Get out and explore.
For the three years I have been living in Wrexham my parents have been saying they want to visit the local attractions and beauty spots we have in the county and a bit further afield. Finally, with only a month left on my rental contract they decided on a mini break with Sykes Cottages and booked a cute little chalet in Hinstock, Shropshire which was about 45 minutes door to door from mine. Not only was this break a great opportunity for my parents to have some time off, it was also a chance for me to get out of town and see some wonderful things that I might not have otherwise. I don't have a car and whilst Wrexham has really good public transport links to surrounding areas, I have become a bit complacent in venturing out to places that might be a bit trickier than a straight train route away.
The week my parents came to stay was conveniently just a fortnight after Easter and I was on a quiet week workwise. This meant that I managed to spend a lot of quality time with them before they left me here for another month and meant I got the chance to go out and explore with them most days. There were only two days of the six they visited that I wasn't able to travel out with them and I also got the opportunity to stay in their chalet for a night as well.
Their accommodation was a beautiful wooden chalet in the charming village of Hinstock which was full of red brick houses with roses climbing up the porch-quintessential country living. The chalet itself was in a field adjacent to the owners property and was part of a pair of rental properties. It was such a peaceful location, the owners had horses in the field next door and luckily it was during an unusual hot spell in Britain. It was an absolute joy to wake up there the night I stayed and hear familiar countryside noises that remind me much more of home than the noises of Wrexham which, living near between the fire station and the hospital, are normally sirens.
On the first full day of my parents holiday, after a quick lunch in Wrexham we visited Chirk Castle. Chirk is a small town just twenty minutes down the A483 from Wrexham town centre and Chirk Castle is a National Trust property built up in the hills with the most incredible panoramic views over the surrounding area. At this time of year the Castle is open 10am-5pm with the grounds open earlier and later and cost us £12.00 each for entry to everything. The castle was built in 1295 and has been kept in incredible condition by The National Trust. The Castle was lived in by the Myddelton family until 2004 and the self guided tour starts in the state rooms which boast a 17th century Long Gallery, a chapel and a suit of armour one resident used to wear down to breakfast! The inside of the Castle shows just how important the work the National Trust, the upkeep is incredible and the rooms and decorations are flawless. After walking around the state rooms at your own pace, you are pleasantly surprised in finding the exploration isn't over! Walking out of the Castle led us into a big, sunshine filled courtyard. As well as a cafe (which sells delicious cake) and a shop, there are lots of doorways, nooks and crannies which lead up and down the Castle, allowing you to explore the towers, the dungeons and the staff quarters. The Castle is very family friendly with educational games and areas for dress up for children and generally accessible for wheelchair users although some of the upstairs rooms of the property might be too difficult to get to.
One of the most celebrated areas of Chirk Castle is it's outside space and on such a beautiful April day, it was the grounds that impressed me and my parents (especially my garden loving mother) the most. Its award winning manicured gardens cover 5.5 acres and encompasses an enclosed kitchen garden, a wildlife pond, a daffodil lawn and yew hedges clipped to perfection. It was absolutely stunning and easy to understand how it has won awards thanks to a dedicated team who keep it maintained. However, the most impressive part of the whole experience was the stroll to the bottom of the lawns where you are greeted by the most epic view with conveniently placed deckchairs to enjoy it. Chirk Castle estate has over 480 acres of parkland available to explore and the view doesn't just allow you to see the surrounding counties of Wrexham, Powys and Shropshire but on a perfectly clear day also boasts views as far as Scotland!
The second day I ventured out of town with my family was based on a recommendation made by a local friend of mine. After a hearty meal in Les' chipshop in Wrexham town centre (a must to those visiting the town) we drove into the heart of the Berwyn Mountains, west of Oswestry and Shrewsbury to see Pistyll Rhaedr waterfall. The waterfall is around 55 minutes from Wrexham and the journey allows the passengers in the car to try and learn the pronunciation of Welsh place names such as Llanrhaedr-Ym-Mochnant! When driving to the waterfall make sure to take a satnav or better still, a map, as the waterfall is in the middle of nowhere and you might (as we did) think you've taken a wrong turn as you travel through tiny Welsh villages and down single track lanes with very few passing places. However, once you get to the waterfall, the journey becomes wholeheartedly worth it. Pistyll Rhaedr is the highest single drop waterfall in Wales at 240ft (80 metres) and costs just 3 pounds to park there as there is no charge to walk round the waterfall itself. Located at the bottom of the waterfall is a small B&B and campsite and the owners sell icecream from their home which provides you with a sugar kick necessary to get you up the waterfall or as a welcome cool off on your way down!
The first thing we did was to walk around the bottom of the waterfall which is the other side of the small carpark. This provides the best view of the waterfall itself and allows you close access to the falls. There are no fences and barriers preventing you from getting up close and personal to the waterfall and this provides you with an unspoilt view and a refreshing spray of water on your face! The photo opportunities from the man made bridge with the most beautiful hand crafted Dragon gates are incredible and young tourists indulged in a few selfies in front of the falls.
There are several walks around the falls and although some paths at the bottom lead down to the river and the campsites, we decided to head up to the summit of the mountain and the top of the waterfall as we were running out of time. There are two main walks to the top of Pistyll Rhaedr, one slightly longer flatter route and one much shorter but much more vertical and rocky walk and I would recommend sturdy footwear for both! Being a fit half marathon runner, my mother opted for the shorter, more difficult route forgetting my dad and I both work in desk based jobs and are much less active! However, after a few breaks to admire the views take a breather, all three of us made it to the top, admittedly my mum making it up there first! Sheep and lambs cover the top of the mountain and even though it was a (sweltering for Wales in April) 17 degrees Celsius the wind was strong and brought a chill which was welcome after a hard climb. Again, as with the bottom of the waterfall, the summit is also not restricted by barriers or fences which is incredible for the unspoilt views but means children and dogs should be kept a close eye on because the edge, however beautiful, is very dangerous. The panoramic views over the mountains are breathtaking and on a perfectly clear day you can see as far as Snowdonia. The edge of the waterfall was very windy, the spray from the falls was smacking us in the face and I was far too terrified to get right to the edge in fear of being blown away. Whilst probably not suitable for those with a fear of heights, Pistyll Rhaedr offers up the most amazing viewpoints I have ever seen and it seems it's such an unknown tourist attraction which is such a shame.
