As the train pulled away from Llandudno Junction, alongside the bay looking over to Conwy Castle and passing the marina and fishing boats, one of my fellow travellers disagreed with her husband’s comment about how nice it would be to wake up and see that view with the considered opinion: “That’s shite that is.”
She wasn’t joking. Each to their own I suppose though I did not share her opinion. She demonstrated more enthusiasm when she spotted a garden full of gnomes.
I was heading to Llandudno for the weekend – having never visited before, I thought it was about time I remedied that. It’s an old fashioned seaside down, complete with pier lined with souvenir shops and amusement arcades and a lengthy promenade stretching between the Great and Little Ormes.
By 1847 Llandudno had grown to a thousand people. The vast majority of men worked in the copper mines, with others employed in fishing and subsistence agriculture. In 1848, Owen Williams, an architect and surveyor from Liverpool, presented Lord Mostyn (the main landowner here) with plans to develop the marshlands behind Llandudno Bay as a holiday resort.
Mostyn was keen and bought up the free holdings that lined the seashore. The resulting streets were filled with grand hotels three or four storeys high, ready to take the money of the newly affluent middle classes ready to go on holidays, made easier by the rise of the railways.
Llandudno is a place that sums up faded grandeur. You can imagine what it was like in its hey-day but it’s still a nice place to spend a few days.
Obviously, I did have an afternoon tea booked but I had a few hours before I would be sitting down to this so I headed to the pier and was drawn into the penny shove arcades.
The wooden pavillion at the end of the pier was lined with fruit machines, grab a toy games and of course, penny shoves… only inflation being what it is, they were all two penny shoves. (The idea is to roll coins down a slope to knock more coins into a collection basket. The coins are precariously lined up and their toppling seems tantalisingly likely but they oh so rarely fall).
Somehow, despite knowing that you never beat the house, I managed to win not one but TWO Peter Rabbit cuddly toys.
They egged me on to try to win a giant bear but I figured that, knowing my luck, I WOULD win and then I’d have to buy him a train ticket to get him back to Manchester. He was adult sized.
So, accepting their failure to encourage me to spend more money on the slot machines, (I thought I’d cut and run with my winnings of three chocolate coins), the two Peter Rabbits forced me to take them on the big wheel.
After a wander along the promenade I headed to the St George’s Hotel for afternoon tea and, yes, the bunnies came with me… hoping for carrot cake.
The St George’s Hotel was opened in the spring of 1854. It was built by Isaiah Davies, who was just 24 years old. Davies had married Anne Owen when he was 19 thereby inheriting the King’s Head and he acquired the plot on which the Hotel stands by exchanging the drinking debts at the King’s Head, which were owed by John Williams, who was the land agent for Lord Mostyn.
In 1862 Dean Liddell, his family and their maids (a party of twelve) stayed at the St George’s for the summer. The family often visited for holidays from Sunderland. His daughter Alice aged 8, was later immortalised as THE Alice, as in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll who apparently visited them while they were staying here.
Whether any of Llandudno really was the inspiration for “Alice on Wonderland” is uncertain, but it didn’t stop Lloyd George putting up a statue to commemorate it or stop the town building on this connection with the Alice statue trails through the town. When it comes to tourism, why let the facts get in the way of a good story?
Seven British Prime Ministers have stayed in the St George’s Hotel including Gladstone, Disraeli, Lloyd George, Churchill, Thatcher and in recent years during day conferences in the town, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have used the St George as their base for offices, meetings and breaks.
Afternoon tea was served on the covered terrace – a simply decorated room so as not to detract from the view over the promenade and the pier.
First to arrive, a glass of champagne shortly followed by the afternoon tea itself. A pot of tea would be served once I had finished the champagne: I do like this approach – the tea is served hot and doesn’t sit stewing while I drink the champagne.
As happened in Portmeirion, the scone was served on the same plate as the cakes, leaving a plate free for the practicalities of butter jam and clotted cream – yes butter and jam and cream for the scone, again. Happy day.
There were three types of sandwiches, two of each: thick sliced ham with tomato relish served on white fluffy sliced bread, as was the grated cheese and caramelised onion chutney while the salmon, cucumber and cream cheese were presented on brown. Nothing exciting here but there were generously filled and tasted good.
By sandwich five, I had finished the glass of champagne. The tea should be appearing shortly.
I finished eating the sixth sandwich and looked around. The terrace was rather like a corridor and it didn’t lend itself to staff unobtrusively wandering to keep an eye on the tables, unlike larger dining rooms.
I sliced the scone – still warm (mmmm), slightly crumbly but not collapsibly so and filled with plenty of fruit. I spread the butter, then the jam on each slice and then dolloped (yes, dolloped) generous amounts of clotted cream on. Cornish style, always.
I took a bite… absolutely delicious and then…
I had to go in search of the tea.
I know. I was as shocked as I am sure you are. To be fair to the waiter who I politely asked… he seemed mortified that I had had to ask too.
I genuinely think the layout of the room contributed to this oversight because the service really was excellent.
The tea arrived… a substantial of tea, a sizeable pot of hot water and a LARGE jug of milk, which I think we can all agree is a Good Thing because we know that I can drink a LOT of tea.
So, the cakes… a chocolate macaroon (delicious – perfect slight chewiness inside with chocolate butter cream); a custard filled fruit tart with the juiciest strawberries and raspberries (though the custard may have been slightly cloying); a slice of almond cake (where it was possible to taste the almonds – no skimping here) topped with strawberry jam; and a generous slice (when in Wales) of Blas y Castell bara brith.
Neither ganache nor mousse in sight. Perfect.
The afternoon tea at St George’s Hotel is £19. Add a glass of champagne for £8 or a glass of prosecco for £5. It is definitely worth a visit.