Local produce is a major draw for visitors to Wales.
Indeed, there’s a host of local suppliers and independent producers celebrated each year by the Great Taste Awards Wales.
In particular, the artisan food and drink sector has grown in recent years with a turnover of £4.8bn in 2018-19 and 78,000 people employed in the food and farming sector, according to figures from Food & Drink Wales.
This themed tour would be ideal for an autumn departure around the time of the annual British Food and Drink Fortnight, The Conwy Honey Fair or one of the smaller harvest festivals staged across North Wales.
This route is designed to form an overarching narrative on the theme of food and drink.
It describes the rise of independent businesses, highlighting the range and quality of local flavours, and the human story of our local food heroes.
It builds in rhythm from site visit in Llandudno, via a coach-based scenic tour in the Valley and lunch stop, to a town-centre walking tour of Cowny with time for souvenir shopping before departure.
Along the way we will enjoy product tastings, guest talks from local chefs and an opportunity to meet and sample the goods of local independent food producers in North Wales.
If your group would like to join this independent tour, then please do get in touch.
* Staying close to home this week for another camping story from the archives.
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Crocus was eyeing me suspiciously.
It had been a perfectly normal start to the day for the 15-year-old cow until I started manhandling her udders in the milking shed with all the dexterity of a ham-fisted townie.
I was trying to draw off the milk between my thumb and first finger to test for its clarity, but Crocus was clearly not amused.
My early-morning attempt at milking was just part of my farmer for a day experience at Gorstage Green Farm in the rural Cheshire village of Weaverham.
Putting on the mandatory green Wellies on a spring morning in Cheshire, I was in for some hands-on experience of working with the farm’s 100 Holstein-Friesian cows, which produce 850,000 litres of milk per year.
The Davis family has been involved in dairy farming since the 1920’s. After seeing the industry suffer numerous setbacks, from Foot and Mouth Disease to supermarkets squeezing the price of milk, the current owner, 39-year-old farmer Charles Davis, decided to diversify.
Today, Charles, who is keen to challenge the stereotype of farmers as ruddy-faced men verging on retirement, welcomes volunteers to his 150-acre holdingfor an insight into farm life – and some free manual labour.
“I work an 18-hour day with a half day at weekends, two weeks holiday per year and catch the odd Liverpool home game,” explains Charles, as we tuck into a post-milking breakfast of tea and toast around the kitchen table in the 17th century farmhouse.
He smiles, downing his mug of tea.
“After spending a day with me, I hope people go home understanding that farmers are the custodians of the countryside.”
I had arrived the day before and made my base the Pheasant Inn, a rustic B&B nestled in the village of High Burwardsley.
With views across the Cheshire Plains to North Wales, the Pheasant is a perennial favourite for walkers tackling the three sections of the 34-mile Sandstone Trail from Frodsham to Whitchurch, which passes its front door.
To soak up the country air I took in a spin around the leafy country lanes, stopping for dairy ice cream and a chance to admire the llamas at Cheshire Farm Ice Cream (www.cheshirefarmicecream.co.uk), and to stock up on gourmet country produce at the Hollies Farm Shop (www.theholliesfarmshop.com). Driving over to Knutsford.
I spend a few hours wandering round National Trust property Tatton Park (www.tattonpark.org.uk), which features Home Farm, a 1950’s-style working farm, which is popular with families and school parties for step-back-in-time visits.
Returning to the Pheasant for supper, the country-inn ambiance – all open fires and rustic fittings – was reassuringly traditional, while the 12 cottage-style rooms, set in annexes off the main bar-cum-restaurant, were a chintz-free zone.
Dinner that night was a braised lamb shank with mint gravy and mash, which made the most of local farm produce.
As I headed past the bar for an early night, the rows of muddy walking boots outside the front door testified to its popularity for a post-yomp supper and a pint of the local Eastgate Ale.
Next morning at the farm there was work to be done: worming and ear-tagging in the morning, working in the fields in the afternoon before milking the cows, feeding and bedding them down at dusk.
Most nights, rather than getting his head down to prepare for tomorrow’s 6am start, Charles is up late at the computer doing accounts and paperwork.
As the morning slips away I get a crash course in the diversity of daily tasks and the highly physical nature of the job, from mucking out to holding a 12-month-old calf steady while Charles empties worming vaccination down her neck.
