I really need to tell you about a gorgeous and, shall we say, a unique weekend I had a couple of weeks ago. If you’re looking to escape to the countryside but don’t want to travel too far, then Hawarden in North Wales (very close to Chester) is the getaway for you.
My blogging has been a little sporadic of late, sorry about that! I’ve had a few personal issues to work through and have also taken on a new freelance marketing role which has kept me really busy spending lots of time at home in my office.
Which means I’ve appreciated time away from my desk more than ever. I’m all for grafting to get work done, but sitting at a desk all day (alone, most of the time) does take its toll. So much of the time I’m itching to just get outdoors!
So I’ve been making sure I get out and about, exploring, stretching my legs and taking big, deep breaths of that fresh country air. And this weekend is one where I did that a lot, and you’ll soon see why!
Brunch in Chester
Chester is such a stunning city and I don’t visit it enough. So many great shops, food and drink spots, and history and culture to take in. We started our mini 24-hour getaway by heading to the Park-and-Ride and into Chester for brunch at The Flower Cup. We strolled through the city centre in the sunshine, stopped off at Veeno for a drink, before heading back to the car for the quick 15-minute drive into North Wales!
Heading to Hawarden
Such a short drive and boom, you’re in Wales. Flintshire is a little county in the very North of Wales bordering Cheshire and Wrexham County. It’s home to some lovely quaint villages and lots of lush, green countryside and there is plenty of that in Hawarden (pronounced “Harden”), which is where we were heading to stay.
You might at this point be wondering why this is a ‘unique’ weekend away? Well, that’s because we didn’t stay in an Airbnb. Or an old school bed and breakfast. Or even a hotel for that matter. Nope. We stayed in a Library!
Hawarden is actually a fairly historic place, famous for being the home of William Gladstone – prime minister back in the mid-1800s. His legacy lives on in Gladstone Library (also in Hawarden) and as well as spectacular reading rooms, it is also a residential library; making it unique to the UK.
We arrived at 4 pm to a very warm welcome and shown to our room; a very well finished double, with big windows facing the gardens at the back of the building. Tea and coffee-making facilities, fresh towels, a spacious shower room, reading desk, reading lamps and a radio.
Exploring the grounds and village
But, we headed straight outside to soak up the last few hours of sunshine and practice my landscape and nature photography! The gardens of the library are very well-kept and just a short walk and you’re in the centre of the village. A post office, a couple of pubs (The Glynn Arms is a must visit), news agents and some very picturesque houses.
But the best bit? The walk through the big, red gate into the castle grounds. Yes, that’s right. Hawarden has a castle too! And being guests of the library we were given a ‘pass’ to explore the grounds in full.
But time was getting on a bit, and the grand red door closes at ‘dusk’, so we had a sneak peek of the castle and surrounding greenery before heading back the next day to complete the walk in full (which took about 1.5 hours in total and I highly recommend!)
Dinner at The Old Grocery
An absolute highlight of our stay was dinner at this stunning restaurant in the village. Owned by couple Kate and Rob (Rob is also the chef), the restaurant occupies a building that historically housed a butcher and grocery store. It is now a beautifully renovated setting for a classy-yet-relaxed dinner that was full of flavour and clearly so carefully prepared!
To start I had the crab which came served with an avocado sorbet – something new to me but was really delicious and original. Neil had the goat’s cheese, served with baklava, also a very tasty dish and the presentation on both was just spectacular.
For mains, I had the feta baked cauliflower served with harissa, Medjool dates and edamame beans. It was great to see such a celebrated and interesting veggie option! Cooked to perfection, the cauli had a soft bite to it, and almost meaty texture that made it filling and really satisfying.
Neil had the lamb which was such a generous portion. Lamb cooked three ways (all delicious but on the bone was the best even if it was so rich!) The jus, heritage carrots and polenta all stunning accompaniments; so many other people in the restaurant were ordering this dish!
On the side, we had the courgette fritters (of course); crispy but with a soft and succulent centre. Really, really good indeed.
To finish we had the rhubarb Bakewell with raspberry ripple ice cream and it was one of the best desserts I have had for a long, long time. The flavours, textures and mix of warm and cold came together so beautifully. Just look at it!
I think Rob’s cooking is really special and The Old Grocery is worth nipping out of Chester for if you fancy something a little different and made with a lot of care and attention! An excellent cocktail, wine and beer choice too and the service was top-notch. Pictured below is their “Markle Sparkle” cocktail which everyone was drinking as it was the day of the Royal Wedding!
Sleeping with books
With a belly full of delicious food (and drink) it was time to head back to the library! Now I must admit, it wasn’t the most comfortable night’s sleep I’ve ever had. I think if they were to invest anywhere better quality pillows would make a big difference. But the uniqueness of the experience was fantastic. And just look at the stunning reading rooms:
We woke up to another stunning day, ate breakfast from the Library’s Food for Thought cafe outside in the library gardens and headed out on the walk around the estate. Breakfast was delicious; lovely fresh, warm croissants, kippers and bacon and egg muffins to sustain us on our trek.
The walk is so stunning and worth the trip just for that! But the restaurant, library, local pub and even Hawarden Estate Farm Shop which we popped into on the way back (a tip from the Newsagent shopkeeper) are all outstanding in their own merits.
Hawarden is a little slice of heaven and so close for so many of us. I’ve not felt so relaxed, happy and surrounded by nature and nice things for a long time.
I’d recommend this place as a mini break as it really has something for everyone.
Walking through Hawarden Estate: a Gallery of Images
Highlights; we found an abandoned old mill, saw the stunning castle ruins and saw just about every different type of tree imaginable.
Bonus tip: Hawarden Estate Farm Shop
OK, amazing work for reading this far down the post… You get a bonus tip! 😋
On your way back do not miss the chance to go and discover this amazing Farm Shop. The place is fantastic and their menu is great, loads of options and delicious vegan and veggie dishes too.
Links and details
The Old Grocery Restaurant and Bar theoldgrocery.co.uk
www.instagram.com/theoldgrocery | 68 The Highway, Hawarden, Deeside, Flintshire, CH5 3DH
Gladstone Library www.gladstoneslibrary.org
Hawarden Estate Farm Shop