Anglesey and Bangor
Last Updated : 13/01/07
Gwynedd and Anglesey, January 07 - by Gazza
ey-ho, here we go, off on another jolly jaunt – hang on, what’s that you’re saying? We don’t give a toss about your irrelevant reports - padded out with gibberish about the weather - from insignificant dumps bereft of decent beer? Who cares about the pubs you visit if there are no ticks flowing from the handpulls? Well, sorry, but I’m sat in my hotel room, waiting for the hotel restaurant to open in 45 minutes, and the Simpsons has just finished… so I’m afraid that if you don’t like this then you’re just going to have to look at a website more in line with your interests…
Still with me? Good… Please excuse the excruciating title, but it was the best I could do after two evenings out in the remote north-west of Wales; when I was told I’d be working near to Bangor I wasn’t best pleased, and being billeted in a hotel in Beaumaris didn’t seem to offer me the best potential for drinking beer! I didn’t know what was in Beaumaris but I assumed it’d be some one-horse town with no transport connections to anywhere else of interest – and worst of all I was there for four nights! Ah well, I thought, at least I’ll be able to write some of the Harz report…
Monday 8th January 2007.
After a short day’s work near Bangor and visiting Andy Buchan’s grave after three long years (is it really three years?) I arrived at the Bulkeley hotel in Beaumaris, where I took a quick walk along the lifeboat pier and admired the ferocity of the weather; a storm-force wind was whipping along the Menai straights and the resulting waves and spray came fast and furious, whilst the palm trees in the hotel’s garden were flapping like mad things in the howling gale. I retreated to my room to write some of the report from my works visit to Kendal and the lakes whilst trying to copy a map of Beaumaris from my Mini-Aston - not the easiest thing I’ve ever done!
I set off from the hotel during a brief pause in the perpetual rainstorm that was camped out over Wales in the vain hope of finding some decent beer in Beaumaris; I’d already seen that the sole handpull in the hotel bar was turned round, but as it was only Bass that wasn’t such a great loss, and so I headed along Castle Street towards the Liverpool Arms hotel which I’d seen whilst driving to the hotel earlier. On the way I noticed the Old Bull’s Head just north of my hotel, and then two pubs opposite each other on Church Street, although one was a Robinson’s house – not my favourite brewery, I must admit!
Passing the Bishopsgate house hotel as it’s bar was real-less, I continued next door to where the Liverpool Arms hotel had a public bar, as do most hotels around the area, and although it possessed two handpulls all they dispensed was Speckled Hen and Flowers IPA – next! It was a shame, as the bar looked quite relaxed and sociable, but I’m not drinking Greede Kerching or InBev beers even if I get my own personal goose-feather cushion! For a second I was tempted to endure a swift half of Flowers as the drizzle rose into a crescendo of monsoon proportions, but I made do with sheltering under the hotel’s portico until it subsided…
A brief meander along rain-soaked lanes with absolutely nothing to recommend them followed until I emerged onto Church Street, the B5109, which I assumed would be better hunting ground for pubs. I already knew about the two at the end, but thought I’d be clever and take a walk uphill out of town to see what was there… after five minutes of trudging up a wearying incline I gave in to the inevitable, turned about, and went back down the hill into the town; at least it was downhill that way! I noticed a pub-like building on the left before the junction with Castle Street and, as I plodded closer, a pub swam into view – the Sailor’s Return – but sadly, even though it looked quite promising, the only beer on offer was Bass, and you know my verdict on that shite… and if you didn’t then you do now!
I passed the two pubs at the end of Church Street and continued my explorations of the town. Passing the Old Bull’s head, I snuck a glimpse in through the windows but failed to see a handpump (with good reason, as will be explained shortly) so continued along the coast but found nothing else, and the town soon gave way to a beach stretching away into the distance – at which point the rain, which had thoughtfully eased off for the last half an hour, suddenly returned with a vengeance. Imagine my lightness of mood as I walked back into town, straight into the full force of a gale carrying stinging globs of water which it hurled at me with obvious delight, until I took shelter behind the slightly dead-looking White Lion hotel, badged as being a Burtonwood pub, at the far end of the town; I wasn't too sure about this place, it looked like the kind of bar where darts would stop in mid-air and the like, but needs must in a monsoon and so, practising my Welsh beer-ordering skills, I pushed opened the ominously creaking door and peered inside…
Making the best of it.