By lunchtime I’m starting to feel more comfortable around the animals and confident about handling them.
That is, until I find myself trying to lure a five-day-old calf between enclosures by sucking on my finger (an old farmers’ trick that simulates sucking on her mother’s teat).
But as I gently entice her across the yard, she makes a break for the front gate, leaving me chasing breathlessly behind. Thankfully, Charles’ loyal dog, Crystal, is on hand to chase her back on my behalf.
By late afternoon my day as a trusty farmhand is nearly over, but there’s one last experience: a ride in Charles’ tractor.
“You’re not allowed to drive for health and safety reasons, but you can ride up front with me as we spread the slurry,” he smiles.
As we chug home with the sun setting over the fields, I can appreciate Charles’ love of the land and the comradeship he shares with the animals, such as his favourite cow, Crocus, that keep him company each day as he ploughs his lonely furrow across the Cheshire countryside.
“I’m not one to get stuck in an office,” he says as we shake mud-splattered hands.
“My theory in life is this: look after your animals and they will look after you.”
A story from the weekend. The Guardian are running a series of Visit England supplements currently to promote destinations around England. I did the Chester story.
The final edit was cut down quite heavily from the original, so here’s the original copy, incorporating the interview with racecourse historian Chris Clayton (pictured above).
Chester Races packs them in: 250,000 people annually over the 15-event racing season. But most race-day revelers are probably unaware that Chester Racecourse is the oldest racecourse in Britain and a hotbed of historical intrigue.
“Stand here,” says racecourse guide Chris Clayton, resplendent in his pale-blue guide’s gilet as we approach Gate Nine on the non-race-day tour. We’re overlooking the course from the medieval city walls. “This is my favourite view,” explains the Liverpool-born history and archaeology boffin, whose day job involves managing building projects for the course. “For a cross-section of racecourse history from Roman times to the modern day, it’s all alive here.”
The gate is now the main entrance to the Dee Enclosure but it overlooks the old Roman port build on the banks of the city-intersecting River Dee. The Romans established Chester as a safe anchorage point for access to the Irish Sea and it remained a bus trading port through the medieval period until silting left the land, known as the Roodee, as a public space.
Chris leads us onwards, taking the steps down the side of Restaurant 1539 to the Tattersalls Stand with views over the narrow home strait. The restaurant’s name refers to the first recorded race on February 9, 1539. Horse racing was introduced at Easter initially to replace the annual Shrove Tuesday football match, banned in 1533 for being too violent.
“Chester’s then Lord Mayor, Henry Gee, gave his consent,” says Chris. “That’s why we still talk about going to the gee-gees.”
As well as racing, the Roodee has also hosted public events from the Royal Agricultural Show of 1858 to Buffalo Bill and Geronimo Wild West Show in 1903. These days, events include the more sedate Chester Food, Drink & Lifestyle Festival at Easter and the Chester Rocks music festival in summer.
The tour ends at the Parade Ring, where famous jockeys and horses from Willie Carson to Shergar have paraded for their adoring public. Chester’s May meet acts as a trial run for the Epsom Derby and it attracts the Cheshire set en masse. “Henry Gee would be amazed to see how the races have become a major event on the city’s social calendar,” says Chris.
“I knew nothing about racing when I started here 12 years ago, “ adds Chris, a Chartered Surveyor by trade and confirmed non-horsey type. “The history of Chester Races fascinates me but, even after all these years, my equine knowledge is still limited.”
I’m no trainspotter but riding the newly extended steam-heritage railway through Snowdonia is a real joy.
So much so, in fact, I covered the re-opening of the line for both the Daily Express and, later, for a Visit Wales supplement in the Daily Telegraph.
Here’s an extract:
Riding the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways through Snowdonia is more than just another scenic train trip that makes an ideal distraction on a short break.
These Victorian-built railways offer glimpses into the industrial heritage of the region, an era of slate runs and heavy industry set against the backdrop of the now national park.
The narrow gauge trains have been lovingly restored in recent years. The Welsh Highland now completes a full 25-mile circuit from Caernarfon to Porthmadog, connecting there with the Ffestiniog Railway to claim its crown as the longest heritage railway in Britain.
That’s 40 glorious miles through the rural heart of Snowdonia.