Llandudno and Conwy
Last Updated : 02/08/09
“I love it when you have a crap time” she said, taking obvious pleasure in my misfortune with regards to the weather and rubbish towns when working away from home, “your reports always make me laugh”...
I won't name names, but you know who you are... and I can assure you that after my cheery-beery jaunt around Lincoln this one is back to the usual fare you expect from me of crap pubs, shit beer and limited scoops, backed by a cast of thousands in the form of chavs, Donald McGill characters, n'eer-do-wells and those people who still go to Llandudno for a holiday (I didn't think anyone still did, but I was wrong... mind you, I also thought Butlins had yellowcoats and Skegness was a bad joke!). The only thing that usually happens to me that's missing this time is an inclement meteorological event as, despite heavy showers as I drove up to North Wales, the weather during my wander remained stubbornly dry with not a drop of precipitation to inconvenience me.
Up the Junction.
Enough preamble, let's get on with the lamentations of North Walean beer choice and pub standards, heaven knows I've enough to get off my chest! I was staying in the gloriously remote Premier Inn vaguely near to Llandudno Junction station which, as anyone who's been there will know, is miles from Llandudno proper and is best avoided if at all possible as there is nothing remotely interesting in the place whatsoever. The saving grace of the evening, however, was that I was situated a lot closer to Conwy – my second call of the evening – and I'd already worked out that I needn't set foot in the Junction at all by virtue of the excellent local bus service.
Black Cat roundabout is the Premier Inn's actual location and after a quick sprint up the A55 to make up time lost being stuck behind various trucks and tractors on the A51 I was checked in and power-walking (well, okay, walking slightly faster than usual) towards the bus stop. Being a major road junction there are several stops but after a perfunctory glance at the road signs and utilisation of common sense I quickly located the correct one where, seeing I had a choice of two buses within ten minutes, I commenced my waiting.
I don't know if it's just me but when you're waiting for a bus what's the common protocol with regards to eye contact with passing car drivers? I never know whether to simply stare into the distance to where the bus will hopefully appear from or wander around, glaring into cars, hoping to see someone I know which is generally a futile exercise as I don't know anyone from North Wales. This second course of action must annoy car drivers as it always riles me when some fat bloke peers through my window in a vaguely sinister manner so, I ask you all, what does everyone else do in this situation; I'd love to know the correct protocol for where to look when waiting for a bus!
A wormhole back to 1975...
I'd already worked out my bus move and it seemed pretty decent; X1 or 25 to Llandudno, X5 to Conwy and finally 27 back to Black Cat. I didn't have any gen on rover tickets but assumed that three singles would be reasonably close in price and, anyhow, I wasn't going to be drinking much beer going on my research! The X1 arrived ten minutes late and transported me to Llandudno where I gazed in open-mouthed awe at what I saw from the window; it was like I'd been transported back in time to the 1970's when people went to the seaside on holiday and rolled up their trousers, put knotted hankies on their heads and munched on chips and rock whilst sporting a shrimping net, bucket and spade along with an oversized beach ball... well, this may be exaggerating slightly, but if you substitute “rolled up trousers” for tracksuit trousers and knotted hanky for chavvy cap then you get the idea...
I was amazed by this blatant microcosm of 1970's holidaymakers but I had more important things to think about than rock and shrimp nets, and that was the vague possibility that there might just be some scoops in town, although I wasn't holding out much hope on that account, to be honest, and just a few halves of beer worth drinking would satisfy me perfectly! Alighting from the bus I weaved my way through the melee of chip shops, fat people with equally fat offspring in tow, fossils driving those little scooter things and groups of chavs until I reached the King's Arms. This, sadly, wasn't the King's Arms in Chorlton-on-Medlock but the Llandudno one and there was no real ale available with both clips turned around, although I should really have guessed this by the throng of vacant-looking Neanderthals outside clutching pints of frothing piss in their elongated arms.
Back along Mostyn Street I went past countless shops selling rock and tacky souvenirs which were doing a brisk trade from people presumably too dim to realise the crap they were buying was almost certainly shipped in from China and the only relationship to Llandudno was the label stuck on by a slave labourer. I popped my head around the door of the Townhouse to see cask ale but, unfortunately, it wasn't anything I'd consider drinking with Brains SA doing the honours on the solitary pump, so on I went. As I neared Gloddaeth street the hordes of rock-munchers thinned out considerably – well, I suppose it was uphill and it hadn't looked as if many would make mountaineers – so, revelling in my new-found space on the pavement free from cod-eyed families stuffing greasy half-cooked chips into their fat gobs, on I went towards the pier.
Pub on the pier.
