You can sleep in a former UK prime minister’s estate in Wales

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This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Mention Flintshire to most people and they might struggle to pinpoint it on a map. The county sits just on the Welsh side of the border with England, with Liverpool to the east and the mountains of Eyri (Snowdonia) to the west. It’s a place of quiet beauty, where small villages punctuate rolling farmland and you’ll likely get stuck behind a tractor if you spend more than 10 minutes on the road. Heather-clad hills along the Clwydian Range and broad, windswept beaches to the north provide some drama. Fans of country strolls, sustained by a pint and a pie in a local pub, will find plenty of appeal here.

Close to the English border is the Hawarden Estate, the former home of William Gladstone, who served as prime minister to Queen Victoria four times between 1868 and 1894. His great-great-grandson, Charlie Gladstone, has set about turning the estate into a celebration of the good life, with a focus on slow food, nature and traditional skills. Among the rambling grounds are all sorts of accommodation, plus a walled garden school and farm shop. It’s a great base for wider exploration of the region but it’s easy to enter through the gates and find no decent reason to leave for a few days.

Where’s the best place to stay in North Wales?

There are plenty of options spread over the 3,500 acres of the Hawarden Estate. A campsite with well-spaced pitches and pre-erected bell tents opens in a meadow from May to September. There are also two historic self-catering properties ideal for groups: choose between the wing of an 18th-century castle, sleeping up to 10, or an elegant, four-bedroom Georgian house that was once home to the estate’s head gardeners. The top choice for couples is the Beekeeper’s Hut, a sweet little shepherd’s hut in its own Victorian walled garden, with a private sauna, hot tub and outdoor kitchen. The real highlight of a stay here, though, is the luxury of space: by day, you can pretend all the grounds are yours; at night, the only thing likely to disturb the peace are the hoots of the resident tawny owls.

A campsite with well-spaced pitches and pre-erected bell tents opens in a meadow from May to September within the grounds of Hawarden Estate

Photograph by Department Two

A roast dinner laid on a black marble table with a striped table runner. A whole cooked chick sits in the middle of multiple roast dinner sides.

The 200-year-old Glynne Arms in Hawarden village serve inventive seasonal dishes, such as pine and juniper-cured pork chop or Korean fried celeriac burger.

Photograph by Department Two

What about dining?

Quality local produce is the name of the game here. The Hawarden Estate has a deli and farm shop that stocks artisanal produce from local suppliers as well as homegrown bounty, which might include pear cider, sourdough bread, strawberries and asparagus, depending on what’s being made in the bakery or is in season. The cafe, open from 9am to 5pm, can sort you out for meals between breakfast and afternoon tea, from a rhubarb pastry to a Welsh rump steak sandwich. Beyond the estate, the 200-year-old Glynne Arms is a handsome coaching inn in Hawarden village itself, about a 15-minute walk away. It serves inventive seasonal dishes, such as pine- and juniper-cured pork chop or Korean fried celeriac burger, eaten inside by the fire or outside in the courtyard.

What’s there to do?

Get your bearings at Moel Famau, a 1,818ft peak with far-reaching views on a clear day, accessed by a five-mile walking trail. It’s topped by the partially ruined Jubilee Tower, completed in 1817 to celebrate the golden jubilee of King George III. In good conditions, you’ll spot the much higher peak of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) to the west; it’s around a 90-minute drive if you’d like to take a closer look. For less rural escapades, head to Chester, 10 miles away, which has an extraordinary array of medieval half-timbered buildings as well as unique galleried ‘rows’ housing shops and cafes. On the Hawarden Estate, there are enough trails to fill a day’s rambling, and a calendar of activities that includes foraging walks, fermenting workshops and guided wild swims, as well as seasonal events such as midsummer feasts.

Published in the June 2024 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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