An Insider Guide to North Wales with Artist and Designer Jess Wheeler
Designer and metalworker Jess Wheeler talks us through the source of her creative inspiration and takes us on a tour of north Wales.
07 December, 2021
Lyrical skies and vast, wind-beaten valleys have been luring creatives to north Wales for centuries, but for artist and designer Jess Wheeler, it was the intricacies of nature that really drew her to this corner of Britain. Having hotfooted it up to the foothills of Snowdonia during the pandemic - when lockdown stole all chances of her usual work as a London-based set designer - Jess began to draw inspiration from the delicacy of the leaves and flowers around her. Watching as the natural world shifted according to the changing seasons, she began to translate the nostalgia of nature into her designs, creating delicate brass wall sconces, candlesticks and chandeliers that have since garnered her a reputation as one to watch in the metalworking world.
Here, Wheeler talks us through her perfect day in her new hometown, shows us her favourite spots for homeware finds and lets us in on where to go for a truly Welsh brunch.
Frosty mornings, antique shops and the best secluded strolls: this is north Wales with maker Jess Wheeler
Describe the vibe of north Wales in three words…
Big skies, peaceful and unspoilt.
It's like a beautiful patchwork of the best of Britain's countryside - think bleak Scottish hills meet the rolling landscapes of the Cotswolds.
Where do you go for creative inspiration?
I try to walk every day. Most of my work has some kind of botanical influence, so getting to know a small area of countryside really intimately and watching it shift through the changing seasons is probably my most valuable source of inspiration.
We're very lucky to live near a lot of other creatives. All of us do our own thing, but we often collaborate and share ideas, too. I think the slower pace of life in north Wales gives people the space they need to be more creative, so it's a breeding ground for lots of inspirational characters.
When's the best time to visit?
Any time is perfect in my opinion, but I particularly love to be here in winter, when frosty mornings and roaring fires are a daily ritual.
Describe a perfect day in north Wales.
We try to host friends for the weekend as much as possible. My ideal Sundays are spent waking up to frosty clouds that gather at the bottom of the valley, slow-cooking something for lunch, then heading up the mountain that lies behind our house for a brisk walk while lunch cooks. The views from the top are incredible and dramatic. Once we've all worked up an appetite and enjoyed a big lunch and a few bottles of wine, we usually end up snoozing by the fire for the rest of the afternoon.
What are the best independent shops to visit?
Ashman Antiques and Old Lace in Welshpool. It's a real treasure trove, and Diana, the owner, has such an incredible eye. Plus, she's hilarious - I always have such a great time there.
How about your favourite place for homeware finds?
Ian Anderson's antique shop FE Anderson & Son - also in Welshpool - is full of beautiful 17th- and 18th-century furniture and curios. There are also some brilliant furniture auctions in north Wales. My favourite is Trevanion.
Where should we go for a long, lazy brunch?
Finding a place for brunch is a bit of a challenge around here. My dream brunch would be to take a loaf of bara brith - a traditional Welsh tea bread flavoured with dried fruits and spices - a block of salted Welsh butter and a Thermos up to the top of a hill. If you get up high early enough, you'll walk through the clouds and watch the sunrise from the top of the hill with a sheet of cloud below you, filling the valley. For me, brunch views don't get much better than that.
Where's your favourite place for a coffee?
Tide in Anglesey sits within an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), and its outdoor café really celebrates its views across the Menai Strait and Snowdonia, which are unparalleled. It's the perfect place for a coffee before or after a walk on Newborough Beach. I recommend the brown butter, chocolate and Halen Môn sea salt cookies for a real treat.
How about dinner on a Friday night?
Covino in Chester has a delicious daily-changing menu of seasonal small plates guided by provenance and quality. The restaurant always has a great energy, and there's a brilliantly long wine menu.
There's also Ynyshir, a Michelin-starred restaurant near the coast, next to Machynlleth. It's headed up by Gareth Ward and the food is addictive, memorable and always groundbreaking. It's completely informal, with great vibes and fun background beats, which is rare for a restaurant with a Michelin star.
Tell us about a secret spot only locals know about.
Llangadwaladr Church, a 12th-century church in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by ancient yew trees. It's the perfect starting point for plenty of wonderful walks.
What's one thing we shouldn't miss while we're in town?
The Ruthin Craft Centre, a space hosting events, workshops and residencies led by artists, musicians and craftspeople living and working around north Wales.
Any suggestions for day trips?
My dream day trip would be to set off for the sea early in the morning. I'd take a slightly longer scenic route, via the Horseshoe Pass, a beautiful mountainous road that runs through Snowdonia, then I'd make a beeline to Bodnant Garden, a National Trust property overlooking Conwy Valley. The rhododendrons here are extraordinary in spring, and the spectacular Laburnum Arch - a gorgeous avenue of golden flowers created by Henry Pochin, the garden's founder - is a real spectacle in late May and early June.
Finally, where should we wake up?
The Bear Inn, Hodnet, is just across the border in Shropshire. It's recently been beautifully renovated and serves delicious local food and ales. For big groups, Carregfelen House is a dreamy 14th-century house available to rent. It's close to the coast on the Llyn Peninsula and sleeps 10.
To keep up to date with Jess and her work, follow @jesswheeler.design