The Hand at Llanarmon – Ceiriog Valley

I somewhat foolishly decided to allow the sat nav to guide me across the very narrow, steep mountain roads from Llangollen to Llanarmon rather than the more pleasurable drive along the beautiful Ceiriog Valley from Chirk.

Having stopped off at the sweeping Horseshoe Pass and the Horseshoe Falls or Weir, I had already begun to appreciate the beauty of this part of North East Wales.

I needed my head for heights as I walked across what must be one of the most awesome engineering feats on the British canal network, the ‘stream in the sky’ at the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. It is the longest aqueduct in Great Britain and the highest canal aqueduct in the world at 126 feet high. The view from the top was magnificent, if somewhat scary at times.

I then followed the picturesque winding road along the Ceiriog Valley to the tiny village of Llanarmon. The village grew up at the intersection of several drovers’ roads which forded the River Ceiriog. I was surprised to find that this tiny village has two functioning inns, The Hand at which I was going to stay and the West Arms. Both Inns originally provided food & shelter for both drovers & their animals as they made their way to local markets.

I arrived at The Hand during some persistent drizzle and hurried across the car park, past a huge redwood Hand sculpture, pulling my luggage into the warm & welcoming cosy confines of The Hand. Jackie, co – owner of The Hand with locally born husband Jonathan Greatorex for the past five years was at reception to meet & greet my wife and I with a warm smile and friendly questions about our journey.

Over dinner in the evening I got the chance to speak briefly to Jonathan and his passion for The Hand is clearly infectious. Jonathan described buying The Hand, “as a vertical learning curve” but it is his attention to detail and his pursuit of excellence which drives him and Jackie to make The Hand the treasured Inn it has become. Jackie left the world of education and bought The Hand, having never pulled a pint. It was not long before she had mastered the art of pulling a fine pint amongst the many other roles in managing The Hand on a day to day basis.

Passing through the small characterful bar to our room I noticed the old oak beams, a collection of assorted wooden tables and chairs and a welcoming log fire burning as both locals and visitors chatted and shared stories at the bar. I could tell already that I was going to like this place! It had all the ingredients you could hope for of a warm friendly Inn serving excellent food, good ales & fine wine in a warm, comfortable environment.

Our bedroom was a mix of modern & rustic with a superb view of the Berwyn mountains rising behind a scattering of sheep or `woollies` a real extra. It was an idyllic pastoral scene to wake up to in the morning. A large comfortable King Size bed dominated the room with a small armchair, dressing table, wardrobe and bedside table making up the bedroom furniture.

The en-suite bathroom was smart and modern. The Hand has thirteen double bedrooms to let in a variety of sizes, reflecting a range of design influences and all have sparkling modern bathrooms. Many of the rooms have recently been refurbished to a very high standard, boasting comfortable beds, as well as all the modern conveniences you would expect to find in a luxury hotel.

Our room also had a small television fixed to the wall and the usual mix of tea & coffee making facilities. It was a very pleasant, clean & comfortable room but with a superb restaurant downstairs, a welcoming bar selling a range of excellent real ales & wines, we didn’t really spend too much time in our bedroom.

Another attraction at The Hand was the outside `Pump House Spa` Hot Tub & Sauna block. Despite it being early September, the sun was shining so we did not hesitate to collect some robes & fresh fluffy towels from reception and soaked in the tub for a while.

It was fantastic! I didn’t need a sauna but we both really enjoyed sitting back in the tub watching the `woollies` continually chewing the grass taking in the majestic mountain in front of us. After a long soaking we then sat in the wooden `shelters` absorbing the last of the sun’s rays. All was at peace in the world!

When we went down to eat in the restaurant there were already several people eating in the bar area and almost every other table had been reserved! I noticed another smaller room just off the kitchen which also had a pool table. A couple of local youngsters were hitting the balls, but I already had my eye on a game or two myself after our meal. We did, and I won!

The Hand has a wonderful bar and has beautiful rooms with stunning views, but I got the impression it’s the food and its restaurant that attracts many of its regular & first-time visitors. The Hand has established a much-deserved reputation for its food thanks in part to the culinary talents and imagination of Head Chef Grant Mulholland and his kitchen team.

Chef Mulholland has now been at The Hand for over thirteen years! I spoke to Grant early one morning after a splendid breakfast. Although he now lives near Wrexham, he has a great enthusiasm and passion for The Hand and the Ceiriog Valley.

