Category Archives: 4/5

Wellington

View at dusk over Wellington, Somerset, by IDS.Photos. Pic used under Creative Commons licence, click for link.

View at dusk over Wellington, Somerset, by IDS.Photos. Pic used under Creative Commons licence, click for link.

“I’m so sorry,” my wife said as we drove past the Wellesley cinema on our way into Wellington; “looks like I chose a bad one.” We’re building up quite a catalogue of towns just off the M5 these days, on our semi-regular jaunts down country to visit either or both of our families. Usually, as resident geography nerd, I take the initiative about a town to visit as a stop-off en route; it’s not my fault if these typically have some sort of canal connection or industrial heritage (Bridgwater for example, or Tiverton). This time though, my constant charity-shopping companion made the choice out of the various promising destinations on offer at junction 27, and off we came. Quite why Wellington is signposted at this point, requiring a lengthy drive along the A38, when junction 28 is located just outside the town is anyone’s guess, but never mind – the Somerset/Devon border is plenty attractive.

As it turns out, Wellington wasn’t a bad choice at all. At first glance, it’s just one more of a multitude of similar small towns with similar amenities, similar histories and a similar. Wellington features in Anglo-Saxon records as a village in Kilmersdon Hundred owned by the Bishop of Wells, and grew mostly because of it’s handy position on the Bristol to Exeter road – the modern A38. It later became famous for cloth manufacture; for being the seat of one Arthur Wellesley, the first duke of Wellington; and for its connections to the Grand Western Canal and Bristol to Exeter Railway in the first half of the nineteenth century. See? not my fault that there’s a canal connection.

What it means for today is that Wellington is a fairly bustling little Somerset town with a small shopping area, some interesting shops, alleyways and buildings, and a decent place to wile away an hour or two on a journey home. First port of call was lunch, and we stopped at the extremely pleasant Garden Cafe – there’s a garden, as you might guess, with shady benches, but we stopped on the pavement tables. We’re getting used to carting a small dog around with us these days, and the staff here very kindly brought her a big bowl of water, as we munched our toasted tortilla and baguette. Then: on to the charity shops.

The first three of these are found on Fore Street, along from the slightly incongruous South African food shopSue Ryder was nice but ordinary; St Margaret’s Hospice was big and stuffed with stuff, including a rather nice Ercol table for a fiver, which has buffed up lovely. Also here is Children’s Hospice South West, which helpfully yielded up a 7″ single of The Specials doing Too Much Too Young, which is nice.

On South Street, just beyond the Wellington Cheese & Wine Shop and across from Artfully Made crocheting shop (it’s that kind of town, clearly) is Oxfam, replete with an antiques shop-looking display out front of various demijohns and contraptions for making fire-logs – plenty of goodies inside too. That just leaves the RSPCA – like the Sue Ryder shop, dog-friendly, only with the addition of a pet equivalent of an auntie – you know, the one that fusses the child, winds them right up then hands them back to their parents. Biscuits definitely exchanged hands/paws, I’m sure of it.

We had a lovely time in Wellington, as it turned out. Sometimes an ordinary little town is just want you need, because really, what is an ordinary town? Everywhere I’ve visited has been unique and memorable in its own way and despite the best efforts of chain pubs, shops, banks and everything else, that’s what our towns remain – each their own place.

Find: Wellington @ Google Maps
Get there: For us, the point was that it’s close to the M5. However- there’s plenty of buses.
Consume with: plenty of options, but we chose the Garden Cafe.
Visit: how about the Wellington Monument, perched on the highest point of the Blackdown Hills to the south of town.
Overall rating: four Ercol tables

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Filed under 4/5, Somerset

Coleford

Coleford Market Place, by Roland Turner. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

Coleford Market Place, by Roland Turner. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

As with its Forest of Dean neighbour Cinderford, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what made Coleford what it is. The Forest was one of the most intensively industrialised regions of the early Industrial Revolution and has a history back to the Romans of coal and iron working, and the crossing of Thurstan’s Brook in the west of the region, on the way to the River Wye, must have seemed like a reasonable enough place to set up a settlement. It was originally just a hamlet in the parish of Newland, now a nearby village famous for its massive church, the Cathedral of the Forest; it didn’t gain the market which defines the centre of the town until 1642. This was in the early throes of the Civil War when the nearest market town, Monmouth, was under Royalist control, which didn’t sit easily with the Parliamentarian Coleford. The market was reinstated after the war ended, and a grand new market hall was built – the clock tower in the centre of the modern marketplace is the remaining section of that.

