Short break - The West Arms, Llangollen
- Credit: NOT Archant
A tranquil North Wales getaway, less than 90 mins from the majority of Cheshire and a world away from real life? Sign us up.
Firstly, there needs to be a better phrase to describe exactly what The West Arms is. Pub with rooms sounds insultingly downmarket. Boutique B&B negates its culinary credentials as well as its role in the local community (this is a place where friendly locals and fleeting guests drink and dine side-by-side). Owners Nicky and Mark Willimason, who took over The West Arms almost two years ago, have settled upon Country Inn, which does rather encapsulate the essence of this charming little place.
Nestled deep into the Ceiriog Valley, you suddenly happen upon The West Arms as you drive over a bridge into the tiny dot of Llanarmon village. We're enchanted the minute we walk through its hefty oak front door - a huge welcoming inglenook fireplace, flagstone floors and wooden pew seating dressed in soft, country-chic neutrals welcomes you.
Centuries ago it was a drover's inn - a place for cattle, and by proxy the men driving them, to bed down for the night on the way to market. The surroundings, mainly thanks to a complete renovation by Nicky and Mark, are significantly more salubrious nowadays.
We're in The Willow Suite, a ridiculously generous double-aspect living area with just-as-huge bedroom next door. Charm abounds. Look out the windows and you're gazing up at the rolling green hills that, if you were able to stick out your head and swivel owl-like, would provide a near-360 panorama. It 's the kind of view that changes hour to hour, shifting with the fading light and the wandering sheep. Now and again I spot a Red Kite (prevalent in the area once again) swoop and glide. The near total lack of phone signal only adds to the tranquillity.
The dog-friendly Inn has various categories of room - all are lovely and most come with some sort of USP whether its size, garden view or quirky character. There are little nods to its past everywhere. In our room tiny little slit windows (that come with their own tiny wooden shutters) cut into the feet-thick walls give you an idea of how the place might have been as a stable…although the vast sleigh bed and triple pillow stacks mean you really have to work your imagination.
Indulgence continues in the menu downstairs. Without wanting to slip into hyperbole, it's pretty close to being a masterclass in everything great gastropub food should be: high quality, locally sourced (my lamb was raised in the hills I was gazing at earlier, its farmer now drinking in the next room) and cooked to utter perfection by Head Chef Grant Williams. Williams has been a the helm of The West Arms' kitchen for years, ensuring its repeated appearance in The Good Food Guide, but Nicky and Mark's arrival has re-invigorated his passion for perfectly executed flavours. Highlights include my other half's starter of smoked eel (literally smoked down the village road) and black pudding as well as his pie of perfectly tender steak and voluminous puff pastry, but the show stopper is the aforementioned lamb - cooked to pink perfection with every flavour on the dish, from the mint jelly on which the roasted vegetables are stacked to the red wine jus - working in absolute harmony. An excellent gin selection and extensive wine list - we plumped for a lovely pinot noir - takes care of the liquid refreshment.
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If The West Arms is a rebranding exercise in what a Country Inn should be, they've nailed it. It's cosy, it's chic, its setting is countryside perfection. But most of all it has heart. The locals drink here. Dogs curl up at owners' feet. Nicky are her team are welcoming and kind. 'The nicest thing about running this place is watching people walk through the door and just exhale. It's a place where you can completely relax and I love that we can give people that,' she says.
I love that we got to experience it.
The West Arms, Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, Llangollen LL20 7LD
Most people will drive and indeed you need to if you're planning on doing anytihng more than local walks. The nearest train station is in Chirk, a 20-minute drive away. Pre book your taxi.
3 within 30
There's plenty to explore a short drive away from The West Arms
At 240ft these are the tallest single drop falls in Britain and the cascading flow of fresh water creates a thunderous serenity. Offering a variety of walks and a great way to explore the Berwyn Mountains, they are a gem in North Wales' countryside crown.
This impressive 13th century medieval fortress was initially constructed under the reign of Edward I, and stands prominently atop the Welsh hills. With its cultivated gardens, and nostalgic interiors - a tribute to several bygone eras - there is plenty to enjoy for the entire family. For the more intrepid explorer, delve deep into the castle dungeon to experience the less luxurious guest accommodation.
Llangollen Heritage Railway
Llangollen transports you back in time to the romance and glory days of the steam railway. Heritage locomotives and rolling stock serenely transport you through the Dee valley from Llangollen to Corwen. A truly majestic way to view this area of outstanding natural beauty.