Nina Howden, owner of Silver Circle Distillery, shares her and her husband’s favourite food and drink locations in their local area of the Wye Valley.
I have only recently moved to Wales, coming from Gothenburg in Sweden originally. But over the last 18 months, Wales, and the Wye Valley in particular, has quickly become my home.
Three years ago, I had never even heard of the Wye Valley, but there are now lots of reasons why I love it. Its food and drink scene is a definite front runner. My husband Joe spent 10 years living in Cardiff and after we met while working and living in Berlin, he convinced me to relocate here. We’ve now fully immersed ourselves in the burgeoning food and drink scene in the area by opening our own distillery, Silver Circle Distillery, in the beautiful little village of Catbrook.
As the first distillery to open in Monmouthshire, we set out on a mission to create a gin that was synonymous with the Wye Valley. Our first product, aptly named Wye Valley Gin, is inspired entirely by the woodland walks and spectacular views we’ve experienced since living here. Sweet woodruff, elderflower, blackberry leaf, mugwort, scots pine and linden flowers are all foraged locally and result in a leafy forest flavour.
One of the walks that inspired our recipe is the Wye Valley Walk, a regular weekend stomp with our two young children. The route starts at Chepstow Castle and follows the River Wye for 136 miles through the valley all the way to the Cambrian mountains in Ceredigion. We tend to walk one section of the trail that passes through a small tunnel in a rock called the Giant’s Cave. This leads onto a viewpoint called the Eagle’s Nest that overlooks the river. As well as being ridiculously beautiful, you can see the River Wye, the River Severn, Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire and Avon over the river from here. That’s three counties, two countries and two rivers.
One of our favourite foodie haunts, the Boat Inn in Penallt, is right on that Wales-England border as it’s set on the banks of the Wye river. We love coming here after a busy day at the distillery, trying one of the locally produced cask ales and sometimes having a dip in the river. The menu, as well as being really tasty and full of local produce, is great value for money. If the weather is good, try and get a table outside as there are a lot of streams and little waterfalls surrounding the pub, so you’ll hear the relaxing sounds of running water as you enjoy a drink or bite to eat. There is a single track road to access the pub, but you can also park in Redbrook on the English side and walk the Victorian footbridge over to the pub. The Boat Inn offers parking for kayak and canoes too, which is just one of its many quirks.
We’re always out foraging to experiment with new flavours for our gin, meaning we feel very connected to our landscape and the beauty of the Wye Valley. Humble by Nature farm, also in Penallt, is somewhere that offers visitors the same opportunity to reconnect with the land and great outdoors. BBC Springwatch presenter Kate Humble saved this working farm from being broken up and sold in 2010 after its last tenants retired and has since added an interactive rural skills programme.
Bee keeping, dry stone walling, how to make a woodfired clay pizza oven and looking after goats are just some of the practical courses offered there. They also have a brilliant little café called the Pig & Apple on site which has affordable brunches, lunches and homemade cakes, ideal for refuelling after a day exploring the farm.
The food and drink produce coming out of Wales is hugely exciting and we’re proud to now play a part in that industry. Somewhere we love to go to regularly, which is an Aladdin’s cave of the best of Welsh produce, is Marches Delicatessen. Its two venues, one in Monmouth and the other in Abergavenny, sell Pembrokeshire’s Coedcanlas Marmalade, Aberffraw Shortbread Biscuits, Monmouthshire’s Trealy Farm Charcuterie, Ammanford’s Coaltown ground or wholebean coffee, Wye Valley Meadery and everything in between. We love this place as the owners source directly from the producers which means they have a great understanding of the journey to make it, something that is increasingly important to consumers nowadays. It’s hard to resist ordering a slice of homemade cake and a coffee when we pop by too.
As relative newcomers to the area, we’ve been able to use the business to connect us to our local community, turning the front of the distillery into a café and small events space. We open to the public every Thursday offering tours and showing people how we make our Wye Valley Gin. The landscape inspires our work every day, as is the case for so many food and drink producers working and living in the Wye Valley.
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