Coleford these days is a mixture of the old market town, and the sprawling development characteristic of industrial towns – as such it’s got a lot in common with towns like Bilston or Stourbridge in the Black Country, or the cotton towns of the West Riding, where geography and geology collide with human history. The town is surrounded by relics of mining – Whitecliff and Darkhill Ironworks are nearby, and are both very significant historical sites (if you’re into your industrial history), and you can hardly venture into the surrounding forests without stumbling across disused mineshafts or other remains.

Back in town, what looks initially like a glorified village with added industrial estates actually turns out to be quite a hive of charity shops – although not much else. The action all takes place surrounding the marketplace and clocktower, from which four streets radiate. On Market Place, you won’t find charity shops. You will find the Angel Hotel, possibly the oldest of numerous pubs and beerhouses that characteristed the early nineteenth-century town. There are several of note, but my favourite was the Cobblers Micropub – looks… interesting.

On High Street, there are charity shops. Sue Ryder is between Mushet Walk (named after David Mushet, the Scottish steelman linked with both Whitecliff and Darkhill) and Kaplan’s Cafe, which we belatedly discovered serves a full range of Turkish food, including tavuk şiş (the one thing I miss London for). I am so there next time.

It’s actually a bit unfair to say that there’s not much in Coleford. Once you start to dig (and if you can forget that it’s first thing on an incredibly wet morning) there are plenty of interesting buildings and sites – if you continued up the high street you’d find the Coleford Great Western Railway Museum, and the possibility of walking all the way to Parkend and the Dean Forest Railway along the former Severn & Wye Railway track, if that’s your thing.

Head South East on Newland Street and you’ll Dial-a-Ride – I think this is the first time I’ve seen one of their charity shops, but unfortunately, given the overwhelmingly smell of boiled cabbage, I might be a bit wary of others. A somewhat nondescript Cancer Research is around the corner, but Forest Aid is much better, with an array of all sorts of stuff, including an entire men’s room where the books are kept. I don’t know if that’s rampant sexism or just space utilisation… Further round, on St John’s Street is Opportunity Box, a bit of a treasure trove, and the pick of the bunch, the massive Dean Forest Hospice. We were a bit rain-drowned and bought just the one thing in Coleford – happily it was from here, and happily it was a rather pleasant mid-century style mirror. That is, one thing aside from a sausage sandwich at Kaplans.

I liked Coleford, despite the rain. It’s tiny, which means you can hack it around the charity shops in under an hour, or take it at a more leisurely pace. It has a lot more to it than meets the eye and would bear a proper explore, and I’m fully expecting to return next time I’m in this neck of the (literal) woods – if only for tavuk şiş.

Find: Coleford @ Google Maps
Get there: Buses from Gloucester, Lydney, or Chepstow – but cycling through the Forest would be much more fun.
Consume with: there’s quite the range actually, from the Tram Road chippy, to Kaplan’s, to the various alehouses – take your pick.
Visit: Even if you’re not a rail enthusiast, there’s still plenty to look at. Try the Puzzle Wood, Clearwell Caves or Hopewell Colliery for starters. If you’re the outdoors type anyway, the Forest of Dean offers loads of great walking.
Overall rating: four cabbages

 

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Filed under 4/5, Gloucestershire

Knutsford

Marble Arch, Knutsford, by M Stevens and A Moffat. Pic used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

Marble Arch, Knutsford, by M Stevens and A Moffat. Pic used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

