I am sad to leave Beddgelert. It has a pretty babbling river, an attractive triple arched stone bridge and an old restored railway, part of the Welsh Highland Line. And less that 500 people in the whole place.
It was the inspiration for local Alfred Bestall’s Rupert the Bear stories (“Of course we know him in Greece.” Pause. “It’s a character, right?”) And it also has one of those sad legends attached. This one is of how our landlord for the last two nights, the 13th century Prince Llewellyn, mistakenly killed his dog even though it had just saved his son from a wolf.
All countries have a similar story. In India it is a mongoose that kills a snake. It has to be a dependable dog for the pet-loving British though, to write epic poems about four-legged faithfulness and to feel emotional when they read the story printed on a tea towel in souvenir shops. As I do.
Prince Llewellyn never smiled again, apparently. His hotel was hit by a meteorite in 1949 too.
The surrounding countryside is majestic, of course. Towering high and painted with vivid poster-paint greens. Then suddenly a rough stone wall, a ruined stone cottage. Here and there a sloping sea of bluebells ebbing into a wood.
I would have liked to take the old train line, but we have the unloved rental car and, running along the west shoulder of Wales (Porthmadog to Caernarfon), it’s no good for us and our vague clockwise procession. Annoyingly though we do have to head south to hit the main roads north.
Passing Portmeirion I suggest we stop off to see the much-extolled, singularly strange, Italian-style Welsh village.
I envisage the Mediterranean feel and the Greek columns pleasing Passepartout. The Prisoner tv show was even a big hit in Greece so Passepartout knows all about Number 6’s beleaguered struggles in this village.
I’m wrong though. The Greek seems completely unimpressed by Clough Williams-Ellis’ labour of love. And I find myself too spending the whole time grumbling about the £20 admission fee.
It’s expensive, but less extensive than I thought it would be. The main area covered quite quickly, even with the stopping and staring.
The painted designs, the fantastical buildings, the gardens and fountains, Hercules’ statue are all trippily impressive but Passepartout is in a mood where she feels she won’t be hoodwinked by the artificial beauty on offer (“It’s without any…soul”) and the middle aged women cooing over the Portmeirion poetry in the gift shops, jostling to get one of the better ‘seconds’ on display, is wearying so we move on.
I have little hope for Llandudno proving a winner either as we park the car on the town’s old fashioned front, but the Greek loves it.
Frowning with childlike amusement at the bandstand on the prom – deckchairs pointed at the empty edifice in a seemingly forlorn hope of something happening sometime; skipping along the beach where the holidaying Lewis Carroll met and took an unusually keen interest in 8 year old Alice Liddell, later to be immortalised in his Alice in Wonderland books; pulling up short at a Punch and Judy tent by the pier.
I guess that this peculiarly old English amusement will need a lot of explaining, but Passepartout tells me it is very similar to the puppetry of Karagiozis in Greece – centuries old tales, still popular with children today, told through shadow puppets.
Karagiozis is a poverty-wracked comic trickster, representing the everyday Greek. There’s also his nagging wife, various villagers, farmers and aristocrats and the wicked Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. In Llandudno we stand and watch the anarchic clowning of Mr Punch with the policeman, the crocodile, the strings of sausages… As I seem to note often on this trip, Greece and Britain: same same, but very different.
We continue walking, and I stop to help an old lady who is very indecorously trying to haul herself backwards from the beach up onto the concrete prom, skirt getting hitched higher and higher, revealing industrial strength stockings and map-of-the-town varicose veins.
“Oh everybody has been so kind since we’ve been here..” her also rather aged daughter tells me as I try and lift the sturdy old dowager up.
I’m struggling with the not inconsiderable weight of this hat and coated old woman, when her eyes widen, she starts to teeter and thinks she’s going to fall back onto the sand below.
Her prune-skinned toad hands grab for anything they can cling to and, as she pulls for her life, my trousers are pulled silently to the ground.
She continues to heave-to as the wet Wednesday British holiday makers pass by in this genteel demoded old resort and, for what feels like an age, I remain on the prom offering my arms to the puffing cheeked old climber, flower potted by my trousers.
Re-trousered, Passepartout and I walk out onto the very long pier and look back on the outstretched bay curving between the two bulbous headlands: the Great Orme at one end and the Little Orme at the other.
“Such quantities of sand,” I quote “If it were only cleared away it would be grand!” Passepartout scowls in return. The sun shines sulkily through grey clouds as we head onto the shopping streets – where this gracious seaside town really blooms.
Arcades and Victorian iron canopies hanging out over the English boulevards, above old fashioned bakeries and bookshops.
We head back to the car. The courteousness of old fashioned Llandudno, coming as a complete novelty and counter to anything offered by the sea in Greece, having seemingly won Passepartout’s heart.
Llandudno grew as the place for fin de siecle holiday makers from industrial Liverpool to come and take the waters. We’re now heading the opposite way, into Liverpool, arriving in Merseyside as a salmon sky fades behind the Liver Birds perched high on the solid buildings of the Pier Head.
These river front buildings have a look Whitehall or even opium-era Shanghai, and that evening we eat appropriately in a dark, lantern-lit, restaurant in Liverpool’s China Town before heading to the illustrious Philharmonic pub.
Ornate, grand and beautiful – there is a queue of men – and women – for the Gents, just to see the incredible marble mosaic tiles.
The pub though has been left to be soundtracked by banging, unknown, infantile Eurobeat ‘choons’. I have a sad feeling the Philharmonic sort of sums Liverpool up – they don’t really know what a good thing they’ve got – and we move on.
Down cobbled roads and past Georgian architecture between Hope Street and Rice Street, near the Art College where John Lennon was a student, we find a quiet, unassuming old pub that doesn’t seem to have been painted or even had the barrels changed since 1960.
We sit in the corner where John and Cynthia used to sit – me in a chair with the springs gamely abandoning ship – and slop pints of ale on the old wood ringed table and toast instead a feel of real Liverpool.
Happy to have got here.