On the last day of my family's holiday we got up early and travelled to Llangollen which is a small town in Denbighshire. Famous for its steam railway, Llangollen has lots for tourists to do, not just the town shops and restaurants itself. After dinner in the Deeside Cafe Bistro (massive portions, lovely staff, cheap prices) we headed off for a prebooked tour along the canal which runs through the town. We travelled with Llangollen Wharf tours and chose the 2 hour barge trip from Pontcysyllte Aqueduct to Llangollen which cost around 40 quid for all three of us.
The canal tour company offers many different options for enjoying a trip on the waterways but having parked the car in a public carpark in Llangollen town centre, we opted to start at the aqueduct and work our way back to the wharf itself. After having handed in our tickets and browsed the shop at the wharf in Llangollen we wandered back down to the town centre where we caught a vintage double decker bus which took us on the 15 minute journey by road to the beginning of the tour. When the bus dropped us off at Froncysyllte where the tour was to start we boarded the barge that took us on our trip. The barges that the company owns are spacious, comfortable and have a wide variety of things to buy on your journey ranging from teas and coffees, soft drinks, cream teas, snacks and even playing cards and colouring in cards to entertain children. The staff that man the boats are incredibly welcoming and knowledgeable and pop in over the tannoy occasionally with information about the route.
The day we took our tour was more cloudy than the rest of the week and much quieter than the canals had reportedly been over Easter but I was told it was imperative to book your tour in the busier tourist seasons. As we were approaching the aqueduct itself the tour guide mentioned that if everyone were to run to one side of the barge it was likely to tip and send the tea and coffee flying which started me off a little uneasy but we were assured we were safe.
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was completed in 1805 and is a World Heritage Site. It is the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain at 307 metres long and 38 metres high. At one end is Froncysyllte where we started our journey and the other is Trevor. Whilst that day we took the barge along the aqueduct, you can also walk over the towpath but as we went by water it provided opportunity for safe photography over the edge! The aqueduct was the highlight of the trip for me, it was incredible being so high up with very little in the form of barrier on the side of the canal. This part of the trip takes 10 minutes maximum of the 2 hour trip and the rest of the journey take you through scenic countryside and through the most wonderful waterways. If you don't like to sit and look at views I would recommend taking something to do like read or a crossword as the canal is so peaceful its very relaxing and my dad even fell asleep for a while! The scenery is amazing, the lambs ashore and the ducklings on the water are adorable and the whole journey is very serene, just be prepared for a slow ride!
The week after my parents left I had the good luck to go back to the aqueduct with a few friends who live locally. The second time I visited I walked from Trevor, along the towpath to Froncysyllte and back. Although it was still beautiful, albeit a little cloudier of a day, I was a bit more uneasy walking along the aqueduct than I was in the barge! It was rather windy and I was very concious of the lack of ground beneath my feet but it was still easy to see why it's such a big tourist attraction! The day I visited with my friends we also popped down to Ty Mawr Country Park in Cefn Mawr, only a 15 minute drive from Wrexham town centre, via a handily placed McDonalds drive thru! Ty Mawr provides an easy walk through the countryside from the entrance with a large carpark and visitor centre, down to the viaduct and back. Not too strenuous a stroll allows you to view the viaduct from all angles, making it even more impressive when a train passes over and provided me with plenty of photo opportunities. If you trek slightly off the beaten path you can explore the small stoney beach area down by the river which is excellent for skimming stones and spotting wildlife. Enjoyable for people of all ages Ty Mawr has a range of animals which you can pet including rabbits, llamas, horses, sheep and ducks and has a childrens play area near the car park. Although we were too lazy, it is possible to walk from Ty Mawr to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct which is 1.8 miles along the river on a well signposted trail.
On the days I wasn't with my parents they explored slightly further afield without me. One day they took a recommendation from a friend at home and went to Ellesmere. They parked in the town centre and after mooching through some of the shops they embarked on a 5 mile round trip taking in the meres. The following day they took the longer car journey to Ironbridge, around an hour away from Wrexham. Another World Heritage Site, Ironbridge is a historic town based around the Ironbridge which combines 10 museums for a unique visitor experience. As well as the bridge itself, the town boasts a Victorian town experience, a tar tunnel, a museum of the gorge and a tile museum amongst others and cost them around 28 pounds each for an annual pass to everything. They came back from this particular day out bursting with information and are planning to go back as soon as they can as they didn't manage to see everything they wanted in one day.
My parents and I had such a wonderful week visting the surrounding area and it made me realise I should have done it sooner. I suppose the point of this post is to remind myself how inspiring I found the week. As a designer, such amazing locations inspire me anyway but this week especially gave me a new outlook on the area I live in. Being out in the fresh air in such a remarkably warm spell gave me a new lease of life and a new appreciation for Wrexham and its bordering counties.
I think it is so important to get out of town and breathe in some country air and see some greenery sometimes! It is vital to these tourist attractions, especially the smaller ones, that visitors keep coming and it keeps being appreciated and advertised and I think this needs to start from the locality. I would thoroughly recommend all of the places I visited this week and I know my parents would too.