I have a problem with my head – it latches on to things, associates it with other things, then, typically, sings it back. Today’s subject is a case in point. As a geographer, My favourite bit of listening to the radio is the traffic reports. I am well aware that that makes me somewhat odd, but that’s that. I harbour ambitions of visiting the places that come up regularly. I’ve bagged the Woodhead and Snake Passes; I’m still holding out for Scotch Corner and Sandbach. Our most recent trip up country (to the Lakes – of which no doubt more to come) gave us a chance for a stop just off the M6 at a place that comes up time and again for Sally Traffic. And here’s where my inner logical clunks take over: I was unbelievably pleased with myself when we passed the Welcome To Knutsford sign. Why? Well, I’d just crossed Knutsford City Limits, like Ike and and Tina before me.

It turns out (rather worryingly) that I’m not the first to make this connection; some chap called Robert Williams got there first. I’ll let him off. I’m not sure of his connection – he’s a Stoke man which is in the next county. Knutsford is very much leather-clad and clutch-bag-toting WAG country: a swathe of footballers find themselves listed under Wikipedia’s notable people entry. The town is very much older than that though – we were following in the footsteps of none other than King Canute (as in Canute’s Ford), and the towns’ most famous resident, Elizabeth Gaskell. Mrs Gaskell’s social commentaries and observations of poverty seem somewhat out of place in today’s Knutsford. Like it’s footballer-friendly near neighbour Alderley Edge, this is very much the upmarket side of Cheshire; there’s a carefully tucked-away Aldi but other than that, if you’re earning below a certain threshold, Knutsford is probably not the place for you.

Even the charity shops are certainly of the upmarket persuasion. Happily there’s several, and it’s a very pleasant spot for a wander around while you visit them. There’s a certain rough-edged architectural feel to the town, with dark red bricks and lived-in looking buildings in the town centre, for all its smartness. I’d hazard a guess at this having been a working town, once upon a while – it doesn’t have the endless miles of terraces that you find in the Lancashire mill towns, but the buildings remind me of canal towns like Stourport and Ellesmere. There’s no canal here, sadly, not even a decent river – what looks like a river valley behind the shops on King Street is in reality The Moor, a small wetland nature reserve. King Street itself is home to several of the town’s charity shops. Sue Ryder, British Red Cross and Cancer Research line up almost three-in-a-row; nothing for this shopper on this visit, but a certain mother in law walked away very heavy with bags. Further up the street is perhaps the pick of the bunch – a mid-sized Age UK shop, but filled with interesting buckets and baskets of stuff. Where the other shops in town trade very heavily on clothes, this one is the bric a brac heaven.

You can squeeze up through a number of alleyways and narrow streets to the parallel Princess Street. These include the recently tarted up Regent Street, full of clean pavements and swanky boutiques. On Princess Street itself is an Oxfam Bookshop, and that will lead you to a sort of open end to the street, Canute Place bordering on Tatton Street. Here you’ll find the Children’s Adventure Farm Trust and Barnardos. There’s a pretty haul of charity shops that will definitely bear repeat visits here, and it’s excellently situated for a coffee stop if you’re heading north. Knutsford is an attractive town with some pretty decent charity shops. I’d say that meets the remit.

Find: Knutsford @ Google Maps
Get there: A very handy rail connection right into town, on the Chester-Northwich-Manchester route.
Consume with: We didn’t really stop long enough to scope this out and would welcome suggestions, both for coffee stops and for lunch. There’s a costa, I know that much.
Visit: For those of a stately home persuasion, you can’t go wrong with the massive Tatton Park estate. Others might be interested in the Gaskell connections with Brook Street Chapel, if Unitarianism is your bag.
Overall rating: four pairs of leather trousers

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Filed under 4/5, Cheshire

Tewkesbury

Summer in Tewkesbury, by Jayt74. Image used under creative commons, click pic for link.

Summer in Tewkesbury, by Jayt74. Image used under creative commons, click pic for link.