Why the pier, I hear you ask? Well, it seemed a nice day for a saunter out into the sea and, in addition, I'd read that this particular pier had a bar at the end of it and the idea of drinking beer at the end of a pier amused me although I knew in my heart that no cask ale would be on sale and I'd be stomping back landward empty-handed. Passing the Carlton bar – which looked vaguely Edinburgh-esque (full of wood and mirrors for those who haven’t been) but without the cask ales – I paused only to gaze in disbelief at a passing Bimmelbahn (those little road train things) before trudging along the front towards the pier.
Clumping onto the wooden deck I was immediately struck by a feeling of “why?” as atrocious crooners crooned (flogging CD's too!) and yet more rock stalls (surely people would have eaten enough refined sugar daubed with artificial colorants by this point?) offered their lurid products whilst other random tat shacks flogged assorted crap without any discernable shame. I was soon at the end of the pier which, admittedly, offered a decent view of the Orme although I was unable to stare for long as an old bloke in a bad suit was singing (and I use the word extremely loosely) along to a CD of cheezy tunes for, theoretically, the “entertainment” of what passed for an audience.
Knowing that nothing real could possibly survive out here amongst such crap I glanced inside the Pier Head bar but only a row of keg taps huddled on the bartop; shame, a scoop out here would have been hellfire, but with nothing on offer it was back along the pier to the mainland and past hordes of fossils, chavs, chavettes and normals that looked as if they'd been recruited from a “Carry on” film or a Donald McGill postcard (I really did see a huge fat woman accompanied by a small put-upon looking man!). I stared at them with what must have been barely-concealed wonder; with all the cheap flights these days and fascinating cities to visit, what possessed these people to come to Llandudno and spend – in all probability – more money than they'd have done by going abroad? The “flat earth society” (those who think the world ends at the UK’s borders) is alive and well on the North Wales coast!
Micro-brewed at last!
I ambled along Church Walks towards the Great Orme “tram” station (it's not a tram, it's a funicular if you must know) passing on my way the imposing Queen Victoria which sold a decent range of W&D beers – decent as in range not that I’d actually want to drink any of them – with most of their breweries featured; Banks’ bitter, Marstons Pedigree, Ringwood Boondoggle, Wychwood Hobgoblin and Jennings Cumberland! None of this tempted me, however, so I continued to the tram station where I viewed car 5 arrive and depart before discovering that the King's Head by the station had a sole handpump dispensing Greede Kerching IPA; by this point I was thirsty, but no way was I that thirsty!
I'm not sure if the Fat Cat cafe-bar has any connection to those in Ipswich, Norwich and Sheffield but, if it doesn't, then it at least maintains their commitment to cask ale with my first sighting of one of the elusive local brewers, Purple Moose of Porthmadog. Looking like a Lloyds No.1, this bar was modern and very different from every other I'd been in thus far and the only real issue I had was with the music; Jazz! Okay, so Cwrw Madog wasn't a scoop and it wasn't a particularly good beer either – malt, dried yeast, a slightly dry malty finish, generally unimpressive – but the whole point was that it was a local microbrewery and thus worth my first half of the day! The other beer on offer was Theakston Lightfoot which, on investigation, might have been a “strength scoop” on account of changing from 3.7% to 4.2% but I really couldn't be bothered to re-tick regional swill and so supped up and moved on.
A quick fly-by of Fountain's bar revealed fizz only, whilst the London Inn was a Marstons-only zone with plenty of their crappy beers on the pumps. Feeling a little peckish and conscious that I'd not be eating for another 3 or 4 hours, I made use of the “Little Deli” next door which gave me a superb local bacon, brie and home-made cranberry sauce barmcake which suddenly made me feel a whole lot better about the day; it's amazing how something as simple as a well-made bacon butty can turn a day around!
A brace of scoops.
Leaving McSpoons until last on account of it being opposite the bus stop I scurried along to check out a couple of pubs further away towards the rail station. The Albert was dead and, with only “Courage” and Jennings on sale, I'm not surprised, whilst the nearby Cross Keys was an obvious AmBev victim as “Boddies” and “Flowers” issued from the two pumps. My last two pubs were now on the agenda and so into the Cottage Loaf I went (old skool scoopers will find any mention of loaf amusing!) on recommendation from scoopgen where I found two Conwy ticks on the bar!
Now this was ever so slightly unexpected but I wasn't going to turn this bonus down and so, ensconced in the old, dark and cosy pub I began with Rampart (4.5%). A dull deep brown beer, it had some wininess, treacle and not a lot else before finishing sweet, malty and phenomenally unimpressively. Welsh Pride (4%) was next and this was a completely different matter with a good fruity, bitter and malty flavour – I suspect Bramling Cross owing to the blackcurrant tastes – followed by a good pear/currant fruitiness in the malty and slightly bitter finish.
