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

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