Within two seconds I’d seen enough – no cask ales available (two pumps, but pedigree was off – shame!) and so, feigning ignorance and/or being a stupid tourist, I waved my apologies to the barmaid and the sole half-dead customer before rushing out with the feeling of eyes burning my back and pitchforks being hurled in my general direction… I’d arranged to meet up with Dean, my fellow worker (the same bloke who’d given me a lift to the Watermill at Ings a month previous) in the George and Dragon for a pint or two but, as it was a Robinson’s pub, the two pints seemed rather improbable unless they sold something else more drinkable!
Inside, the pub was rambling and obviously fairly old, and we supped our pints whilst exchanging stories about our beer-drinking past. I’d gone for the only cask ale available, Unicorn bitter, which was – predictably – as bland, watery and tasteless as Robinson’s beers usually are, and the second pint was well and truly out of the question! One amusing incident occurred when a lass approached and asked if we’d like to buy a raffle-type ticket from her.
“What do I win?” asked Dean.
“Half the pot”, she replied.
“How much is currently in the pot?” asked Dean, which prompted her to scurry away and ascertain the answer to this question which I feel she wasn’t asked that often!
“Seven pounds” she said, without much conviction.
“So I’ve to gamble a pound and might only get £3.50 back?” grunted Dean in disgust, “Come back to me when there’s some more money in the kitty!”
Funnily enough, she didn’t…
Fearing retribution from the locals for daring to question their raffle ethics, we supped up and made for the Old Bull’s head – pausing only to ascertain the Bold Arms opposite the George & Dragon sold only Pedigree – although I wasn't too keen on spending a lot of time in a keg-only pub. It did look very old and cosy, however, so I decided to give the place a go and see what my least-worst drink option would be – only to find three handpumps lurking behind the corner of the bar and thus invisible from my previous lurking position! Okay, so they only dispensed Worthingtons, Hancock HB and Bass, but at least that was real(ish) and I wouldn’t have to have something I didn’t really want… as opposed to something I didn’t sort-of want…
To be honest, we had an enjoyable hour or two in the Old Bulls Head and a few pints of Hancocks HB later (surreally brewed by Brains to the original recipe – which was originally brewed in what is now Brains’ brewery, so no tick there!) we returned to the hotel, there being no other pubs which I wanted to try, and that was that; Beaumaris had been comprehensively surveyed! On the plus side, most bars sold at least one real ale, but on the down side it was almost wall-to-wall national or multinational crap which I don’t really like drinking on ethical or taste grounds… ah well, only three nights to go!
For the rarest real ale in town, visit the excellent Shaw’s wine merchants situated on Castle Street between the Bulkeley Hotel and the Spar shop for bottle-conditioned (oh, sorry, it’s Real ale in a bottle these days) Purple Moose brews, of which there were four available on my visit. This isn’t the extent of the shop’s attractions though, far from it; they have an excellent selection of whiskies (including Penderyn, the Welsh malt) and lots of rare and unusual wines never seen in the more mainstream shops – Pacherenc-du-Vic-Bilh and Tokaji were two examples, as well as a very impressive Port selection including most wines from the delightful Quinta de la Rosa near Pinhão in the Douro Valley, northern Portugal. I know it’s nothing to do with this report, but I will always remember staying there, overlooking the majestic Douro, drinking their ten-year old tawny “Tonel No.12”, having only cakes to eat as we’d not thought to buy anything else, and listening to a steady stream of English Electric traction pass not very far below us… it was one of life’s moments.
Tuesday 9th January 2007.
Didn’t we have a lovely time…?
I don’t quite know how to say this without seeming to have a total downer on Bangor… well, I suppose there is no kind way to say it, so here goes – BANGOR IS A TOTAL SHITHOLE; YES, IT REALLY IS. DON’T GO THERE – IT’S RUBBISH. There, I said it!
