Wales in the Wind

We are back from our jaunt to blustery North Wales.

We got back yesterday actually, but then had to go to a wedding. So today is the day of organising, sorting and preparing for full on back to school shenanigans tomorrow – oh and it’s Oscar’s birthday party today too, which is why, amongst the lists and lists and endless requests for money and reminders about swimming etc, I am baking more cake.

Wales was brilliant.

We did extremely very little to be honest. At this time of year we are all ready to wind down and prepare for a winter of grumbling and wishing that we were still beasts that hibernated (don’t tell me we didn’t used to do that. I know we did).

Our half term is a week earlier than everyone else’s. The East Midlands does not bow to pressure with regard to holidays, which means that for a a few weeks a year our holidays are marginally cheaper than everyone else’s. It also means that very little in the way of tourist attractions tend to be open when we holiday. We have learned to be self sufficient, playing songs around the piano etc,

ahem.

This week we have mostly read a great many books (I polished off fourteen), sat in front of the fire, and eaten vast quantities of cake. It is a hard job, but somebody has to do it, and we are really well equipped it turns out, both in the cake and the book department.

We did do some holiday type stuff.

We did venture out to Port Meirion one day, where we mostly blew about in the wind and ate ice cream.  We went on a small land train around an oriental lake and saw some splendid Japanese maples shedding their leaves in the water. This would have been idyllic, were it not for the fact that the family we shared a carriage with were frankly imbeciles, and the husband/father was so irritating my hands itched to push him out of the carriage and into the lake. Why do people persist in talking to babies as if they are all a) profoundly mentally impaired and b) have a speech impediment?

Then they wonder why children grow up to be inarticulate.

We drove up into the Snowdonia National Park another day and blew about in the wind at an immensely impressive abandoned slate mine. We found this entirely by accident. We do like to drive about in an unspecified manner and creep up on things, and the Pontypandy slate mine was what we crept up on, along with an excellent crenellated tower, which seemed to be inhabited, or we would have gone poking about there too. We also bothered a lot of sheep, taking frankly terrifying roads that were not really fit for cars. I gripped the car door a lot and thought of tranquil things. Everyone else enjoyed it immensely.

Another day we went antique hunting and ate ice cream and got rained on in Criccieth whilst failing to see the castle. We were on our way to see the castle but got side tracked by ice cream. There are an impressive amount of ice cream parlours in Wales. Cadwaladers in Criccieth is excellent, and we found one in Beddgelert too, where the wild cherry ice cream was heavenly enough to make you weep tears of gratitude. The salted caramel ice cream from the Angel ice cream parlour at Port Meirion is also mandatory if you are an ice cream lover. Plus their ice cream dispenser spins around rather like an ice cream juke box, so you have to try it.

One day we got rained on in Blaenau Ffestiniog after going there on the Ffestiniog Railway (first class tickets courtesy of Jason who was wooed by the wing back chairs and heating in first class). We ate buns to help us get over being rained on, and for the fact that Blaenau Ffestiniog is a god-forsaken hell hole which had no ice cream parlours, and the most dismal charity shop in the world. Also do not be fooled when the lady in the ticket office for the train tells you that ‘Small World’ is a good place to visit. It isn’t. A man charging you £1 each to play with a malfunctioning Scalextric and having to keep removing leaves from the line is not a good place to visit. There is a decent second hand book shop where I took refuge for the forty minutes it took the train to refuel so we could get the hell out of dodge.

On our last day we went to Black Rock Sands and Jason gave the girls driving lessons (you can drive onto the immense beach) while Oscar and I poked a jellyfish with a razor clam shell. Then the children ran around in the water in a howling gale while Jason and I remained perpetually amazed at their resilience in the face of weather. We ate more buns to get over the shock.

We went house hunting, which is one of our favourite things to do on holiday. We found an abandoned house in a village at the foot of the National Park. I loved it. Jason didn’t. We discussed it for several days before giving up the idea. Then we found a chapel for sale in Llanberis, which we all fell in love with, and which was an absolute steal for £95,000. We sent off for the details. After finding out that it is grade two star listed and basically we would have to live in the chapel without really being able to change anything, with all the pews and no kitchen, we knocked the idea on the head. It was brilliant though.

Our favourite thing to do was to wander about Porthmadog, which is a cheerful little town in which many things stay open despite it not being the holiday season. It is chock full of charity shops, which I always find cheering, as there is an excellent chance of treasure turning up. My favourite is the Oxfam shop down by the quay where the lady behind the till enthusiastically abetted the children in buying a box of jokes, including the ubiquitous Whoopee cushion, and she and I discussed how Molesworth is possibly one of the best books in the entire world.

As well as all the charity shops, there are several excellent kitchen supply shops which, if your heart beats madly at the thought of Keith Brymer Jones, Emma Bridgewater and of course Port Meirion pottery, you will be delighted. There is an amazingly good independent bookshop called Browsers Bookshop on the High Street. For a small shop they had an excellent and eclectic range of reading material, including a section of second hand books. Their children’s department is particularly fine. The staff are lovely, and we managed to part with a decent amount of money there on at least two occasions.

Two doors down from the bookshop is a fantastic bakery/cafe called Big Rock. It is a church run establishment, with Bible quotations on the walls and even on the napkins. I have to say, on our first visit, we were slightly put off by this. We were lured in by the fantastic looking goods on offer, and the promise of foodly delights helped us keep our nerve. It was worth being lured.

It is a truly wonderful place. Everyone was super friendly. Nobody tried to convert us to the ways of the Lord, or play a tambourine just as we were tucking into lunch, and the food was so good I would even have considered letting them off if they had tried to do any of that stuff. Which should tell you everything you need to know.

We visited almost every day of our holiday (except one day when I was poorly). There was nothing I had to eat that I didn’t like, and I tested the menu extensively. The coffee is superb; almost as good as the Danes make it. The home made breads are stunning, particularly the spelt mix loaf with seeds. The flour less chocolate brownie was amazingly good, dark, moist and supremely chocolatey. The Chelsea buns were stuffed with raisins and the ginger cookies were incredible. My absolute favourite were their version of the Chelsea bun but filled with sour cherries and topped with cream cheese frosting. I’d drive back there just to have another one.

The chip shop in Criccieth is excellent, but the queues are long, and the chip portions are verging on miserly. Be warned.

The Simla Indian restaurant on Porthmadog High Street looks ropey but is in fact another gem. We ate there one night and everything was superb. Each dish was properly spiced, everything tasted different from everything else, and the portions were generous and piping hot. They open at lunch times as well as in the evening, and if we had stayed longer we definitely would have made a return visit.

The Port Meirion cafe opposite Tesco does good coffee and excellent bacon sandwiches. I had four rashers of bacon in mine, which made up for the fact that the service was somewhat less than sparkling. Their cakes looked nice, but after four rashers of bacon even I was in no position to test them out.

So we ate, and we read, and we blew about in the wind, and made each other laugh, and the barn conversion we stayed in, was just as good as it was when we stayed there two years ago, and even better because everyone remembered to pack my clothes this time, and it was just the break we needed before we head pell mell into Halloween, and Bonfire Night and the dreaded C word.

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