Things you might associate with Tewkesbury: floods; mustard; abbey; battle. For a fairly modest market town in Gloucestershire, Tewkesbury has a fair volume of history and contribution to society behind it. Floods first – perhaps more than anything, these define Tewkesbury in contemporary popular imagination. 2007 was only the most recent drama to affect the town – see here for a full breakdown of flooding in the Severn catchment – and not the first time the town has been completely cut off. The dramatic pictures on the TV revealed a low-lying town at the confluence of two of the biggest rivers in the country (the Severn and Avon), and Tewkesbury is essentially built on the wide meadows of the Severn plain, making it a prime spot for a bit of flood water. It’s a shame, because it’s a lovely town, but like Worcester and other towns on major rivers, there’s a risk to living here (and no doubt a significant chunk of insurance premium).

But beyond the obvious, Tewkesbury is home to a whole pile of Englishness. Tewkesbury Mustard combines the heat of mustard with the heat of horseradish. Genius! Tewkesbury Abbey is the third largest church that’s not a cathedral in the country; the Battle of Tewkesbury was one of the decisive battles of the Wars of the Roses (York won, much to my dad’s chagrin), and  Edward IV became the boss. (not The Boss, just the boss). Not just a market town, it’s a historic (sadly now historic only, and no longer operative) flour milling town, and the relics of this industry are clearly seen along the banks of the Avon, just off the High Street. It’s a delight too for historians of vernacular architecture – we met my folks there for the day and were regailed with all sorts of information about jettying and timber-framing, which hopefully didn’t push any other, more useful, information out of my brain. It’s also a pretty good charity shop destination.

Parking is available in several spots around town – next to the Saturday market is handy; so is St Mary’s Lane, overlooking the Avon. Be careful when you choose to go: hit Tewkesbury on Medieval Festival day and you’ll be hard-pressed to get a spot. Tewkesbury’s array of charity shops is strung along the High Street, between the Cross and the shopping arcade at the upper end. Don’t just stick to this stretch if you want to fulfil the Tourism part of our brief: some of the most scenic parts of Tewkesbury are on Church Street, including the Old Baptist Chapel, the Abbey itself, and ancient pubs like the Berkeley Arms and Royal Hop Pole (now a Wetherspoons hotel, but mentioned in the Pickwick Papers). At the bottom of the High Street you’ll find the slightly random Roses Charity Shop in aid of the town’s theatre and opened by Gervase Phinn, don’tyouknow; and close by, the Bookworm shop (I have to be very selective about going into charity bookshops like this as I’m quite prone to temptation).

Further along we have British Hearth Foundation, Cancer Research, AgeUKTenovus and Blue Cross (always proud of its medieval-themed displays), then a string of Guideposts Trust, St Richard’s Hospice and the Salvation Army. I wouldn’t say that any of these were remarkable shops, as such; but again none are poor or weird (always a possibility), and as a rule are fairly large. Happy hunting grounds, really, and a distraction from the biggest attraction Tewkesbury has (for me at least): Cornell Books, with its ramshackle side entrance and its boxes, and boxes, and boxes of old maps: Bartholomew, vintage OS and many more besides, many of them for a solitary pound. I could genuinely spend a day in there, but I am very careful.

I love Tewkesbury, actually. It warrants a whole day of exploring the alleys and ginnels, the antique markets and tea shoppes, the river walks and – of course – the charity shops.

Find: Tewkesbury @ Google Maps
Get there: the station is Ashchurch For Tewkesbury, on the mainline from Brum to the South West, but it’s a bus-ride for anyone who doesn’t want a hike.
Consume with: plenty of choice in terms of hearty pub food or cafe culture; my experience can recommend cheap-and-cheerful pub grub at the Berkeley, or coffee and cake at Caffe Ricci.
Visit: plenty to look at too, the obvious choice being the magnificent abbey.
Overall rating: four slotted spoons

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Filed under 4/5, Gloucestershire

Cirencester

Coxwell Street, Cirencester, by Graham_B. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

Coxwell Street, Cirencester, by Graham_B. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

