The charm of Pen-y-Dyffryn lies in its homely, welcoming atmosphere. Formerly a rectory, it was built in 1840. Its first rector was an eccentric scholar, Rev Robert Williams, who was responsible for one of the first dictionaries of the Cornish language. Used as a rectory until 1951, it was then sold into private hands by the Church, before opening as a restaurant in 1981. Miles and Audrey Hunter later transformed the grey stone building into this comfortable hotel, where they maintain a friendly ambience, and offer a discreet, efficient service.
Pen-y-Dyffryn is Welsh for ‘head of the valley’, and the hotel commands spectacular views over the rolling hills of the Welsh countryside. The South-facing terrace provides an ideal spot for tea or a pre-dinner drink, and the panorama it provides instils an immediate sense of calm and tranquillity. The hotel has a refreshing lack of pretentiousness, and although the rooms aren’t luxurious, they are cosy, and all have large sash windows offering views out over the garden. Tearing myself away from the window, I went downstairs for dinner.
The Hunters made it their mission to upgrade the restaurant, and, although the contemporary decor is slightly ill at ease with the rest of the hotel, the food is first class. The menu offered tantalising creations such as rack of Welsh lamb wrapped in filo pastry. From a king scallop and courgette starter to delectable guinea fowl with mashed lentils, the food was a delight. Delicious passionfruit crème brulée with a crème fraîche sorbet provided the perfect finale.
The restaurant has a large fireplace and decorated overmantel, as does the adjoining drawing room, where we retreated after dinner. Guests clustered around the fire and discussed their days’ activities. A range of nearby attractions make Pen-y-Dyffryn the perfect base for sightseeing and, over a hearty breakfast, the staff were full of ideas and recommendations. Straddling the border the former rectory is in Wales, although the church it originally served is in England the area has borne witness to centuries of struggles between the two countries, and, as a result, there are
numerous historical monuments littering the countryside.
The medieval castle of Powis, the Iron Age hillfort in Oswestry, and the beautiful historical town of Montgomery dominated by its castle ruins are just a few examples and are well worth a visit. Other possible excursions include Erddig or Chirk, and there are endless walks and treks in the local area, with Snowdonia National Park and Offa’s Dyke both within easy reach. I left Pen-y-Dyffryn feeling revived and refreshed and, with so much more to explore, I wish I could have stayed for weeks.
Pen-y-Dyffryn, Rhydycroesau, near Oswestry, Shropshire (01691 653700; www.peny.co.uk)
How to get there: It takes about 3½ hours to drive from London. Wrexham General train station is a half-hour drive away from Rhydy-croesau, and from here a train will take you to London Euston in just under three hours
Shopping: Oswestry hosts the biggest street market in Shropshire every Wednesday, and Chester and Shrewsbury both boast a wide selection of high-street shops as well as independent boutiques
Eating: The Walls Restaurant (01691 670970; www.the-walls.co.uk) in Oswestry is a former schoolhouse which serves up a varied menu focusing on local produce, or for a more extravagant treat, visit Arkle Restaurant in Chester (01244 895618; www.chestergrosvenor.com/arkle-restaurant)
Historic Attractions: The medieval towns of Chester and Shrewsbury merit visiting, as does the World Heritage Site of the Iron-bridge Gorge. Thomas Telford’s Aqueduct is a great feat of engineering, and offers beautiful views across the countryside. Plas Newydd, home of the Marquess of Anglesey, has a marvellous collection of works by Rex Whistler, and the elegant 18th-century Attingham Park with its magnificent Regency interiors is also recommended
Activities: Nearby Offa’s Dyke offers spectacular hiking opportunities. Wales’ highest waterfall, Pistyll Rhaeadr, is also close by, as is Lake Vyrnwy and Lake Bala. Head to Snowdonia National Park for a wide range of outdoor activities