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Former nurse and soldier transforms run-down Welsh country house

Jane Harris plans to make it third time lucky for a beloved North Wales landmark.

Less than 12 months after buying Plas Maenan Country House in the Conwy Valley, the former nurse and soldier has transformed the five-star venue.

Jane is the hotel’s third owner in less than three years but is determined to stay the course and has already made incredible progress since December last year.

Recruiting Great British Menu star Jason Hughes as head chef was one of her first big decisions, and the move has already paid dividends in laying the foundations for a fresh reputation based on fine dining and locally sourced Welsh produce.

Less than 12 months after buying the landmark, Jane Harris has transformed the five-star venue.

Originally from Chesterfield, Jane felt an immediate connection to Plas Maenan from the second she arrived at the historic Edwardian building and is determined to bring back its glory days.

However, the vision was not always so crystal clear, and the dream acquisition almost turned into a nightmare when reality took hold.

“I had only been to see Plas Maenan three times before buying it, so I was not familiar with the area and had no idea what lay ahead,” said Jane.

“It was extremely daunting being in a place that I had never been to before; I didn’t know anybody, and this was a sector that was new to me.

“The hotel was closed, there were no staff, no guests, no suppliers and there was no handover. The building was in disrepair – a serious oil leak had shut down the boiler – and the log fire was obsolete.

“The kitchen was filthy, and we were not compliant; there was so much to do, and I questioned my decision to give up everything at my time in life for this.

“But there was something about the place, and I honestly believe Plas Maenan chose me, not the other way around. It was a spiritual feeling, a positive energy, and that combined with these breath-taking views of the Valley made me take a leap of faith.”

Jane had been looking for a small project somewhere in the UK; having semi-retired and returned to education to study health, wellbeing and nutrition, she had planned to open a country retreat.

As she admits, the “goalposts moved significantly” when she laid her eyes on Plas Maenan.

What followed has been almost a year of improvements, more than £250,000 in refurbishments and additions – notably Hiraeth, a European and Welsh tapas restaurant, and terraces with underfloor heating.

The country house had seven guest bedrooms when Jane took over. It now has 11, including two at the rear of the building which are self-contained and pet-friendly.

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For Jane, it’s a far cry from her early years. A former soldier, nurse and a fully trained teacher, she says demonstrating a toughness, a sensitive side and an ability to transfer knowledge to others has given her a bag of tools to succeed in most sectors and take on the biggest of challenges

Viewers of the popular TV series The Great Hotel Escape with Gogglebox stars Steph and Dom – which featured Plas Maenan earlier this year – can testify to that, and will no doubt be rooting for Jane as the project comes to fruition. The programme is still available on Channel 4’s catch-up TV, with the venue appearing in episodes six to 13.

“It’s been hard work since day one, and very tiring, but I am so glad I went for it,” she said.

“The potential here is enormous, our food is fabulous and the events we’ve held have been well-received.

“The restaurant and accommodation will be at the heart of everything, and with the investment what we have is perfect for weddings and events, as well as our local diners and guests.”

Jane is planning to support the economy by employing up to 25 staff – more during peak season – and continuing to partner with local producers and businesses, notably in any further construction work.

For now, she’s looking forward to the next chapter in Plas Maenan’s incredible story, and finally enjoying the journey.

“When I came here, I was so focused on purchasing the property I didn’t take the time to soak up the atmosphere and breathe in the air,” said Jane.

“I remember turning around, looking at the view and being taken aback. I hadn’t even looked at it properly. It’s incredible. Now I could stand here for hours, days even, and never be tired of it.

“And when I see the Welsh flag flying outside it makes me so proud. I am not from the area, but I really feel I belong here. North Wales reflects our identity, and that will never ever change.”

She added: “The next 12 months will be about taking things to the next level and breaking through the glass ceiling of £1million in turnover.

“I’m confident we can do it, but more importantly have a positive impact on the Conwy Valley and beyond, celebrating great food and drink, being part of special days and momentous events, and creating memories.

“Plas Maenan Country House has a rich and important history, but I truly believe the best is yet to come.”

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