At Llangoed Hall I slept like a Queen — and ended up smelling and shod like one too.
The definite luxury British country house hotel in the Wye River valley amongst the Black Mountains in the mid-Wales countryside near Brecon has hosted the Clintons and the Clooneys and Prince Charles. There is a thank you letter from him hanging in the Grand Hall, alongside one from former British Prime Minister John Major.
The eminent are never far away. They are around every corner. I spent a lot of time in the shower with a famous Cornishman. When I was out of it I was surrounded, in the oak panelled library and along the pillared gallery of the classic Jacobean-style manor, by “true modern dandies and bold women who knew how to go their own way”.
Although they were oblivious to it.
Every step around Llangoed Hall (Holy Meeting Place) is a step into history.
Step inside the shower or your bath and you meet William Penhaligon, the Cornish court barber of Queen Victoria, who in 1902 invented ‘Blenheim Bouquet’ for the Duke of Marlborough and was rewarded with becoming ‘The manufacturer of toilet requisites’ by Royal Appointment.
The royal family has issued over 850 royal warrants. There is a royal chimney sweep and even a royally endorsed maker of “corsetry, lingerie and intimates”.
When you go for a walk by the river at Llangoed, you choose your by ‘Her Majesty’s Appointment’ footwear from a selection of ‘Hunter Monarch’ boots. The bedding in the hotel is the same as used on the Crown Estates. The pillowcases are filled with the feathers from ducks resident at Sandringham, the baths and toilet cisterns are by ‘Chadder and Co’, the china tea-sets by ‘Caverswall’, the bathrobes by ‘Mitre’, the retro radios by ‘Robinson’s’, the carpets by ‘Brintons’ and the stationery only by the very best –‘Smythsons’.
The hotel is an art gallery. It boasts – discreetly — a collection of nineteen ‘Whistler’ lithographs (1888-1902), as well as works by Andrew Melville, Wiliam Sickert, John Duncan Ferguson, Albert Lynch and Tenby’s Augustus John.
The hotel is a popular weddings and honeymoon venue. Honeymooners return frequently. The couples are transported in a Rolls Royce given to the Queen Mother on the birth of Elizabeth, Princess of York (the Queen). The whisky decanter is appropriately empty. Also available for functions is a Bentley once owned by the Duke of York.
Says G.M. Calum Milne, a relative of A.A., the creator of ‘Winnie the Pooh’, “What’s good enough for the Queen should be good enough for anyone!”
The new owners have invested in re-furbishing what its former owner Sir Bernard Ashley wanted to be ‘A country home from home’. Janet in the dining room tells a story about how Sir Bernard (who died in 2009) asked his butler to bring his shotgun. He promptly shot the TV when Arthur Scargill appeared. Calum says, “We won’t see his like again.”
An engineer and pilot (model trains are on window ledges and ‘Airfix’ Spitfires hang from ceilings), the former Fusilier and Gurkha army officer married Laura Mountney (nee Ashley) in 1949, having met her in a London youth club. Ashley was born in Dowlas, Merthyr Tydfil, the daughter of a civil servant.
While a Royal Navy Wren she started doodling designs for headscarves, napkins, table mats and tea towels. The couple set up a printing press and the ultimate cottage industry – Laura Ashley fabrics – was born in 1953.
2015 is the 90th anniversary of Laura Ashley’s birth and the 30th of her death.The Ashley family moved to Wales in 1961. Originally located in the social club in Carno, Montgomeryshire (where they are both buried), the factory moved to the village’s railway station.
In 1966, Laura produced her first dress. In 1974, she opened shops in Paris and San Francisco. At the time of her death the company had 220 shops in 12 countries. Her first shop at 35 Maengwyn Road in Machynlleth in west Wales is still open for business.
The suites in the 23-room, 17-acre Powys hotel are named after the Ashley family homes, in Machynlleth, Rhydoldog, Paultons, their house in Brussels, Treveraux, the family chateau in Picardy and Lyford in the Bahamas.
In a simple frame along the corridor from the ‘Paultons’ master deluxe suite at Llangoed is the first item Laura Ashley designed – a striped apron (1950). Room 7 is a tribute to her flock.
Over the fireplace in the hotel’s drawing room is a motto of former owners, the Christy clan, ‘Sic Viresco’ – ‘To Flourish’.
The Hall was probably the seat of the first Welsh parliament, going back to 560AD. It was an episcopal grange. It was owned by a prominent hatter and once, in the days of the ‘Regency Hellfire Club’, lost in a game of cards.
In 1912 it was redesigned by Clough Williams-Ellis before he created the quirky Italianate village of Portmeiron in north Wales. Work on Llangoed’s “majestic chimneyed outlines” was completed in 1919. Sir Bernard Ashley bought it in 1987 and turned it into a hotel in 1990.
Llangoed is ideally and idyllically placed to visit the Brecon Beacons National Park and Elan Valley where Barnes Wallis tested his bouncing bombs before the 1943 ‘Dambusters’ raid. As well as Llandrindod Wells (August sees the town’s Victorian Festival and exhibitions of “things old time”), Hay on Wye (its Literary Festival is held in May), Brecon (August jazz festival) and the Royal Welsh Show grounds at Builth Wells where you can watch the pony sales and bid at auctions for your very own speckled faced breeding ewe. Wales’s only distillery, ‘Penderyn’ isn’t far away either.
But Llangoed is the place to stay.
Under chandeliers you enjoy petit fours with infusions, beetroot macaroon canapes, artisanal cheeses with quince paste, homemade scones, ‘Bra Brith’ (Welsh speckled or mottled currant bread), elderflower champagne, Llangoed hen truffled eggs and Miss Milligan’s signature and very bespoke egg and water cress finger sandwiches.
All that chintz, all that high life and sophistication, the four poster beds and classy valences, the crystalware, the complimentary sherry in a decanter in your room, the Frambuie in your porridge, the Camden Town group and Slade School on the walls, the gouache and gum arabic, the thin wash, the aquatints on wove paper, the renowned bohemians, Scottish colourists, the masters of ‘blottesque’ and the Glasgow Boys.
And all the royal warrants.
And the Laura Ashley connection.
Llangoed Hall, the AA’s Best Hotel of the Year in United Kingdom and Ireland 2014, is enough to drive a sane person Paisley.