I re-read George Orwells ' The moon under water' essay the other night. If you are not familiar with the piece, it details Orwell's idea of the perfect pub. It got me thinking of what would constitute the perfect climbers' pub and if anything comes close in North Wales?
Firstly, let's 'do a George' and have a stab at my idea of the perfect climbers' pub. Well, it would have to be conveniently located and pleasantly situated. If not in the heart of the mountains then at least in close proximity to a decent crag. Aesthetically, it would be an interesting building of character. Old....certainly, and built in the vernacular style with local materials. Naturally, the hostelry would offer itself as a welcoming sight to the weary crag rat or hill-walker, ambling down from a day on the hill, drawn like a moth to a flame by the warm glow radiating out from the small shuttered windows.
Entering through heavy latched door, you would notice immediately, the huge slate flagstones, the roughly hewn dark beams, the yellowing walls which host original mountain art and black & white old climbing photographs. An old spaniel wanders through the bars, tail inevitably wagging while inside a group erupts in laughter. At the end of the corridor, a young women emerges backwards carrying two steaming plates and smiles.
Wandering inside you notice that this is the real McCoy. No faux rustication or intentional distressing has gone on here. This is a pub not a mountain theme bar. You take in the room, scanning for a seat. You notice the mismatched chapel chairs which compliment the big old pine tables which are big enough for six people to eat around and big enough to spread out an OS map.
An open fire is blazing up the blackened chimney around which a sagging but still comfortable old sofa complimented by old armchairs is strategically arranged. You notice that an old walker has nodded off in one of the chairs. A newspaper folded across his lap. It's a given that the pub will carry a decent selection of reasonably priced micro brewery real ales, quaff-able wines and rare single malts. Of course it won't sell frothy gnat's piss like Fosters, Carlsberg, John Smiths and Strongbow. You have to discourage the riff-raff.....and mountain rescue team members.
The pub will have a spread of quality newspapers and journals to read. It will also have a selection of second hand outdoor related books and publications for sale. All proceeds going to a local animal rescue sanctuary. It will serve food of course. Nothing fancy. Just a small selection of traditional dishes like Lancashire hot pot, Lasagne, Curry (vegetarian option available) Liver & Bacon, Fish & Chips and big doorstep sandwiches. These will be knocked up in the back kitchen by Dave, a tattooed 20 stone ex roadie who used to make meals for Wishbone Ash when they were on tour. Ably assisted in the kitchen by Jason who is doing 100 hours of community service after breaking into Spar in Bethesda, and Brenda, a feisty single Mum with a dragon tattoo on her bare arm,who lives down the road in a converted ex charabanc .
No TV's of course, showing SKY Sports or even a Juke Box; although there is a pool table in the back bar where you can be hustled by the local young farmers! You might hear a radio on in the kitchen- Dave can't work without Planet Rock- although it won't disturb your reverie.
The two bar-maids will be Polish. It seems a given these days that all barmaids-certainly along the A5 corridor- will be Polish....” Zo..dat's a pint of Ode Spackled Han and von rad vine'. Overseeing proceedings will be Frank...old rambler and ex miner who bought the Free House with his savings and redundancy money. Genial and generous to a fault, the avuncular bearded mine host wanders amongst his punters, asking them what they've been up to and offering his sage advice on worthwhile outings and quiet backwaters worth seeking out. Frank keeps a couple of rooms for guests but of more interest to outdoor types, is the cheap and cheerful bothy he keeps, across the yard. A fiver a night including hot showers.
Is there any pub in North Wales which comes close? As someone who over the years has frequented most if not all the Snowdonia pubs and hotel bars then I would say, not close exactly but three or four stand out as better than most. And they are....roll of the drums....
The Pen yr Gwryd. Almost a cliche I know, but there is no denying this is a real mountaineers pub, situated literally in the heart of the northern Snowdonia range. Full of character for sure, but lacking a decent range of real beers and accommodation wise, a tad on the steep side. Which means you are more likely to see guests turning up in a BMW than a beat up Skoda. 7/10
The Bryn Tyrch..Close but no cigar. The Moel Hill has a lot of the essential qualities. Decent beer, food, roaring fire, old sofas etc etc..but the meals are expensive and the bar always seems on the high side-price wise-to other pubs on the A5. Still, like the PyG it's in a great location. 8/10
The Silver Fountain: Best climbers pub location, Right under the criminally under-rated Craig Dinas.Here you can wander down from a days cragging. Have a decent pint, a meal and warm yourself in front of an open fire. Downside...uncomfortable high backed pew benches. Limited range of decent beers 7/10
The Vaynol Arms: Decent enough and in a pleasant location. Characterful interior and a reasonable range of beers and meals. Generally attracting a friendly mix of locals and outdoor types. 7/10
The Stables: Defies the criteria by being the epitome of a faux rusticated pub. Also it's a busy tourist trap, especially in summer. Gets the nod by virtue of its decent range of beers, reasonably priced meals, appealing dimly lit ambiance and free jazz nights. 7/10