I didn't fancy the Cottage Summer Conquest (I never fancy any Cottage beers!) so trekked up the back steps into the cavernous Palladium Wetherspoons in the hope of a couple more winners to bolster the evening's tally. Despite the building's impressive dimensions and architecture, however, the beer range was decidedly poor with Hanby Cherry Bomb – surely cherry flavoured bomb – and various other boring beers available and so, after utilising their facilities, I caught the next bus to Conwy where I hoped I'd have more luck, although I knew in reality that I wouldn't with a possible Conwy scoop in one pub... and that, realistically, was my evening done!
As we left Llandudno, past the rows of shops selling rock, shrimp nets, bucket and spade sets and other tat which were still doing a brisk trade, I wondered just how many container loads of crap have to be shipped in from China to satiate the appetite of the legions of unadventurous summer visitors to Llandudno every year? Quite a few, I suspect…
Of my own impending demise.
The bus took a mere quarter of an hour and gave excellent views over the Conwy estuary, Great Orme, Telford's suspension bridge and Stephenson’s rail bridge over the river to Conwy's impressively turreted castle. I was dropped off outside the tiny station where, glancing at my watch, I saw that I had more than enough time to explore the town's pubs for something vaguely drinkable before boarding the hourly bus which would drop me off outside the front door of my hotel; now that’s what I call service! In the meantime, however, I intended to view all the town’s pubs for possible scoops and so kicked off with the nearby Albion, complete with a rudimentary Welsh lesson on the board outside, which looked like a proper old local although sadly the sole cask ale was Brains SA; no thanks!
I walked around the delightfully-named Town Ditch before reaching the quayside where I paused by the “UK’s smallest house” to admire the view of yachts bobbing around as the tide came in; I remembered a school trip to this very spot back in 1980 and it seemed strange to think that here I was, 29 years older, stood in exactly the same place! What would a 10-year old Gazza have thought of myself now had we been able to meet, I pondered, as I leant on the railings staring out into the estuary... I don't often get them, but this was one of those moments where I reflected that I'd already had around half of my time – if I was lucky – and there was so much else I wanted to do!
Thoughts of my own impending death aside I had more pressing matters to attend to and the first of these was to look for beer worth supping! The Liverpool Arms on the quayside had, as those irritating wankers on “property” (they were called houses in my day!) programmes are wont to say, a perfect location and was raking in the tourists as they emerged from it's door in a steady stream clutching condensation-covered plastic pints of piss-coloured fluid, although a quick look at the bar was enough to tell me that there was nothing there I'd want; yes there was cask ale, but did I really want to drink Bass and/or Brains SA? No!
Up to the High Street I climbed through a Gothic entrance in the town's Harry Potter-esque castle walls (see? I can be topical if I choose) and soon located what had seemed to be my best hope of a scoop in town, the Castle Hotel. This was of indeterminate architectural style yet was interesting to look at for a few minutes before I went inside to find the bar; this was soon located to the right of the entrance and, joy of joys, there were three Conwy beers on handpull in there! Excuse the hint of sarcasm there as, despite a hotel having three cask ales being exceedingly rare, I can think of thousands of beers I'd rather see on the bar than Conwy!
I had mixed emotions when I saw one was a scoop but, remembering how the Welsh Pride had been fairly drinkable back in Llandudno, I gritted my teeth and ordered a half of Cwrw Haf which turned out to be an inoffensive pale brew with hints of cardboard and malt but not a lot else. As I sipped the beer I was entertained by two massive Herring gulls outside who were waddling around in the road indulging in an “I've got bigger wings and a louder voice than you” competition, with the piercing screeching resulting from this skirmish alarming the passing tourists who didn't seem to bother the gulls at all, probably as they were about the same size as the people were; honestly, they were fucking huge...
Five minutes later and I was back outside, cautiously giving the still-shrieking gulls a wide berth as I'd give a wolverine, before risking a peek into the Ye Olde Mail Coach as I’d seen a CAMRA “LocAle” sticker on the window. Inside I spotted a lonely handpull sporting a Conwy Welsh Pride clip and so decided to give this a go, partly to support the sale of real ale in what looked to be a very “local's” pub which presumably sold oodles of freezing cold fizzy kak, and partly to see if the tasty beer I'd had in the Cottage Loaf had actually been a Conwy beer or something else with their clip on it by mistake! My half came, appropriately for the pub, in a half-pint Carling extra-cold glass and I was pleased to taste that it was more or less the same as the one I'd had earlier and still tasted of Bramling Cross-esque hedgerow fruitiness.
Cask ale everywhere, yet not a drop to drink.
