It’s only a small place, Bangor, but it has perfect entries for Fancy a Cuppa’s next volume: tea looking out over the Menai Strait and coffee in one of those places that just make you feel good all over.
Scratch the surface of Bangor, though, and it is not always what it appears to be on paper.
The ‘Roman Camp’ overlooking the coast is actually a Norman fort and it’s not clear the Romans came over this way; the standing stones, which on Orkney have been there for 5,000 years, were installed around Bangor in 1931 (but no obvious reason why…); even the so-called Bangor Mountain, which guidebooks say towers over the town, is actually just a big hill.
They claim to have the longest High Street in the UK (though the earlier examples make me wonder). Still, it is a long street and our first stop for coffee is hidden up an alleyway leading off the High Street, so you don’t want to miss the signposts or you may have a very long walk back to find it again…
Blue Sky Café, in what’s called the Ambassador Hall, is one of my favourite stops for coffee in recent weeks. It’s not just the great coffee (and tea, by the way), or the delicious cakes made with local honey, eggs etc. It’s the whole feel of the place: the very fact that they have teamed up with other tea rooms locally to form a co-op (called Cilydd, in case you’re interested) to help promote quality food & drink, with local products and ethically-sourced.
It’s a real gem on what is otherwise a fairly mundane High Street. So this place is not to be missed if you are anywhere near Bangor. And miss it I almost did. I wasn’t sure it was open when I ventured up the alleyway next to the butcher’s (who, bizarrely, also do a takeaway coffee), but a young lass strode past me and said it was the best place in town, so I followed her in. Good choice.
The cappuccino was good and strong; the banana loaf, made with Bangor honey, and served with butter, made an excellent start to the day.
Bangor Cathedral is just a short stroll from Blue Sky Café and quite a lively place it was too.
The Bishop was there (first actual Bishop I had seen in my 30 Cathedral visits so far this year): greeting some visitors from Nairobi one minute; turning to a primary school group the next and explaining fantastically well some of the stories of the Cathedral (best explanation I have heard yet of what a ‘bangor’ actually is – and if you don’t know, time you looked it up…).
And very impressive how smoothly he switched from English to Welsh, something you need around here where more than half the population count Welsh as their main language.
Slightly less impressive was the Bible Garden, which the guidebooks claim contains every plant mentioned in the Bible. Hmmm, either the bad spring we have had this year left them dormant, or that claim just isn’t true. Or call me a Doubting Thomas…
Bangor’s other delight is its Victorian pier. The Garth Pier dates from the 1890s, but was renovated in 1988 and now looks magnificent stretching out towards Anglesey. It was delightful when I arrived in the pouring rain on Thursday; but it was scintillating in Friday’s bright sunshine.
And right at the end of the pier, in what used to be an amusement arcade, stand the Bangor Pier Tea Rooms. Vic had his hands full of dough when I walked in, but that, it seems, is the usual state of affairs as he works to keep up with demand for his infamous scones (and shortbread, and bakewell tart).
Vic and Sheila are a fantastic pair. They’re well beyond retirement age so give themselves three days off a week (closed Monday – Wednesday), but clearly thrive on the activity that comes from extraordinary word-of-mouth clientele. They have no truck with modern things like the internet (though try googling ‘Bangor Pier Tea Rooms’ and you’ll see just how many others have written about them or made videos – who needs blogs and twitter when everyone knows you anyway??).
I was intrigued by a paving stone in the High Street that told me The Beatles had been in Bangor in 1967. But nobody I spoke to in town seemed to know anything about it. When I asked Vic, he said he hadn’t been in Bangor then either, but he HAD seen The Beatles play at Buxton Opera House in the early 1960s before they really became famous. Ah, the stories Vic could tell…
But I still didn’t find out where The Beatles played, or find anyone who could claim they saw them in concert in Bangor. Any ideas, anyone??