Conwy Castle, back-lit by an afternoon sun shrouded in mountain mist, was the perfect fairytale finale to a walk from Bodysgallen Hall, whose chimneys were just visible, peeking over the treetops behind me.
It was a timeless moment, the castle in front, Bodysgallen behind, two silent sentinels gazing at each other across the centuries. The former, an abandoned reminder of King Edward’s occupation of Wales. The latter still going strong today as a place of rest and luxury for the great and the good.
There’s no doubt in my mind Bodysgallen Hall has been dealt the better hand; its 200 acres of grounds and gardens embrace a mansion full of character and wonderment. There is something very satisfying for me walking up a creaky staircase or along a wonky corridor. Sitting in one of the panelled lounges with its paintings and fireplace is like a real-life version of Cluedo. All I needed was a candlestick and a real Mrs Peacock to check in and the scene would be complete.
Fortunately, Gareth was on hand to lug my suitcase up two flights of those creaky stairs to my room. He even had enough breath to tell me about the dining room behind the secret door while he was doing it. “It’s behind the hidden panel to the left of the main lounge. That’s where you’ll have dinner tonight and take breakfast tomorrow.” Good to know that, after all, you don’t want to spend too much time looking for the restaurant when you’re hungry do you.
My room was a cracker, very spacious with glorious views across the manicured gardens framed by the majestic backdrop of Snowdonia. Soft pastel colours, a huge bed, overstuffed chairs and period furniture, all the essential elements of luxury country house living.
Back downstairs it was a journey of discovery; one door opened into another lounge, a staircase revealed a couple of secluded nooks armed with comfy armchairs, around a corner another large sitting room, its timbered ceiling bowed with age. Plenty of opportunities to hideaway with a good book or a newspaper.
Bodysgallen Hall, together with her two other elderly sisters, Hartwell House in Aylesbury and Middlethorpe Hall in York, make up the current portfolio of Historic House Hotels. These properties, each over 300 hundred years old, were given to the National Trust in 2008 to ensure their long-term protection and you can almost hear the sigh of relief echoing across the hills of Llandudno.
As well as the rooms in the main house, there is more accommodation available in the Hall and Spa cottages, delightful conversions from old farm buildings on the estate. The Hall cottages, in particular, are gathered around a discreet courtyard whose walls are adorned with rambling roses in summer.
Speaking of the spa, as if this glorious countryside is not enough to lift spirits, giving your mind and body over to spa therapy will definitely sort it. There’s a large indoor swimming pool, Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna, a gym and six spa treatment rooms staffed by full-time therapists using products by Aromatherapy Associates, Environ, CACI, Jessica and Xen-Tan.
As evening drew in the pre-dinner crowd assembled in the bar; another comfy room I discovered hidden behind a previously locked door. Aside from tales of adventures exploring the estate and the leafy lanes beyond, my fellow guests were ordering their dinners over generous cocktails and nibbles.
Fortunately, as it turned out, I was spared the ignominy of searching in vain for Gareth’s hidden panel as I was personally led by restaurant manager Nicolette into Bodysgallen’s 3 AA rosette dining room and steered to my table. Of course, I made a mental note of its position so I could stroll confidently in for breakfast the following morning.
Lorded over by Head Chef John Williams, it was a memorable meal offering four choices for each course. There was an option of the full three courses, or combinations of two courses including a main, two starters or a starter and pudding.
After my day trekking to Conwy and back I felt virtuous enough for a three-course dinner and wasn’t disappointed. My starter was a tussle between a warm gingerbread-crusted smoked salmon fillet with wasabi and a pressing of ham hock, confit duck and chicken with tomato relish an onion madeleine. The ham hock won the day. My main course had numerous suitors; butter-poached sea bass with roasted butternut squash and young leeks and polenta, a slow-cooked Welsh lamb with herb gnocchi, Madeira and tarragon sauce and cream spinach or cod with a caramelised onion crust, puy lentils and a fennel and vermouth sauce. When in Rome as they say, and so the Welsh lamb got the vote and it was another triumph.
The divine chocolate pannacotta and mandarin sorbet was a fitting dessert finale to an excellent dinner that required me to find one of the hidden nooks for rest and recuperation.
I returned to find my room ready for the night; curtains drawn and bed cover invitingly open for me to fall into.
The next day, I took another stroll to discover nearby Llandudno, a delightful Victorian seaside town. The appearance of a white rabbit statue was puzzling until a closer look revealed the town was a favourite of Lewis Carroll who used to walk with his daughter along the promenade providing the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. The zig-zag trail up the peninsula of Great Orme might also have been featured in Through the Looking Glass. No one really knows the truth, but why let that get in the way of a good story.
As the taxi sped me the couple of minutes drive to Llandudno Junction for my Virgin train back to London, I bade a fond farewell to this lovely part of North Wales. Bodysgallen Hall might still be gazing across at Conwy castle and envying its misty visage, but on a crisp January morning, I know whose embrace I’d rather be in.
Tell me more about Bodysgallen Hall
Bodysgallen Hall & Spa, the Royal Welsh Way, Llandudno, North Wales LL30 1RS
Tel: +44 (0)1492 584466 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
B&B priced from £190.00 per night based on two sharing
The spa and restaurant are open to non-residents and any treatment/meal includes access to the 200 acres of gardens.
Dinner: Three courses £60. Two courses (including main course) £47. Two first courses or first and pudding course £38.
Getting to Llandudno Junction
Virgin Trains runs direct daily services from London Euston. Single Standard Class fares available from £19 Single First Class fares available from £50 Typical journey time between London and Llandudno is 2 hours 50 minutes. On a typical weekday, Virgin Trains operates five services from London to Llandudno. Friday afternoon peak restrictions are no longer in force.