I supped my beer as the landlord and a customer went through a huge list of people who they disliked although I couldn’t help thinking he got the custom he deserved with the pub the way it was! With my half finished I set off on my rounds of the town with only four more pubs to look into and none of them really looked as if they'd offer anything decent but, with the next bus in 50 minutes time, I reasoned that I may as well have a scan of my options! First up was the Bridge where Marstons beers reigned supreme on the bar, no thanks, but the next pub was even worse as it was, on investigation, a Greede Kerching house! Suffice it to say the George & Dragon was quickly flagged with a comment to the barmaid that “Sorry, love, I hate Greene King beers!”.
The Blue Bell next door seemed as if it had been transplanted from a council estate with it's 1960's brick exterior, garish lines of keg founts and general shoddy appearance and, predictably, there was no real ale there or, at least, none I could see from the front door as I was in no hurry to physically venture inside such a shithole! Back up the High Street I plodded, past the Castle Hotel again, before I reached the Malt Loaf opposite the rail station although to physically get inside I had to almost push a crowd of elderly men smoking their fags in the door out of my way!
Inside I found Theakston's and Bass on cask which didn't entice me to stay but I took the opportunity to utilise the bogs on my way out of the door before braving the “cancer huddle” again; I now had 40 minutes to kill before my bus departed with no other pubs to visit so I headed to the castle for a wander around the outer walls in order to kill some time. This, when I think about it, is a sad indictment on the quality of Conwy's beer scene that there was absolutely nowhere I'd consider drinking even another half as the Conwy beer in the Castle Hotel had been poor and, whilst the Welsh Pride in the Mail Coach had been far better, the pub hadn't been somewhere I wanted to sit and enjoy a beer...
So, half an hour later, I'd explored the outer walls of the castle, cast an appreciative eye over the suspension and rail bridges and had an extra ten minutes' gazing over the estuary into the bargain before I'd decided that was enough and it was time to get back to the hotel. Standing at the bus stop I was amused by the Chinese takeaway there which was called “Lung Wah”; suggestions that the food contained body parts best not consumed wasn't a good sales strategy, I mused, although leaving casual racism aside (as it's certainly not something I aspire to) I'm sure Lung means something totally different in Chinese than it does in English! Having five minutes to wait gave me the chance to do such boring things as count the change in my pocket and I found that I only had £1.86 in change or a £10 note; this prompted a search through every pocket and crevice of my rucksack although that only proffered an extra 5p to the bus fund.
“This driver is going to hate me”, I ruminated, moving a £10 note into my pocket in readiness.
My bus arrived on-time although, unfortunately, it was one of those little van contraptions masquerading as a bus. Hoping for a fare under £1.91, I clambered aboard.
“Black Cat roundabout, cheers mate” I ventured, rummaging through the few coins in my pocket.
“£2” the driver replied.
I jingled the coins in my pocket optimistically, willing them to somehow copulate and give birth to a few more 5p pieces, but this patently wasn't going to happen and I had to come clean.
“Sorry mate, It's £1.91 or a tenner” I grimaced, offering a handful of coins and expecting to be told to walk instead, but the driver managed to revise my fare and came up with a far more reasonable £1.30 instead;
“I'm short of change” he volunteered as he handed me the ticket...
So, a short time later, I was back at the hotel (keg only)
and sitting down to some crappy food courtesy of work whilst thanking Bacchus
that I didn't live around the area; okay so there are a few (very average)
micros nearby, but the almost unrelenting tide of Marstons locally meant that
the nearest scooping pubs were probably in Chester and 40-odd miles is a long
way to go for some decent beer! I think I'd just give up drinking... or maybe
start my own brewery! Now there's an idea...
If you want scoops, or even decent beer, I'd not recommend Conwy of Llandudno for either if I were honest. Okay, so the local Conwy micro's beers can be found in a small number of pubs, but I don't feel that they are of good quality (apart from Welsh Pride which isn't bad) so that leaves just McSpoons in Llandudno to fly the flag for guest beers in the area and that didn't have too good a range when I'd popped in! If for some nonsensical reason you like Marstons you're sorted as their beers – including Ringwood and Jennings – are everywhere locally, but little in the way of craft-brewed ale was to be found on my tour and I suspect this is representative of everywhere along the coast.
My beer of the trip has to be Conwy Welsh Pride – almost by default – not because it was stunningly good but because nothing else came close to it, and the best pub probably the bar of the Castle Hotel in Conwy simply because it was the nicest place for a drink I found although I'd accept that you'd have a better chance of a scoop in the McSpoons despite it being a cavernous dingy place not really suited to alcoholic dispense. So, there ends another depressingly futile quest for scoops and/or quality cask ale in yet another random part of the UK, and I'm sure you were all pleased to see normal service (i.e. unremitting moaning) resumed after the unbridled jollity of my Lincoln report; sorry, it's just the way I am!
© Gazza 01/08/09 v1.0