Believed by some to be the oldest inhabited part of Wales, the county of Denbighshire has many fantastic sites, from the stunning views watched over by the medieval remains of Castell Dinas Bran to the seaside resort of Prestatyn just north of Offa’s Dyke. Its expanses of hilly moorland are peppered by busy market towns, incredible feats of architecture and ancient historical sites.
What to do
The Pontcysyllte aqueduct in Wrexham is a must-see – it was certainly the highlight of my family’s wet and windy canal boat holiday last summer! Designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1805, the magnificent structure stands 126ft-tall and 1,000ft-long and is the largest aqueduct in Britain. It can be crossed by barge or on foot, but the winding hillside footpaths leading to the river below provide the best view of the bridge in all its glory.
Not far from Pontcysyllte is the town of Llangollen, which well deserves its place as a popular tourist destination. Nestled amongst rolling hills and bordered by the gushing River Dee, it brims with charm and character. The Llangollen Steam railway is still operational (even Thomas the Tank Engine makes a yearly visit) and takes visitors 7 miles up the river to the village of Carrog. The nearby ‘Horseshoe Falls’, an attractive weir also designed by Thomas Telford, can be reached via a 3-mile riverside walk.
For those looking for something a bit more exhilarating, Denbighshire is also host to a variety of sports including rock climbing, kayaking and white-water rafting. The hills around Llangollen are popular areas for paragliding, whilst many mountain bikers head to the Coed Llandegla Forest, which contains tracks suitable for both beginners and experts.
Meanwhile, Denbighshire has no shortage of history to explore – the Valle Crucis Abbey in Llantysilio is the best-preserved medieval ruin in North Wales; St Asaph Cathedral dates from the thirteenth century and is purportedly the smallest Anglican cathedral in Britain; Bodelwyddan Castle near Rhyl is set in 260 acres of formal garden and natural woodland and has an excellent museum and art gallery; whilst Chirk Castle in Wrexham features a tower, dungeon, and beautiful grounds.
Where to stay
Ruthin Castle (www.ruthincastle.co.uk), standing atop a sandstone ridge near the head of the Vale of Clwyd, has been hosting distinguished guests for hundreds of years. Today it is a four star hotel and spa with a variety of rooms available ranging from ‘Royal Salons’ to ‘Sovereign Suites’ and ‘Regal Rooms’, all named after past occupants including Oscar Wilde and King Edward I.
Near the castle is Nantclwyd y Dre, Wales’s oldest timbered townhouse, with seven rooms decorated to provide a tour through the history of interiors; and Ruthin Gaol, a prison dating from the seventeenth century where visitors can learn about life in a Victorian cell.
Where to eat
On the riverbank at the heart of Llangollen sits The Corn Mill, a popular restaurant and pub that is equal parts rustic and modern. Steeped in history, with a water wheel still running behind the bar and a wonderful view across the river to the old railway station, The Corn Mill is a favourite with locals and tourist alike.
Tell me a secret…
The mortar for the Pontcysyllte aqueduct was made of oxen blood, lime and water – who’d have thought such a mix could hold the 1.5 million litres of water which flow over it!