be traditionally sweet,” says Marjorie Massie, “but in in celebration of St David’s Day in March, I created a unique savoury cupcake made with leeks, bacon, cheese and Welsh eggs. It’s a terrific alternative to the trendy cupcake and celebrates the authentic taste of Wales.” Find them on Facebook.

The Clwydian Range Food Trail is an exciting way to discover gastronomic delights and enjoy stunning wintery walks in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. To me though, it’s the food that makes it more tangible. “Especially if you get to eat it with your hands,” says Rufus Carter of Patchwork Pâtés. “It tastes better somehow. Perhaps it brings out one’s inner cave-man.”

Dining options:

Cross Foxes Pub in Erbistock has the winning combination of a picture postcard setting and adventurous cooking. Try their pan fried prawns with chorizo croquettes spiced with a fantastic pineapple and chilli salsa croquettes combination. This is a well-balanced starter where the tartness of the pineapple cuts through the spice of the chorizo to the mellow background notes of chili; for mains I recommend the Crab Linguine with chili, ginger and lime and coriander dressing; dessert is a local farm’s honeycomb ice cream – washed down with a good Chilean Sauvignon. www.crossfoxes-erbistock.co.uk

Housed in Ruthin’s Centre for Applied Craft is Café R – a bright and light family run restaurant. “We started out ten years ago making organic bread and flapjacks for the farmers market, then took up a bakery and coffee shop. Now we’re here and very big into local produce,” says owner, Silas Jones. This was reflected on the menu with free range and homemade selections. I asked after a tasters menu and was rewarded with a slightly sweet cured herring, dill cucumber and thinly sliced smoked salmon with homemade malted treacle and caraway bread; Café R beef burgers made with Rhug organic beef mince (from Lord Newborough’s estate) topped with local Y Fenni cheese; a slice of their best-selling Welsh lambs liver with onions, served alongside homemade red onion chutney; and mushroom quiche with Y Fenni - a Welsh cheddar cheese. I could understand why there were people standing around waiting for tables.

At the Black Lion Inn, in Babell, Head Chef Tim Wilkes prepared their signature dish of welsh free range chicken breast wrapped in Cardiganshire Serrano ham, served over leeks, finished with a cream leak sauce, melted Welsh Brie and crispy leek ribbons. It’s served with broken potatoes which go beautifully with the Brie sauce, which competes favourably with its French counterpart. In all, this dish packs all the flavour you’d want. For dessert I had a mouth-watering homemade vanilla cheesecake with salted peanut brittle, honeycomb and strawberry coulis. www.theblacklionnorthwales.co.uk

Things to do:

The Victorian Llangollen Railway (part of world heritage site) is primarily a steam hauled Heritage Railway Line which starts in the town of Llangollen. The 7½ mile (12 km) journey from Llangollen Station, follows the River Dee to the village of Carrog, via Berwyn and Glyndyfrdwy, passing through some of the finest natural beauty in North Wales. From lambs in the spring to the multi-coloured falling leaves in autumn, the views from the carriages are simply breath-taking, no matter what the season. A wedding party had gathered on the platform in Llangollen and boarded a steam train hired out especially for such events. The journey was like stepping back into a bygone age when steam was king. As Llangollen attracts many tourists parking is scarce and pricey; I suggest you reverse your trip and begin in Carrog, travelling to the pretty market town of Llangollen where there is much to see and do. Be sure to take in the café at Llangollen Station (it has a cute little gift shop). They serve traditional Welsh food and real ale. www.llangollen-railway.co.uk

Hawarden Estate Farm Shop is found on a 28-acre working farm owned by former Prime Minister Gladstone’s family. They produce seasonal fruit and vegetables (in summer you can pick your own) with additional supplies mainly sourced from local producers and tenant farmers. The farm shop itself is impressive with a popular café. Get in early to avoid the rush! www.hawardenestate.co.uk Take a three-night canal cruise from Whitchurch to Nantwich, visiting waterside pubs and villages. www.abcboathire.com

Where to stay:

Just across the North Wales border in Whitchurch is Willington Lodge - a tranquil boutique B&B that’s been painstakingly restored by its owners, Pamela and Richard Morris, who’ve managed to retain much of its original Georgian features. Bordering Snowdonia National Park, the location is idyllic, especially for weddings, which they specialize in.

The Lodge, which is more of a country mansion, is set back off the road in a landscape garden. The guests' sitting- and dining-rooms are elegant with period furniture, crystal chandeliers and extra-long drapes puddled on the floor. Colours throughout are mostly shades of taupe and chalk, with soft light accenting large glass bowls of roses. This is not just a place to sleep; this is indulgence at its best. The atmosphere is homey and demonstrates Pam’s eye for style and comfort to the extreme. On arrival you instantly feel welcome with coffee, cake and a chat in the kitchen.

I spent a couple of nights in the beautifully designed Walled Garden Suite with its vintage furnishings and brass bed. Accessed via a wrought-iron staircase is an immense luxury bathroom complete with a rain shower, his-and-hers basins and a freestanding roll-top bath (Molton Brown toiletries). The complimentary Wi-Fi and designer tea and coffee was a treat, as too were the midnight snacks of freshly baked cupcakes – all personal touches you’ll not find in a branded hotel.

Outside there’s a large private garden shared with a few free range chickens and resident peacocks. Occasionally a couple of fat lambs would ooze themselves through the fence to nibble on the manicured lawns.

This is the perfect place to switch off your mobile and soak away the long drive from south-east Kent. As I sunk into my cast iron bubble bath I silently thanked Richard for the wine glass and bottle opener he’d earlier placed beside the ice bucket containing my favourite bottle of Viognier. Attention to detail definitely sets them apart.

Breakfast was a communal five-star affair of locally sourced ingredients - all superbly cooked.  The other guests, two American couples who’d spent a few days narrow boating on the canals, were great company. I consider Willington Lodge in my top three favourite UK places to stay. www.willingtonlodge.co.uk

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Cindy-Lou Dale

Cindy-Lou Dale is a professional editor, writer and photographer, specializing in high-end travel, luxury motoring and affluent lifestyles. She also writes compellingly of current affairs, African politics and introduces her readers to new-age philanthropy.

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