If there’s two things that have stuck in your mind from learning the Romans at primary school, I’ll bet it’s that all their roads were straight; and that if a town ends in “chester” or “cester”, then it was Roman. Good old Romans, making things nice and logical for us. Cirencester nicely fulfils the latter, its name a descendent of the Latin Corinium Dobunnorum. The town that’s now Cirencester was established as a fort in the earliest part of the Roman occupation of Britannia, and when the frontier with those crazy Celts moved towards Wales and the fort abandoned by soldiers, the local Dobunni tribe moved in, hence the name – it grew into the second largest city of the province. Approaching Cirencester, you’ll also not fail to see evidence of the roads as well: this was a major junction on the Fosse Way between Exeter and Lincoln, the long, strangely direct road through the Cotswolds (further evidence at Stow, Moreton-in-Marsh and Northleach); at Cirencester it met Akeman Street (between St Albans and Gloucester), and Ermin Street (between Gloucester and Silchester).

So, an important town for a long time, and it has retained this status despite being comparatively small compared to neighbours like Swindon or Gloucester. A quick google for “capital of the Cotswolds” places Cirencester firmly as the main town of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and therefore firmly within the aspirational urbanite dream of bucolic isolation. Let’s be clear here: the Cotswolds are not bucolic isolation in the way the highlands of Scotland, or the Welsh desert are; they’re very much on the trainline into Oxford and London, and you’re more likely to find pink corduroy and David Cameron’s children in the pub than pentagrams and scary locals. Nevertheless, in a reserved, chocolate-box, typified English way, this is a thoroughly picturesque part of Southern England and well worth a riverside stroll or a cream tea stop. Cirencester is the biggest town in the area, but still absolutely full of the local stone, as planning regs insist – charming to some, a bit much for me.

The town centre is dominated by this particular stone, and it’s most notable in the cleaned up medieval church of St John the Baptist, in Market Place. Rather than the rain-softened pale yellow generally found in the Cotswolds, the south porch has been polished to a bright magnolia effect, and really looks quite odd. Each to their own I suppose. This is the centre of town, no doubt: Castle Street broadens into a marketplace, and coaching inns and coffee shops line the facades. Here you’ll find Sue Ryder and an Oxfam bookshop, which is really a very pleasant bookshop. It’s the thoroughfares leading away from town that are the most propitious though. Head West on Castle Street (there’s no castle, not since Henry III) towards the vast Bathhurst Estate and you’ll come across Age UK and Cancer Research in close proximity. The opposite direction takes you into a more modern section of the town centre, or perhaps modernist, as the occasional 1960s precinct appears in an otherwise well-turned out country town. Here you’ll find Cotswold Hospice Care, British Heart Foundation, and Salvation Army. These are somewhat unremarkable shops all, but far from poor; in fact, the Sally Army has turned up Le Creuset cookware before now.

Head South off the marketplace (along yet another picturesque limestoned street, Cricklade) and you really hit the jackpot. In quick succession there’s a Barnado’s (just off the road in the understated Bishop’s Walk arcade), Helen & Douglas House (always worth a visit), British Red Cross, Blue Cross and RSPCA. All fairly worthy charity shops. Worth pointing out here is the back entrance to the market hall – besides the market, this is where the public loos are. Not a particularly interesting fact, until you consider the 20p charge to use the ones in the car park that get the letter-to-the-editor-writer in me grumbling. The market hall itself is a cut through to opposite the church, and is home to some boutiquey shops and a rather nice looking coffee bar.

I’ll be honest: I’m not such a fan of Cotswold architecture as much as I admire, say, the slate austerity of the Lakes, or the dusky red-brick of north Worcestershire. But I know it appeals to many and if that’s you, then Cirencester is a feast of quite lovely and interesting buildings. Quite besides this, there’s plenty to look at and in, and of course a sizable haul of charity shops. It’s been an excellent place to stop on the cross-country route between various parts of my family, and being smack in the heart of these famous undulations, it’s a lovely journey both sides. So Cirencester comes pretty highly recommended.