My second evening at Beaumaris was to be an exploration of Bangor’s rather limited supply of decent-sounding pubs; I’d compiled a very short list from the internet and recommendations, but I wasn’t expecting much at all – and wasn’t disappointed in that respect! The trip started out well; I found a great wine shop opposite the bus stop in Beaumaris which sold some amazingly eclectic bottles as well as Purple Moose bottle-conditioned beers! The shop also contained an old and very sociable tortoiseshell cat which followed me around, rubbing against my shins, until I had to take my leave and catch the bus into Bangor. Unfortunately my arch-nemesis - the weather - chose that very malicious moment to begin yet another monsoon, so I stood at the bus stop with rainwater cascading down my coat and feeling like this might not be the best idea I’d had during the week…
The deluge continued as the minibus tackled the twisty coast road and, despite the route taking an absurd diversion via a huge garish Tatscos and nearby hospital, the rain was still coming down when we finally arrived at the quaintly-named terminus of “Bangor Cloc”. I shan’t bore you with the details of my wanderings except to say I got absolutely soaked for nothing! The rain was too heavy to hold a map and so I abandoned all hope of finding some of the pubs I’d wanted to and returned to the high street to see what I’d find there – and, predictably, I found a McSpoons, although High Street where it is located looks more like a badly-lit backlane than a High Street! Inside was to be the only scoop of the evening; Conwy Hoppy Christmas (4.3%) which was rather restrained, malty, dry and not particularly hoppy as the clip had hinted it might be. The building itself was, admittedly, rather impressive and looked like an old church or similar, but by this point I was too soaked and dejected to take much notice – and that was before the local village idiot had begun talking to me about his time as a tomato farmer in Israel… honestly, I'm not making this up!
With half an hour to go until the next bus I decided on one final look around the centre before getting the fuck out of the place but, amazingly, as I glanced at the menu in the curry house next door to the McSpoons, I was stopped in my squelching tracks – Nargis Kebab was on the menu! I couldn’t resist this – surely the only high-point in Bangor – so indulged my eggy tendencies for the next hour and withered the waiter by ordering a Nargis, Punjab lamb curry and four chapattis! “Are you hungry?” he enquired...
That's about it for the evening; to summarise, I got soaked, found bugger all worth drinking except – embarrassingly – in McSpoons, had a decent Nargis kebab, and finally caught the bus back to Beaumaris where it had actually stopped raining – cheers then! Look, I’m sure there are some good pubs in Bangor somewhere, and if I go there again and it’s not raining I’ll have a look, but when the heavens are conspiring against you what can you do about it? Have a Nargis and go back to the hotel, that’s what!
Wednesday 10th January 2007.
A mixed bag.
I’d been intrigued by a JW Lees pub we’d passed each evening as we drove across the Menai Bridge and wondered if it served any real ale; Lees are one of my favourite regionals and I do love a good pint of any of their beers. With this scenario in mind I decided that, as the bus to Bangor passed through the amusingly-named village of Menai Bridge, I might as well have another trip out and visit the three pubs in this village for want of anything better to do in Beaumaris!
After a good meal in the hotel I wandered along to the bus stop for the 19:10 service to Menai Bridge. Just as I approached the stop, however, the late-running 18:58 arrived and so I flagged that down: that was a bit of luck! If I’d checked the timetable beforehand, though, I’d have realised that this bus went via lots of dodgy back lanes and back-of-beyond villages on it’s way to Menai Bridge and only saved me a couple of minutes as the following service went via the direct coast road… ah well, as long as I got there I wasn't troubled, and enjoyed the Polish driver’s expert dealings with various cars coming at us head-on along the tortuous lanes.
Bidding the driver “Dobre Noc” (to which he was rather withered!) I stumped up the deceivingly steep hill towards the bridge and it’s two accompanying pubs. I was soon in the Anglesey Arms hotel (the Lees pub) and immediately knew that there would be no mild in there – it was all earth tones inside as if it had been refurbished in a kind of half-hearted manner and not really finished, and not the kind of place which would sell something as proletariat as mild! Bitter was the only cask ale on sale and seemed to be popular with the locals so I had a pint of it; I consider myself well-versed in Lees bitter and know that it’s a pint which divides opinion with it’s strange metallic/penetrex character, but I’ve always loved the stuff and have enjoyed many a pint in my time, but for some reason this example just didn’t do it for me… it was in decent condition, had the Lees flavour, but somehow just didn’t press my buttons… so much for my idea of spending all evening supping mild then!
