Sunday, 27 December 2009

Welsh wanderings Day 2

Wales Day 2

We awoke to views across the valley of mountains splashed with wispy clouds and shards of bright sunshine, none the worse for our having raced around North Wales the night before. We were soon out on the coast again, this time at Barmouth, where we somehow resisted the temptation to walk over the exposed railway bridge, before heading inland again to the tranquil Tal-Y-Llyn Valley and it’s lake. We stopped for a photo and to take in the cold fresh air and scenery, which, had you seen it in a photo, you would have assumed was a Scottish Loch.

We pressed on for a brief stop at Cemmaes Road, to take a few pics of the Dovey Valley Hotel. This national inventory listed hotel probably doesn’t open during the day but we expected that, and we wouldn’t have got far with our cameras inside if it had been. It is allegedly quite defiantly unspoilt inside, demonstrated by an explicit ban on photography in the description on the inventory, and demonstrated by complaints from the owner that the hotel’ s inclusion on the inventory had blighted his life with unwanted customers (I have paraphrased this slightly).

We ploughed on into the nearby hills to head to a rather unique mountain village – where the village disappeared and the pub survived. The village of Dylife (pronounced D-liffer ) exists almost only through its sign, a few farms and the pub. The village lost the last of its other services in the 1960’s and there is now just the Star Inn.

We arrived a little late about 14.00 and unsure f the opening hors piled hurriedly in to secure drinks and possibly food. At first the site of the turned round pumpclip made my heart sink but the landlord told us about a beer he had on from the newly opened Waen Brewery. Based in Penstrowed, Powys, they use no finings in their beer, and conveniently for an isolated pub out of season, they supply it in 10 and 20 litre beer boxes. The beer had a very malty nutty taste and was quite heavy, possibly due to it being unfined, but was strangely moreish, resulting in my troughing 3 pints of it with my dinner, which for me and Mr P was sandwiches, given our breakfast feast.

We left as the pub closed up gone 3 and headed down into Llanidloes, a surprise stop that WF had slipped in for me, where we parked up behind the main street and walked to Lucy’s, the national inventory listed Crown and Anchor. The town was busy and all the pubs had throngs of outdoor drinkers, giving me the ideal opportunity to nip round the pub’s many rooms and get some good photos of the interior. WF went for a wander to snap the town sites whilst Mr P and me had some Rev James.

We moved on next to follow the main road from Machynlleth to Aberystwyth, stopping at the Druid Inn at Goginan. This is a small grey stone roadside pub with a sign only visible hanging across the road, so took straight on resembles a house. Inside there are a couple of rooms and a real fire, and a small bar with 3 or 4 handpumps, on this occasion selling beers from Wye Valley. I went for a Butty bach whilst the others had the Pale Ale.

Further along the road and heading towards Pembrokeshire we stopped at the Tynllidiart Arms at Capel Bangor, home of Bragdy Gwynant, the words smallest brewery, although this doesn’t seem to be operating at the moment. This 16C pub is also small, especially inside where it was packed out. Mr P and I tried the Ystwyth Ale from the brewery of the same name; there were a couple of other handpulled beers as wall. This beer was an odd, malty, vegetably red concoction, which was neither unpleasant nor enjoyable. Given the steep prices for the other ales, I think this is a pub perhaps best visited once.

We continued along the main road just behind the coast all the way into Pembrokeshire before turning off and heading for the Gwaun Valley and Pontfaen, to visit the fantastic Dyffryn Arms. This is a proper rural farmhouse pub, no frills, no keg fonts, no food, just cask beer on gravity from the barrels in the servery, a few bottles and a 1920’s to 30’s living room with tables and chairs and a picture of a very young looking Queen on the wall – clearly, based on the other decorations, a late addition.

We all plumped for the gravity dispensed Bass, and took time to soak up the scene before pressing on to Fishguard where we were staying. We found the B+B in the lower town and were made to feel very welcome. The owner even ran us up to the Indian in the upper town in his car. After a filling meal we headed to the Fishguard Arms, a tiny pink fronted pub on Main Street. Inside it is about the size of a small terraced house, with pictures, mirrors and photo’ covering most of the walls, a fine fireplace and a shiny wooden slat ceiling. The bar is tiny with no handpumps, but they serve Bass from the jug so we enjoyed it again here.

Walking down to the B=B we stopped in the Ship round the corner – an unassuming frontage with a small sign in a residential street, inside is reminiscent of a wooden ship’s interior, with a few handpumps dispensing Headstones, and a rare Felinfoel stout keg font, which tempted Mr P and WF. Out the back there is a gents trough, but gentleman requiring a sit down visit need to use the ladies – a very fragrant and comfortable sit down for an outside loo.

We arrived back late to sleep off our refreshments and for WF to rest his driving legs before venturing out in a circular tour the next day.

Wee Beefy

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Welsh wandering


as usual my posts are out of calendar order, but this trip was quite long and theres lots to tell you so am writing it up 1 day at a time.

Cynru’s casks and cromlechs.

The thing about planning a journey to try out pubs and visit the sites in a large area, is that inevitably there are places you intend o visit but don’t, and then places you never previously knew about which you are determined to come back and see. In 2006, me, Wee Fatha, Mr P and Davefromtshop set out on a circular tour of Wales with the result described above. We have inevitably strived to return, so here is the story of how and what happened when we did……

We embarked this time minus Dave, who as his moniker suggests, has a business to run. We set out at the end of September 2009 on a North, South West and Mid Wales route over 5 days. Mr P had to restrict himslef to no more than 3 pints each day owing to some spiteful but essential medicine, so this meant the number of pubs wuld be less than last time, and as a result more sensible; and so as Wee Fatha didn’t go mad in his position as driver, we tried to include plenty of non pub sights along the way.