Find: Cirencester @ Google Maps
Get there: if not by Roman road, then it’ll have to be some other sort of road I’m afraid, unless you’re willing to schlep from Kemble station, four miles hence.
Consume with: there’s all the usual, but I’d like to try that coffee shop in the market arcade.
Visit: I’d suggest either the Corinium museum or the Cotswold Water Park
Overall rating: four straggly balls of wool

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Filed under 4/5, Gloucestershire

Bridgwater

Bridgwater 1921, by CarolineLD. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for linl.

Bridgwater 1921, by CarolineLD. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for linl.

I’m a hill-dweller at heart. Although my fell-running days never really materialised, I’m happiest when on higher ground. Around here I’m spoilt for choice: I can venture out to the Shropshire Hills or to the Malverns; or simply walk up the road to the heavily undulating countryside of the South Staffs/Worcestershire border. When down country visiting, it’s the same – we end up spending a lot of time in Cornwall and Devon, and these are heavily-contoured parts of the world. To get there though, it’s almost unavoidable that you’ll be either on the M5 or on the train in Somerset at some point, and you’ll go past Bridgwater. Some way to the west are the Quantock Hills, looming over the Vale of Taunton Deane; some way to the North are the Mendips, with their Holes and Gorges; you actually traverse some fairly spectacular scenery on the motorway itself. But around Bridgwater and the whole of the River Parrett basin, the flat extends for miles, and miles and miles. These are the Somerset levels, where the only things higher than a house are the distinctly odd Glastonbury Tor, and a weird Wicker Man-style running man statue just off the motorway.

Bridgwater is the most sizable town of the region, and its history is defined by the river flowing through the town centre. It’s the first bridging point of the River Parrett and became a shipyard, the terminus of a canal to Taunton, and a port for both inland and overseas vessels. Just outside the town you’ll also find evidence of the vast network of artificial ditches (rhynes, round here) which drain the Levels enabling the local agricultural and peat industries. It’s the birthplace of Robert Blake, and closely linked with everything ocean-related, but was  also apparently a hotbed of radical politics – treason and trade unions, protest MPs and radical non-conformism are found throughout.

Enter the town today of course, and you’re faced with nothing so exciting: a somewhat bewildering ring road-style arrangement seemingly completely surrounded by warehouse-sized retail outlets. So much for the radical local here; so far, so every other small town in the country. However, we drove around for some time and eventually found a car parking space so convenient that we searched up and down the street for a sign telling us we couldn’t be there. We didn’t find it, so parked right by the river on Binford Place. Convenient for the centre of town, even more convenient for the first charity shop, Scope. This is the high street side of the river, and progressing up Fore Street to Cornhill you’ll find the usual fare of this size and age of town: plenty of beautiful buildings occupied by chain stores. The worst offender here is the beautiful, Italianate Corn Exchange with its statue of Admiral Blake out front – now home to the least exciting chain (Prezzo) of the least exciting cuisine, pizza/pasta, our dilute Islington imitation of Italian food. Opposite, also in golden hamstone, you’ll happily find a huge St Margarets Hospice shop, perhaps the pick of the bunch in town, and certainly cause of a retail dilemma for us. We caved and left with a standard lamp, well-suited to our encroaching middle age.

Despite Google suggesting a PDSA shop in the Angel Place centre, these were the only two charity shops on the left bank of the Parrett. The bulk of the old parts of town is here though, and a wander around the back streets and churchyards would be well worth your time. Head back to the river though and cross the Eastover bridge. To your right, the flat ground stretches off to the east. To the left, the quay is still used, as is the large terminal basin of the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal, a short distance downstream; further still and the river widens to become the port at Dunball, then off into the Bristol Channel. Over the river you’ll find the best charity shops: British Heart Foundation, a huge Oxfam, National Missing Persons, RSPCA and CLICSargent are all found here, and every one  proved worth a look. In the BHF I even found jeans in my size, which – as a giant – doesn’t prove easy.