I crossed the roundabout to the Tafarn y Bont which was badged as a Marstons pub – not a good indication of decent beer in my opinion – but once inside the comfy low-rise stone pub with it’s multiple areas I revised my opinion of the place as there were four cask ales available, namely Banks’ bitter, Pedigree, St Austell Tribute and Jennings Redbreast – okay, all regional/W&D beers, but it must be the best range for a few miles if a bit lacking in micro beer… I chose the Jennings, it being the best option on the bar, and was surprised by it’s dark brown, sweet, treacle-toffee character which was followed by an intense fruitiness, more treacle, and finally some bitterness joined the toffee-malt in the fruity aftertaste; not a bad beer at all!
Feeling pleasantly surprised by the beeriness of my last visit, I freewheeled down the hill and nosed cautiously up to the door of the Victoria Hotel (the Gwesty bit in it’s full name means Hotel, by the way) and was rocked back a touch to see a Good Beer Guide 2007 sticker in the window; this needed investigating! Inside I found a cosy, dark brown bar with red velour seating all around the walls faced by a large undulating wooden bar (it does, honest) and the whole place had the aura of a sociable, well-run bar. Three beers were available from cask; Brains SA, Bass and Spitfire although it seemed, by the random pumpclip collection, that I’d been extremely unlucky as Conwy beers looked like regulars here – cheers then! I decided to have a swift half anyway and, obviously, chose the Brains as the least-bad offering, although it seemed to be an extremely bland batch of SA to my tastebuds.
With forty minutes until the bus back to Beaumaris I decided to have a quick half in the last pub in Menai Bridge, the Bulkeley Arms, a Robinson’s tied house. Walking into the bar, however, I wasn't prepared to enter what seemed to be a council estate pub; everything about it shouted “tenants” and “doleites”, from the dodgy raffle-type operation in progress to the really crap covers bands advertised on the walls – not my sort of place at all, to be honest, but I decided that I’d better try the beer seeing as I’d ventured inside and so acquired a half of the only cask ale, Unicorn, and sipped it in my best scummy manner in a pathetic attempt to fit in with the clientele. To be honest I’ve had worse beers, and as far as Robinsons goes it was pretty good, but the atmosphere of the pub ruined it for me; the beer had the trademark Robbies’ peppery hop hint before some banana and pear-drop then a resinous, banana fruit finish although everything was very much in moderation as befits a regional!
Having observed the doleites in their natural surroundings for a while I decided to get out before anyone started on me for being too upper-class, and so wandered off to the bus stop wondering why it is that, wherever I might visit, there is always a healthy population of council tenants despite there being no obvious scummy estates? Is being a doleite the lifestyle choice for more people that I gave the population credit for? Why is denying oneself education, the power of self-determination and any respect for others considered a good basis for a citizen? These were just some of the social philosophy issues I pondered as I waited for the bus back to Beaumaris…
Well, as expected, this area isn’t the best for real ale with most pubs selling it going for the predictably bland and mass-produced rubbish such as Bass and Greede Kerching products, although Robinsons have a large presence in the area – which will either be a good or bad thing dependant on what you think of their beers! Don’t expect a large range either, as only the Lloyds No.1 in Bangor offered more than half a dozen beers, although the Victoria hotel in Menai Bridge looks as if, on the right night, it could be a honeypot of Conwy brews. As for the rest, well the Tafarn y Pont offered four beers or the more mundane kind (although the Jennings was surprisingly good) and after that you’re in the realms of one or – if you’re very lucky – two ales of minor significance. The bottled Purple Moose beers in Shaw’s wine merchants on Beaumaris’s Castle Street were probably the rarest beers I saw all week – sadly!
Beer of the week.
Purple Moose Dark side of the Moose (4.6%), bottle-conditioned. Very impressive ruddy-brown brew, full-bodied with bags of treacle toffee and chewy maltiness with coffee, liquorice and a whole mixed bag of toasty, malty goodies. The aftertaste is roasty, fruity and complex, surprisingly suppable, and it ends quite bitter and roasty; a complex and interesting brew. Bought from Shaw’s wine Merchants, 17 Castle Street, Beaumaris.