“I came down to Wales when I was about sixteen years of age and as soon as I drove over the bridge in Llanarmon, I thought where am I? We have guests from London & Manchester who just want to get away from everything. I use a lot of local lamb and fish from the Chirk Trout farm. That’s what people come for. They want something a bit different, something out of the ordinary. We still get comments like – I was blown away. That’s what we do it for, it is a good feeling!”

Chef Grant Mulholland

His award-winning food is an inventive mix of country fare and sophisticated metropolitan cuisine. The food was so good on our first evening at the Hand that we cancelled our plans to go and eat somewhere else on our second evening and had no regrets about our decision. The food is stunning.

Smoked Chicken & Haddock Spring Roll & Roasted Langoustine Sauce

Beetroot Gravadlax, Celeriac Mayonnaise, Brown Bread & Butter

A delicious Scandinavian inspired recipe. The beetroot cured salmon gravadlax, or gravlax, is usually infused with sea salt, raw beetroot, lemon, orange and fresh dill. The generous serving of firm salmon had a very strong and vigorous flavour. The meal was served with Celeriac Mayonnaise topped with a few sprigs of Parsley. Simply delightful!

Pea, English Mustard & Mint Brûlée & Cauliflower Crumbs

Confit Honey Roasted Duck Leg, Cured Ham, Pearl Barley & Treacle Risotto

Shortcrust Pastry Pie, Chicken & Gammon with Leek Sauce

I love a home made freshly cooked pie and this one ticked all of the boxes. A flaky shortcrust pastry with fresh locally sourced chicken and gammon, resting on a bed of stunning creamy Welsh Leek sauce. What a combination – Simply delicious. And it looked great too!

Roast Rump of Welsh Lamb Smoked Brocolli Puree, Black Pudding & Pork & Peanut Crumbs

8 Hour Braised Beef Cheek, Horseradish Mash, Cider & Maple Syrup Onions & Treacle Gravy

Summer Berry Pudding with Blackcurrant Sorbet, Orange Syrup & Caramel cake Crumbs

Warm Almond & Orange Sponge, Homemade Marmalade, Pistachio Ice Cream & Raspberries

Breakfast: Bacon, Sausage, Black Pudding, Mushroom & Poached Eggs

Nearby Llangollen is well worth a visit. The Hand is also superbly placed for exploring breathtakingly glorious countryside. Jonathan provided us with some directions  to Wales’ highest waterfall, Pistyll Rhaedr, which we visited on our journey home. It was well worth the thirty-minute drive across a mix of rolling borderlands, grassy highlands and hidden valleys. A stunning sight not to be missed.

If you are a lover of country pursuits, you will adore the location. You can walk for hours in the glorious Berwyns with only the local `woollies` for company. Staff at The Hand can arrange all sorts of country pursuits including horse riding, fishing or shooting, all you must do is ask!

Whilst I was visiting The Hand, they were having a double celebration after having been awarded two top awards following an anonymous inspection by The AA. It has retained its Two Rosettes for Culinary Excellence which does not surprise me at all and following the recent refurbishment which includes the `Pump House Spa` have also been awarded the much-coveted Gold Award.

“ We are all absolutely chuffed to bits. This has been the culmination of five years of hard work by the entire team here at The Hand. For a small village Inn to be awarded these incredible accolades is utterly fantastic; we are totally blown away”

Jonathan Greatorex

There was also news of a book deal! Earlier this year The Hand had been approached by publishers A Way With Media who offered to write a book about The Hand. ‘A Slice of Heaven” which is due to be published in November, just in time for Christmas!

For fabulous food, friendly professional service and quality ales, in a local friendly pub, The Hand is an excellent choice. I enjoyed my stay, our room was comfortable, spacious and clean, with everything we needed for a weekend break. The food was very, very special, a wide-ranging menu of top-quality dishes, beautifully cooked and professionally presented to table. A great local Inn & top restaurant!

By continuing to provide top quality good food and drink combined with the warm, friendly hospitality of the waiting staff, this classic village Inn is sure to win many more awards for its food, rooms and hospitality over the next couple of years.

It certainly comes highly recommended from me!

THE HAND AT LLANARMON

LLANARMON DC • CEIRIOG VALLEY

LLANGOLLEN • LL20 7LD

Telephone: 01691 600666

reception@thehandhotel.co.uk

Disclosure: My visit to The Hand Inn, Llanarmon was courtesy of the owners. The views and comments expressed, are as usual my own.