The problem with Bridgwater is the same problem with the large majority of towns that we visit, and it’s probably a wider issue than one blog can cope with. The nice thing about going to these different parts of the country is that we can see the individual towns for what they were. The local stone of Chippenham defines the town as much as that of Kendal; the history of the industrial revolution is as big an influence in Stourport as maritime history is in Falmouth. But almost everywhere, to get to these towns you have to plough through the city walls of mass retail, as though the funnest thing to do in the twenty-first century is go to a giant Matalan and while away a couple of hours. Break through the fortifications and you’ll find that the narrow passages and the grand thoroughfares are swamped with the same shops selling the same things that you’d find in any other town. It’s a cultural condition, I suppose: having had our hand forced into getting rid of our car, we now notice that when we have to rent for a weekend, we revert to the same old pattern: parking in a massive retail park, checking the different Sainsburys in the area, doing no exercise whatsoever. In many ways, the potential restriction of no car is actually a great liberation from the consumerist bind.

Find: Bridgwater @ Google Maps
Get there: take your pick: car, rail, canal or sea-going vessel
Consume with: Prezzo?
Visit: there’s a few visitor attractions around – try the Blake Museum, tucked in a little street off the river
Overall rating: four standard lamps

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Filed under 4/5, Somerset

Beaumaris

Beaumaris 0022, used under Creative Commons licence, by Denis Egan. Click pic for link.

Beaumaris 0022, used under Creative Commons licence, by Denis Egan. Click pic for link.

Despite being in about as Welsh-speaking a part of the British Isles as it’s possible to be, Beaumaris comes with a somewhat Gallic name and a location to match – no Provençal hills or quite so azure sea here, but the approach to Beaumaris is none-the-less a beautiful, cliff-top drive along the south coast of Anglesey. On a fine day there are wonderful views down the Menai Straits to Telford’s grand suspension bridge; the sparkling waters of the Irish sea dotted with little boats; the steep and slightly perplexing streets of Bangor on the mainland shore; and most impressively, a panoramic view of the Northern Snowdonian mountains as they sweep down to the sea.

The unusual name has its roots in the Savoyard architects brought in by the francophile Edward I to build a string of castles in the area. The Hammer of the Scots was apparently no more smitten with the then kingdom of Gwynedd, and built fortifications in Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech and here, on beautiful marshes south of Llanfaes – hence beaux marais – to keep those pesky Welsh in order. The castle still dominates the town; the walls built by Henry IV to keep Owain Glyndŵr out have all but gone, the pier has been rebuilt after storms, and just a few buildings remain from the town’s Tudor industrial heyday, but the concentric castle remains undiminished – very impressive business, I love a good castle me.

It sits at the end of Castle Street (funnily enough), Beaumaris’ main drag. Along here is all the bustle of a quaint seaside town, with narrow side streets, ice cream parlours, expensive fish and chip shops and bunting everywhere – it’s really very attractive, and far removed from the grim realities of Holyhead for example, on the far side of the island. There’s not a great deal of charity shop action, sadly. We found the tiny St Davids Hospice shop on Church Street just before it closed, but didn’t come away with any purchases (just the usual wracking guilt at keeping a volunteer at work longer than they expected). The other to be visited is Beau Annies – although with even less joy here, as it was closed both times we pootled out to Beaumaris.

Don’t be deterred though. There’s plenty of other stuff that makes Beaumaris worth a visit, whether you fancy some local arts’n’crafts shops, fancy chippies, ice cream parlours, that castle or a trip out on the waves. Sitting eating our chips overlooking the Straits and on to Snowdon was one of the highlights of a highlight-packed holiday in Wales, and the fact that there are charity shops in this lovely little spot is really just the icing on a very charming cake.

Find: Beaumaris Google Maps
Get there: If you don’t fancy a substantial hike over the Menai Bridge, then you’ll need a bus from Bangor or Llangefni.
Consume with: I’m not sure I could go without getting chips overlooking the sea. We also tried a slightly odd tea shop near the castle, but only because the wonderful Red Boat Ice Cream Parlour was full.
Visit: well, the castle of course.
Overall rating: four strings of bunting

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Filed under 4/5, Anglesey