Thursday, August 25, 2011

Offa’s Dyke 13: Day trip to Mold, Bangor and Anglesey

This is our last day in Wales, the expedition trimmed by a day for us to visit my American friends staying in the New Forest near Southampton. I’ve decided to go for broke and hit a few places in an area of the UK that I’ve neglected for too long … but first to Mold.

Mold marketThe name Mold is easier on my tongue than the Welsh Yr Wyddgrug although it has less than tasty connotations in English. It comes by way of old French mont-hault (= high hill) in Norman times as Mohald.  700 years of lazy tongues will do that to a name.

I can’t say it’s a lovely looking town but we did have an enjoyable hour or so at the street market. I wish I’d picked up some of the potted eucalypts I saw, especially with them being pre-populated by koalas.


From Mold we made a big leap across north Wales to Bangor. It’s not a particularly big town at 13000 people but if you add another 10000 university students I figured there was a good chance I’d find drinkable coffee somewhere. ( You can tell I’m setting myself up for disappointment. ) Bangor is a chartered city, which means it’s been officially designated as a city despite being rather lacking in the population department. St David’s in southwest Wales is the smallest of these bustling British micropolises.

Mold - Bangor - Llanfairpwll - Holyhead
This wouldn’t have been a feasible day trip in slow-moving Wales if it weren’t for the A55 North Wales Expressway  which runs from Chester right across the north of the country past the seaside resort towns spread around Llandudno. I sampled those towns from the car a year ago after the last trip to Dolgellau and Betws-y-Coed. I was also inspired by the song Day Trip to Bangor which is part of the small but possibly unique genre of songs that  deals with day trips in Wales. It also includes Marty Wilde’s (Taking a Trip up to) Abergavenny. Not only does Wikipedia not have a section on Welsh picnic songs, but the article on Bangor doesn’t even acknowledge this song!  Bangor Wales shouldn’t be confused with Bangor, Northern Ireland a town near Belfast where I spent a couple of days bed-ridden with food poisoning. Despite their proximity the names have completely different derivations. Further away but more familiar to Americans is Bangor Maine, supposedly named after a hymn tune but whether it’s Irish, Welsh or English in words or music is a matter of some confusion.

About forty-some minutes from Mold we were descending into Bangor, with some nice views over the Menai Strait to the island of Anglesey. That’s pretty much where the scenery ended. Bangor was a great disappointment with a high street that seemed to hold a little under 101% chain stores. We walked all the way along it and much further down to the rather scrappy looking waterfront where we sheltered as best we could from some cold rain that had blown in. The one place that seemed like it might have coffee and outdoor shelter had a sluggish line of fifteen or so people growing old in it. I visited a second hand music/video store where the young cashier studiously replied to all my English in Welsh. However I did recognise an “ohmygod!” interpolated in her speech when she saw Munson.

That I managed one photograph in Mold, and none in Bangor speaks for itself.

Llanfairpwll and Bangor

A Welsh location that definitely doesn’t have a picnic song named after it is Llanfairpwll aka Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, Llanfair PG or to give it its complete but ostentatiously fabricated name:

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
Mike and Munson at LlanfairpwyllBy the time you’d finished a chorus of that song, the picnic would well be over and you’d be home snoring it off while the ants cleaned up the scraps. There is a song designed to help you learn the “word that all men fear and dread”: The Learn Llanfair PG Song. I think one can have an unhealthy amount of fun getting Google Translate’s voice engine to render it in different languages or listening to Peter Sellers say it to Bob Hope in The Road to Hong Kong.

The name was cobbled together as a publicity stunt in the 19th century and it works like a charm to get you into the nondescript village for photos at the railway station, and perhaps to buy a scarf, dental floss or tape worm embossed with the name.

Llanfairpwll

It was only 2pm and we’d conquered Mold and Bangor and had a gas at the LPG visitor centre, so it’s onward to Holyhead which takes us beyond Anglesey to the Holy Island, an island off an island like Iona off Mull. Most people zoom along the A55 to here to use its ferry port for journeys to Ireland. It’s actually the one big ferry port that I haven’t used to get to Ireland,  journeying there from Swansea and returning via Liverpool.

The Road to Holyhead
There’s not much to see driving across Anglesey and frankly not much caught my eye once I got here. Away from the ferry terminal, which are rarely scintillating locations, my options seemed to be to catch a screening of Planet of the Apes/play bingo at the Emp re, have a fish pedicure at Silky Soles or spend thirty seconds on a tour of Pinewood Studios. I can’t believe they managed to shoot all those James Bond and Harry Potter films there as it seemed to be about the size of one of Shirley Bassey’s lungs.
Snowdonia seen from Angelsey
The return journey was a bit more interesting as you could see the mountains of Snowdonia on the mainland, a very different terrain to Anglesey.

Our final Welsh accommodation is Glan Clwyd Isa B&B not that far from where we’d set off this morning. It’s a small farm with in-house B&B plus cottages located in beautiful grounds that belie that narrow little road that it sits on. If I weren’t heading south tomorrow I would have been quite happy to stay there all day for some quiet appreciation of the ponds and encircling hills. Munson also had a fan there in the form of a young terrier (Penny?) who played with him for some time.

Munson and friendMunson at Glan Clwyd Isa
The folks at the B&B have many people through finishing off the Offa’s Dyke trail and are very used to the unseeing-stare or the blood-blistered feet of those who have persevered. I’d rather return another day to complete the upper half of the trail on foot*. Other guests included archaeologists working on Denbigh Castle, and they were able to give me some more background on the site and other features of the area.

With the exception of the one place at the start of the trail, I’ve been really pleased with the accommodation along the way, notably including the hosts and food. The options of eating out at night with Munson were disappointing in a couple of places but we didn’t exactly starve. It might have been easier at those places (around Pandy and Kington) if we had a car to drive somewhere else, but on foot it’s a different matter. I’m also not going to abandon my walking companion in an unfamiliar place while I go off by myself. I don’t know many humans with the opportunity or stamina to do these long hikes, and I’m bloody lucky to have had Bondi and Munson step by step, over stile and down ditch through over 500km we’ve covered on four such walks to date.

* when signs and stiles have been upgraded!

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