Exploring the Clwydian Hills and AONBPublished on 23 Oct 2023 by Amy Greenwood
Clwydian Hills and AONB. Just over the border from Cheshire, this beautiful area of north east Wales – the Vale of Clwyd – is a very easy drive from Chester, the Wirral, Liverpool, and Manchester.
A bit of a hidden gem, it is usually bypassed by the majority of visitors heading to better known Eryri (Snowdonia), Ynys Môn (Anglesey) and Pen Llŷn (the Llŷn Peninsula). The region is wonderfully peaceful and serene, even in the busier months of the year.
The region’s towns and villages include Ruthin, Llangollen, Denbigh and Mold. The historic market town of Wrecsam (Wrexham) – which got city status in 2022 – has even made its name amongst Hollywood stars since Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought the town’s football club in 2020. Recent A-list visitors have included Hugh Jackman, Will Ferrell, David Beckham, and Blake Lively.
Despite being less well known than other areas of North Wales, the local landscapes – which are dominated by a chain of hills and valleys which form the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB – are certainly no less beautiful. They have captivated generations of painters, writers and poets.
It is these hills – ‘The true Arcadia of wild beauty’ – which inspired the great Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins to write some of his best-loved poetry. To this day, there is a proud creative tradition and a thriving local arts scene, some of which is on display at the excellent Ruthin Craft Centre.
The Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB covers 390 square kilometres of some of the UK’s most stunning landscapes. Picture heather-clad peaks crowned with Iron Age hillforts, rolling moors, and spectacular limestone cliffs. The mighty Dee River winds its way through the region to its estuary via the English border town of Chester.
This is a historically important part of Wales and the area is etched with reminders of a medieval landscape: picturesque ruins of Castell Dinas Bran castle overlooking Llangollen with nearby Valle Crucis Abbey, and the mighty Chirk Castle which guards the entrance to the Ceiriog Valley. The majestic Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal near Llangollen, now a World Heritage Site, is a monument to the AONB’s more recent industrial past.
Also worth a visit are the atmospheric ruins of the medieval Denbigh Castle and town walls, the historic market town of Mold (visit on Wednesday and Saturday to catch the excellent market). Lunch at the excellent Corn Mill pub in the centre of Llangollen – with views over the River Dee towards the heritage railway on the other side of the river – is one of life’s best pleasures. Take a wander around the town’s many antique, craft and gift boutiques whilst you’re there.
Outdoor activities and walking in North East Wales
If you’re looking for outdoor activities to enjoy during your stay in north east Wales, you won’t struggle to find them.
This is first and foremost fantastic walking country, with a great variety of quiet waymarked trails to explore in the Clwydian Hills. A great place to start exploring is from the Loggerheads Country Park, where you can follow the Alyn River through a delightful wooded gorge to the village of Cilcain (don’t miss the opportunity to stop at the fantastic White Horse pub in the village). Or climb Moel Famau (Mother Mountain) to take in glorious views of Offa’s Dyke and the Vale of Clwyd, extending to Eryri (Snowdonia) in the west and as far as Liverpool and the Cheshire Plains in the east.
You’ll find mountain bike trails at One Planet Adventure in Llandegla, rafting, kayaking, body rafting and abseiling at TNR Outdoors near Llangollen, and more sedate boating – by paddle or row boat, or even a cruise on a larger boat – along the River Dee at Chester. A ride on one of the heritage locomotives at the Llangollen Steam Railway is always a wonderful treat.
Fancy a stay in North East Wales? Check out this gorgeous Grade II listed luxury barn near Ruthin. The Long Barn sleeps 6.