Spend a weekend exploring the overlooked northeast corner.
Northeast Wales has no shortage of unusual things to do and while it often attracts outdoor adventure types or canal boat cruisers, it’s also perfect for a three day trip or long weekend.
Armed with a car, sturdy shoes and an empty stomach, you can combine art, history and some beautiful walks and still be back in London in time for tea.
(And, yes, not everyone lives in London but those who don’t, don’t need to be coaxed out quite so much, eh?!)
So, after plenty of soul-searching through Wales as part of my Routes to the Sea project, here’s some nuts and bolts for arranging a lovely weekend break yourself.
Soul searching optional.
Drive up from Cardiff, London, Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham or Manchester, as these are the main airports that serve northeast Wales.
This route works better if you have your own car. It’s also based on using Ruabon as a base, staying at the Wynnstay Arms (see below.)
Explore the 11- mile long UNESCO World Heritage Site that uncovers the tech side of Britain’s Industrial Revolution amid some gorgeously rugged countryside.
If you’re short on time, focus on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (the world’s highest canal, poetically named the Stream in the Sky) but try to make time to see some of the rest.
Walk from Wales to England along the Chirk Aqueduct (it should only take 15 minutes or so and you can reward yourself with an ice cream at the end.)
Chirk Castle, managed by the National Trust, offers a glimpse into different eras along with stunning views across the fields. Think shining knights, well-heeled aristocracy, flourishing vegetable patches and a cosy garden café.
From Ruabon (or anywhere near Wrexham) you can loop through all these places within a day, spending differing amounts of time in each according to the weather and the day of the week.
A medieval market town, expect half-timbered houses, quaint streets and a prettier-than-the-name-suggests vibe.
Mold street markets are held every Wednesday and Saturday from 9am to 3.30pm
More than 70 traders line the High street and Daniel Owen Square, selling fruit and veg, organic eggs, hand knitted cardies and produce from Billy the Fish.
Expect plenty of free advice from how to cook the perfect roast to the best plant to survive that dingy corner in the garden.
Stunning coastline with fluorescent beachside fare. Arrive early for the best views and if you’re travelling with children, look out for the excellent playgrounds and Britain’s Oldest Miniature Railway.
St Asaph Cathedral – Home to the first bible to be translated into Welsh, with an enlightening interactive exhibit. You won’t need more than an hour or so here but it’s definitely worth a stop and the bright café looked good for a quick refuel.
Also, if stained glass and cute churches appeal, stop off in St Dyfnog’s in Llanrhaeadr, deep in the Vale of Clwyd.
If the weather has you buttoning up your waterproofs, you walk fast, and you’ve decided to avoid churches altogether, then you may want to squeeze in Ruthin before calling it a day.
Otherwise, save her up for tomorrow.
There’s plenty to see and do and we rather wished we had allowed more time in Ruthin.
Despite being the largest town in the north of Wales, Wrexham’s centre is compact, curious and walkable.
And I’d recommend making a beeline for her markets.
Don’t expect a gentrified built-for-tourists experience, though. Wrexham’s markets are the real deal.
The Butcher’s Market gathers over 100 years of trading history beneath its Jacobean gables, along with gourmet sausage rolls, Snowdonia cheese, boiled sweets and local Welsh lamb.
Nearby Ty Pawb, the new kid on the block, has market stalls too. But here, it’s swapped industrial red brick for bright white walls, silver grids and wooden children’s play areas with inventive colouring stations.
Stalls include frilly children’s clothes and hipster coffee hangouts, with a space for performance art and revolving exhibitions.
Note: Check the market opening times before you make your plans.
Make sure to leave time to do Ruthin justice, as it’s a medieval market town with at least two different sides.
First, the half-timbered town on a hill, with a Gaol and a crumbling stone castle.
Second, is the creative expression of the arts. The most obvious sign of this is the Ruthin Craft Centre, which mixes exhibits from professional artists with interactive craft stations and displays from local schoolchildren.
And third is where the two combine: on the Ruthin Art Trail. This fantastic walk through town invites you to look closely at your surroundings, searching for art hidden in walls and teetering on rooftops. There’s a printed map and audio guide to give you a little clue.
But like so much in travel, it really is best when you can see something with your own eyes.
Drive home or to the local airport.
The Wynnstay Arms is a treat of a chic traditional inn, if you can imagine such a thing. Glossy in stone grey and linen blue stripes with vintage suitcases as bedside tables, it’s an interesting mix of traditional heritage and 21st century design.
Travelling with a toddler, we’ve found it easier to stay in one place for a couple of nights rather than move every night. We also make sure the place has decent dining options nearby so that we can all have a nice meal out and then hotfoot it back for bath, books and bed.
We stayed at the Wynnstay Arms in their family room, which provided more space than toddler Lab could toddler about in.
Ruabon itself is pretty small – but it is pretty. Parking is easy and this itinerary imagines you’ll be based somewhere around here.
Frankly, even if you’re travelling without small children, I’d still recommend this route and this hotel, albeit in a smaller room.
Unless you fancy taking to the canals yourself. That’s another way to see this part of northeast Wales…
Disclosure – This itinerary, three days in north east Wales, was produced as part of a Routes to the Sea project supported by Denbighshire, Wrexham and Flintshire.