Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Torchwood, Choughs, Dolphins And The Best Pubs And Restaurants In South And West Wales

Rhossili Bay

The forecast said wet in the east so we headed west. It was meant to be a dolphin safari. It turned into an unintentional Torchwood tour.

The Spectacular Scenery
The rocky coasts of the Gower peninsula and Pembrokeshire in the sunshine are breathtaking. Literally, after the walk up the steep cliffside above Rhossili.
There couldn't be a starker, more beautiful contrast with the windswept heaths and big-skied marshes of our usual Norfolk haunts: 360-degree views across rolling Welsh countryside surrounded by the sea on all sides, wild ponies wandering among the heather and cliff-top flowers; multi-coloured ants on surfboards on the scudding waves way  below.

New Quay
New Quay in Pembrokeshire even looked like Newquay in Cornwall: a pastel-coloured village overlooking a bay that Slartibartfast would have been proud to carve.
St David's Cathedral
The green woods at Oxwich Point spilling into the sea; the incongruously huge cathedral in the tiny city of St David's with a path leading down to an impossibly small chapel of St Non, mother of the patron saint at the site where he was born.
 Cardiff Bay

The sleek modern waterfront of Cardiff contrasting with the slightly intimidating inner-city road to it from the city centre, waymarked with the arrival dates of each swathe of new immigrant communities through the ages.
All of it magnificent, memorable and worth a four or five-hour drive from anywhere.

The Unique Welsh Wildlife
We were photographing a Wall butterfly on the cliff-top overlooking Rhossili Bay when the unmistakeable call of a couple of Choughs got nearer and nearer until a pair landed about 30 feet away.
Unbelievable. These are real west coast specialists - crows with bright red bills and feet, doing okay now after some desperately lean years, but still only around 500 pairs in the UK. They posed for a while then were gone.
Bottlenose Dolphin Calf and Mother

We were lucky on the two-hour dolphin boat trip from New Quay. None had been seen the day before. We were treated to plenty of classic arcing loops, disappearing and reappearing fins and the best treat - a mother feeding with her calf. Lucky, too, that we were the only people on the trip and had one of the best sights in British wildlife all to ourselves.
Memorable fact of the trip: baby dolphins don't suckle; the mother shoots the milk direct into their mouths to avoid mixing it with sea water.

The Torchwood Connection
We passed the National Trust's most popular holiday cottage on the walk around Rhossili Bay. It wasn't until we watched the first episode of the new, very different and Americanised series when we got back to London that we recognised it as the hideaway of Gwen and her dopey husband.

There were swallows nesting in the outhouses and a man doing the plank in the garden when we passed.
The Cardiff waterfront was a regular location in the earlier series. Tributes to one of the missing characters line the walls of one of the docks in the bay. The Roald Dahl plaza is still a meeting point for Captain Jack and the rest in the new series.

Food, Drink and Lodgings.

The Premier Inn, Swansea - cheap, cheerful, comfortable beds, delicious all-you-can breakfasts at £16 for a family of four, loud commercial radio in the dining room - presumably to hurry you out before you polish off the lot. No complaints.

King Arthur Hotel, Reynoldston - Camra beer guide comes good again: outdoor drinking, Brains bitters and Tomas Watkin's Swansea ales on tap (are they the Woodforde's of Wales?).

Traeth cafe/bistro at New Quay - a first-floor balcony with views of the dolphins in the bay, bottles of the ubiquitously refreshing Watkin's beer and the best Sunday lamb lunch you can imagine.
Contented Customers at the Bay Bistro
The Bay Bistro, Rhossili - friendly service in a stunning patio garden overlooking the bay, excellent ham and cheese paninis and more golden Watkin's bottles to choose from.  A surf shack and coastal photos made it cool, too.

Black Boy pub, Killay near Swansea - big old Brains boozer (the Fullers of Wales?) with well-kept beer, a noisy darts night in the corner and racing on the TV even at 9pm.

Park Inn, Mumbles - a classic real ale aficionados hang-out with Watkin's Not So Ugly Now Premier Ale the standout choice, brewed to celebrate Swansea City's arrival as the first Welsh team in the Premier League. Here's hoping they get a welcome to remember at Manchester City next month.

Frankie and Bennys, Swansea - Italian-American-style diner on the edge of an entertainment district that makes Disney's Pleasure Island look like meagre gruel. Exactly what you'd expect - but I'm still quietly disappointed that the single flat mushroom promised with the £14.95, 8oz steak was the size of 50p piece and the "roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine" were neither roasted nor on the vine.
Terra Nova and the Torchwood Wall
Terra Nova, Cardiff Bay - another big Brains pub, modern on the outside but made to look quaintly old-fashioned inside. A sunkissed balcony and good beer but leave the food. They'd ran out of nachos and managed to burn the potato wedges.

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