Pondering About The Ponderosa Cafe
The Ponderosa sits at the top of the Horseshoe Pass, high above Llangollen.
The Ponderosa makes for a lovely stopping off point whilst touring around the Llangollen area. Massively popular with bikers, you will often find car clubs stopping off here as well as individuals out for a Sunday ride.
Mum & Dad had invited me to join them today for lunch at The Ponderosa. I set my alarm clock, got up in good time and was soon preparing to leave the North Wales coast by mid morning. The route passes towns such as St. Asaph, Denbigh and Ruthin before beginning the ascent to the summit of the Horseshoe Pass. The roads are good and for the first part of the journey, mostly dual carriageway followed by good A roads. On the left, you can clearly see the Clwydian Range, looking dark and ominous in the distance. Towards the end of the journey, climbing the Horseshoe Pass is a steady, but interesting affair with plenty of corners to ensure you stay alert changing gear and braking. As you approach the summit of the Horseshoe Pass, the old slate workings of Moel y Faen quarry appear like pools of dark grey blood on the scarred landscape. As the road starts to level off, you can’t help but notice The Ponderosa Cafe on your left. As we turn into the first car park, we feel the ground shuddering and our heads are filled with a dull, numb heaviness. I notice the line of twenty or so Citroen hot hatches. The second Citroen along has it’s tailgate and doors open whilst the driver is enforcing on everyone around a demonstration of his mega amplification and boot filling sub woofer. For the sake of Mum’s hearing, I park well away from the Beat Boys.
Conversation on the way has been peppered with musings as to why and how the cafe got it’s name. I reached out to wikipedia to try and find some answers. Ponderosa is apparently derived from both Italian and Latin languages, meaning heavy or ponderous. The cafe is large, no, it’s huge. It covers a large area and certainly sits heavy on the landscape, but somehow, it blends in without spoiling any of the views. The views, by the way, are long reaching and magnificent. It’s certainly a place where you could spend time quietly but deeply pondering on the valleys and hills which now surround you. But then, I notice that the lettering on the signage for the cafe imparts a feeling of being in the Wild West. So maybe that’s it, maybe The Ponderosa is a little like a ranch, or a place where Ranchers would go. Coincidentally, Ponderosa was the name of the ranch in the TV series, Bonanza. However, with the wonderful smells drifting on the breeze, our interest soon turned to food.
We quickly made our way to the cafe entrance. On the right, is a dedicated and seperate take away area. Although the sun was shining, we really didn’t fancy eating outside in the breeze. So we went to the main cafe entrance. At first sight, the cafe looks quite small with just twenty or thirty tables in the main cafe area. But remember how sprawling the building appears from outside. The theme continues inside. There are tables in the conservatory area. There’s a small passageway on the right with a small sign saying “Extra seating this way”. This leads through to a deceptively large, comfortable and carpeted area on split levels of at least three floors. We choose a table in the main cafe area. Throughout our stay, it was perfectly obvious that despite being extremely busy, the cafe does have plenty tables to accomodate everyone!
The range and choice of food is exactly as you would expect in a cafe. The take away next door has a full “fish and chip shop” style frying range, so it’s no surprise to find battered fish on the menu. There’s a selection of pasties, sausage rolls, sausage and freshly fried eggs alongside staples such as chips, mushy peas, beans and gravy. Today, there was roast chicken, lasagne or steak pie brimming with fillings and rich brown gravy. This seemed particularly popular, many people choosing healthier vegetables to accompany it such as sliced carrots and garden peas. For the more adventurous, there was a scrummy chicken curry which of course, could be served with rice or chips.
I chose the battered fish, with chips and baked beans. The fish was fresh, the crispy batter fully cooked through, the chips were crispy outside and soft inside – just as I like them and the beans were, well, beans. The food was exactly what you would expect in a cafe, no frills, no fuss, but correctly cooked, fresh and really tasty. The choice of drinks available is again, cafe style. Tea, coffees, bottled water and various pops to choose from. There’s no alcohol, which is a good thing given The Ponderosa’s popularity with drivers and riders.
If you’re not feeling like a full meal, then there are lighter things such as filled baked potatos, you could of course, have a pasty or a portion of chips on their own. There is a vegetarian option and kids are catered for with a small selction of kid sized meals.
It’s worth noting that if you arrive earlier in the morning, The Ponderosa does have a full breakfast range on offer, and around Christmas, they have a Christmas Menu available also.
We found the service to be professional, and quick. The staff all have a smile and despite the number of customers, queues were not allowed to grow and tables were cleared promptly after eating.
After finishing our meal, we took the opportunity to check out the WC facilities. They were clearly busy, but were in a clean and acceptable condition. I was pleased to note that the facilities are made available to non customers for a very reasonable 20 pence.
The WCs are right next to a secondary entrance to the cafe. It was good to see that space had made to accomodate a charity collection event for the all important Welsh Air Ambulance. There’s also an extensive range of leaflets available for local touist attractions, so if you need inspiration for how to spend the rest of your day, there’s a good amount of ideas on offer.
Before leaving to continue your journey, don’t forget to pop into the shop. Yes, there’s even a shop at The Ponderosa. Aptly, it’s called “The Shop in the Clouds”. I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that the shop is larger than you would first expect. The shop has a surprisingly wide range of clothing, gifts and much more, all with a Welsh flavour.
As we stepped out into the car park, the sunshine was still beating down. I took the opportunity to have a very quick look around the area. The first thing I noticed is the large car parking area opposite The Ponderosa which is free of charge and suitable for anyone looking to use this as a base for activities such as rambling or photography. I also noticed a handfull of cars parked on verges, their pasengers enjoying picnics in the sunshine! The Ponderosa’s own car park though, had taken on the resemblance of a car and bike show. Whether your interest is Kawasaki, Yamaha, Caterham 7, Porsche, Lotus or even Triumph, you are sure to see some very impressive motors here!
Bring your camera! This is a good photography location. There’s surely something for everyone here. Whether it’s the passing sports cars, the grazing sheep, or the hidden wild flowers. Bring a pair of walking boots and go for a walk, maybe to the top of Moel y Faen, passing the slate workings along the way.
Don’t let the weather put you off visiting here, whatever your reason. There are surely some atmospheric photographs to be taken, whatever the weather, up here on the wild, heather clad moorlands.
There’s so much to see and do around The Ponderosa, that you might have to take advantage of their Bed & Breakfast facilities to stay for more than a day!
Like to visit here? The nearest Post Code is LL20 8DR