March 6, 2012 by Rhi
My word, it’s been quiet round here, hasn’t it? For various reasons, I have only recently felt able to return to this small corner of the interweb, and once more put down some words, in a semblance of order, to entertain, inform and other such Reithian inspired ideas. There’s much to catch up on, I’ve been a busy Bint in recent months. But I’ll try to focus on the entertaining part, and leave the rest to others. Onwards, my friends. Business as usual.
So a couple of weeks ago saw my triumphant return to Bangor, North Wales. I say triumphant – there was a smattering of applause as I entered the pub. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I last returned to my “home town”, and the main attraction this time was the chance to see many old friends who I hadn’t seen in all that time (and in some cases, longer!). And, of course, the chance to visit old haunts and see how the old place had changed in the previous 12 months.
Bangor, and the North Wales coast, will always feel like home to me, and I’ve got so many happy memories of my time there that I often experience what the Welsh refer to as hiraeth – a longing to return to Wales, and to home. Many people I’ve spoken to are familiar with tourist towns like Rhyl, Prestatyn and Betws Y Coed. But there’s so much to see and do outside of the holiday parks. I can’t recommend it enough, if I’m honest.
After a riotous night out to celebrate our arrival, my best mate Tim and I, along with Sarah and Ailsa (two very good friends of ours who we hadn’t spent time with in FAAAAR too long) headed off to Piggery Pottery. This lovely little place lies about 20 minutes drive from Bangor, and is just outside the town of Llanberis – well-known to walkers as the place to start your ascent of Snowdon. There’s a wide variety of fired pottery to choose from, and once you’ve made your selection, you’re given free reign to decorate it how you wish – for £1 you have all the paints, glitter, sequins and glue you can lay your hands on to make your creation your own! There’s also an opportunity to throw your own pot on the wheel, and if you are looking for a present to take home, there’s no shortage of beautifully decorated pots, plates and pigs by artist/owner Barbara Winrow for you to purchase and take home.
My hands were a little shaky, so I opted to act as a go getter for the other three, who chose pigs of varying sizes to paint. Tim is a talented artist anyway, and in tribute to our plans for the week, he created Will-ham Shakespig, who made his debut on Facebook before his paint had even dried!
Piggies in hand, we headed east along the A55 to reacquaint ourselves with the hostelries of Conwy. My “local” when I lived there was the George and Dragon on Castle Street, and it was here we called first in order to check how the old place was faring. It’s had a lick of paint in recent years, and the invasion of a flat screen television above the open fire doesn’t really appeal to me. But the Old Speckled Hen is still top class, and the Bass Brewery sign on the wall means they’re still able to keep a good keg of this increasingly hard to find pint. Abbot’s Ale makes up the trio of real ales available, but it was ‘Hen which we opted for, and it tasted as good as I remembered.
Shortly before I set off on my travels, I read a news article heralding the reopening of The Albion Vaults. Despite living there for two and a half years, I’d never actually been inside this pub, owing to its poor reputation. All that is a thing of the past however, and the news of the Albion reopening caused great excitement for me and Tim, as this former “old man’s pub” has been bought by four local competitors in the small brewery trade – Conwy Brewery, Great Orme Brewery, Bragdy Nant Brewery and Purple Moose Brewery – and is being run as a joint venture to showcase their own ales, and selected ales from around the country. The choice of beers available was breathtaking – eight pumps the length of the bar offering a wide range of brews. I asked the barman for his recommendation, and ended up with a pint of Over the Bar from The Caledonian Brewery. The pub was busy, and so we begged stools from other tables, and gathered round the open fire in the front smoking room. A lovely place to spend an evening, and by the time we finished our round, we were all more than ready for a quick trip to the Archway for some chips to take home.
I realise that this post seems to all be about pubs at the moment, but if I’m honest, that’s where I spend most of my time in North Wales! There’s plenty of other things to see and do – Snowdonia, Betws Y Coed (especially the Alpine Coffee Shop, where the home-made cakes are to DIE for!), Conwy Castle and Penrhyn Castle. Caernarfon is well worth a visit, and the Black Boy Inn in the town is definitely worth a visit for the sheer amount of history packed within its walls – tales of smugglers, illicit drinking dens, and the discovery of a human skeleton!
But the last place that deserves a mention here is possibly one of the best pubs in Bangor – The Tap and Spile. Off the beaten track, down a small road towards Bangor Pier, for people on a budget this is a great place to come for a filling meal and a decent pint of something beery. For us, the draw of The Tap is threefold: the food, the beer, and the pool table. This time, we didn’t get a game of pool. But we certainly made a dent in their beer cellar (Glaslyn Ale from Bragdy Mws Piws for me) and left with full stomachs. The Tap’s menu is excellent value for money by any standards (if you’re hungry, sample the mixed grill for less that £7, or an 8oz steak and chips, cooked to order, for just over a fiver), but the crowning glory is the dustbin lid sized Stotty. Coming in either full or half-size, and with a choice of two of umpteen fillings (including chips, bacon, egg, sausage, beans, ham, salad and cheese) included in the price, the full size comes in under a fiver, and it’s only 50p for each additional filling. Even the half sized portion would satisfy the hungriest visitor. Add to the food the lovely atmosphere, a genial landlord who is always happy to share his beer expertise with you, and the numerous well-kept ales on pump, and you’ve got the perfect pub. If only I could fit it into a trailer to follow me round the country, I’d be a happy girl!
Of course, these tales of Wales cover just the first few days of my visit. The second weekend held many more delights – or challenges. You see, in a moment of madness, two of our number had decided that it would be a great wheeze if, when everyone returned, we produced a play. In 48 Hours. And then, on the back of a beer mat, they came up with a plan. Not just any play – a Shakespeare play. Edited down to just over an hour, and performed in our old stomping ground of JP Hall. The rest of us were not to find out the play until the official kick off on Thursday afternoon, and by Saturday afternoon we’d be on the stage, with an audience in front of us, performing. Truly an epic challenge. But would it work? A rag-tag bunch of old thespians, reunited once more, joined by a group of young students, and learning Shakespeare overnight? Well… that’s another story!