We started by heading into Cheshire towards Manchester Airport and stopped first to stretch our legs on Lindow Common, where the man of the same name was dug up in the seventies. From here we headed towards the North Wales border and soon after crossing it, arrived at our first pub of the trip, the Pant Yr Ochaig just outside Gresford.

This large pub is set in its own grounds and offers accommodation and a wide range of real ales. It also has a good reputation for food. They have their own Bruning and Price beer brewed at Phoenix brewery in Heywood and offer guest beers from around the U.K.

I tried the excellent Hawkshead organic stout, a bit pricey at over £3.00 but a fantastic beer, whilst Mr P tried the Woods ( their beer, not nearby trees ) and WF the house beer. All were in good nick, and the surroundings were conducive to a long sit down with many drinks, but alas we needed to head on.

Our next stop almost eluded us. We were heading for a main road from Ynarmon Yn Lal, and came out on it with what looked like a pub on our right. Craning our necks revealed nothing that was definitely a pub so we continued, but it soon became clear we had missed Graianrhyd, where we wanted to visit the Rose and Crown. A local pointed us in the right ( opposite ) direction where we found the pub by virtue of the sign on the main road side.

Inside it was busy and people were ordering some food, all of the noise coming from the conversations between the locals. We sat in the far room with tankards and jugs on the beams, sitting at a large wooden table and admiring the bar front, which appeared to be leather covered, and enjoying the beer. I tried a pint of the local Sandstone brewery beer whilst the others had halves of Hazy Days from a brand new brewery, Betwixt of Birkenhead. Both beers were very tasty and the new brewery beer was probably the better of the two, which is always promising. Mindful of time we set off again without time for more sampling, and went to see a pub we weren’t going in…..

Y Giler Arms at Rhydlydan is Batham's only Welsh pub. Because I had cleverly opted to start on a Friday it wasn’t open when we got there ( we knew this ) but there was faint hope that we might get to visit later as we weren’t that far from where we were staying at this point. We pressed on to see our first ancient site of the trip, at Capel Garmon, above Betws Y Coed.

We followed the path off the road and were quickly guessing at possible structures that on inspection might, but inevitably never actually turned out to, be a burial chamber. Following the path down to a lane we noticed the footpath diversion signs and found ourselves climbing back up the hill and heading back in the direction we had just come. After 20 minutes of walking we headed down a bank and saw Capel Garmon in front of us. This burial chamber commands a great position overlooking mountains and valleys and is intact at the front, but missing the back capstones and entrance covers. Inside there are 3 chambers, front and back, and one at the side, which would likely have been the entrance.

It was great to see that so much remained, and to be able to get in and explore, and also to note the war service graffiti in the covered chamber – carved, with the identifying arrow, along with other Welsh names and words.

We returned to the car and pressed on through the tiny village of Garmon and down to the tourist cheese festival that is Betws Y Coed. Mercifully our accommodation was in a glorious and quiet setting off the main road. We had chance to get our bearings before heading out on an improbable loop around the coast and inland of Wales North of our base.

Our first stop was Cobden’s Hotel on the A5 at Capel Curig. I had read they brewed their own beer, and the handpump on the bar supports this, but the tasty brew is actually from Conwy. Not that this detracts, it’s a good house beer and was admirably accompanied by a half of Snowdon Ale from the brewery at Waunfawr.

We headed up to the coast to see Dinas Dynly, an Iron Age hillfort that aswell as undoubtedly being spelt differently, is slowly falling into the sea. Alas the route turned out to be a bit longer than anticipated and we got there with the light fading. We did clamber onto the hill next to the fort to get a view, and the late arrival did reward us with a fantastic sunset, but keen not to miss any other stops we carried on along the coast to Porthmadog, and Spooner's Bar.

Spooner's, I was sure, was the Purple Moose brewery tap, but the Banks’ signage and advertising and seeming lack of even reference to the brewery in the town suggested otherwise. The bar is on the station at Porthmadog and we were in time to order food with our beer. I had a couple of excellent pints of Brains dark, whilst WF had some Woods Craven and Mr P some of the Three B’s honey ale.

Full up we made a headlight-lit pilgrimage ( well, from the car across a lane ) to David Lloyd George’s grave, before we made our final, and what turned out to be the best, stop of the night.

The Douglas Arms in Bethesda is on the national Inventory and serves real ale. It has a grand but austere looking entrance and inside is plain and as its place on the inventory suggests, unspoilt.

There are stairs on the right with a small hatch bar in font as you enter, and a games room with a full size snooker table on the left, a room through which you have to go to reach the toilets. The corridor on the right leads to private rooms and adjacent to the bar counter is the door to the lounge, with hatch service at the bar where the all-important handpumps are. The pub was packed out and it was noticeable that there were a lot of people drinking the handpulled beer. There was a good mix of customers in the pub, although overall there was an older clientele.

Here we did find the Purple Moose beer – I had a pint of their Glaslyn Ale and Mr P had a Jennings Cragrat. Its not clear whether or not there was a real fire – this is relevant since if there wasn’t, it could only have been the warmth and friendliness of the atmosphere or the impressive intactness of the interior layout and fittings which made me want to stay far longer than was feasible. Usually its a roaring fire that puts me in this frame of mind you see.

Alas we had to travel a good distance back to Betws Y Coed and set off with a clear idea in my mind at least, that we should return to Bethesda. Tomorrow a long journey awaited, which would take us to the very tip of Pembrokeshire.

Wee Beefy