Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

A Football Tourist’s Guide To Swansea – Part One

It was off to South Wales on Friday – a historically happy hunting ground for Blackpool. It was a long way away – a five-hour drive – but Lee and I were really looking forward to our latest adventure. With no strict to-the-minute schedule for this weekend, we still had a list of things to do. How much could we pack in? And what surprises would we encounter along the way?

We left Blackpool at 0730 and decided to get in the mood by whacking on some Welsh music. We started off with Tom Jones and discovered a great game of ‘guess the year’ for each of his hits (perm anything from 1964 to date). Did you know he’s released 66 albums and 126 singles? That is a lot of tunes – hence the game lasted much of the journey.

We then stuck on Manic Street Preachers and realised the diction was not the clearest on many songs – including Motorcycle Emptiness (which actually rivals Come On Eileen for having one singalonga line and the rest of it garbled). It’s funny how sometimes we can just enjoy a banging tune without really needing to know the lyrics. This would come in handy as the weekend progressed.

Gloucester Services

This is our favourite service station, having enjoyed it when we visited Bristol earlier in the season. We were excited to see what it had in store for us today.

Happily it was much quieter than our previous visit, which led to a more leisurely stop. I’m still sticking religiously to the SlimmingWorld plan (beer on awaydays notwithstanding) so didn’t find anything I could enjoy here, but I took some photos of exciting things for your benefit, dear reader.

Posh Scotch Eggs
Looks like a penis; think it’s a candle
Sparkling mead

Back on the road, we crossed a fabulous bridge across to Wales, before landing in Swansea at 1230.

Five hours dead was not a bad journey. There had been a little traffic congestion around Manchester but Tom got us through that.

Brunswick Arms

I enjoy reading the work of a number of fellow beer bloggers, some of whom are led by the Good Beer Guide. Now I haven’t had a copy of this book for several years now, having favoured my own research and leaning towards micropubs and brewery taps. But I decided to download the latest copy of the GBG as a starting point for my research. After all, there is good beer to be found in all of its entries. After researching Swansea’s GBG pubs – and further narrowing them down by food availability and good menus, I selected the Brunswick as our lunch stop. It was tricky to find a nearby parking space – with lots of Permit Holders Only action – but Lee’s persistence paid off and we were soon making our way to the pub.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in Wales this weekend. I knew they had different COVID regulations to us so was armed with a fresh mask just in case. Would it be table service? Were we allowed to stand at the bar?

We received a very warm welcome here and ordered our drinks at the bar.

It was half a Gower Gold for me because I was keen to try out the local drop. The beers were served straight from the casks, which were visible at the back of the bar. You don’t see that very often.

‘Will you be having anything to eat?’

‘Ooh yes.’

‘Well take a seat and we’ll fetch your drinks and some menus. There’s a nice little table in the cwtch over there at the back.’

Well who doesn’t like a good cwtch (especially since we couldn’t during the height of COVID). Well it turns out we didn’t today, as the table was close to a gaggle of girls who were a little too loud for us to enjoy a peaceful lunch (and film at the table). So we relocated towards the front of the pub, where we found a copy of the South Wales Daily Post from 1909.

What a fascinating snapshot of time from over a century ago.

The menu was magnificent and I was ravenous by now. All I’d had on the way down was an Alpen Light Raspberry and White Chocolate Bar. Lee had been muching away on BBQ Fava Beans since Gloucester and they had smelled so good but I had somehow resisted trying even one. Here’s what I had at the Brunswick.

I couldn’t resist Jordan’s Chicken Curry. I didn’t enquire who Jordan was but they make a damn fine curry. This delicious dish hit the spot without being so filling that I wouldn’t be able to eat again later. I resisted the Baileys and Chocolate Cheesecake and we soon headed off to continue our Welsh adventure.

Plantasia

Our first tourist point was a tropical zoo in the middle of a retail park. I enjoy visiting animals and this was to prove an interesting adventure.

One of the first creatures we encountered was a Burmese Python, who appeared to be trying to break out of her cage, rattling the roof quite vigorously and with great determination.

This was a worrying start. I checked and she was not venomous but I still didn’t want her within slithering distance so I quickened my pace.

MEERKATS THIS WAY

Ah meerkats – that’s more like it. But – oh – what’s this? Right in front of the meerkat enclosure was a tank brimming with locusts.

I stayed and observed awhile as I wasn’t sure I had seen locusts before. All I could think of was the plague from The Bible and that was pretty terrifying.

In the next area there was a skeleton in a cage, which I suspected (hoped) was left over from Halloween.

What’s next?

‘Ooh this looks right up your street!’

It took me a moment to realise what Lee meant. Ah of course! We have a ‘pet’ plant called Jaws who is a Venus Fly Trap. We get very excited when he manages to catch a fly and have even been feeding him wasps in recent weeks. He’s thriving and brings us a lot of joy. After Fruitflygate last summer, we are not a fan of insects in the house and Jaws helps ease our anxiety in this area.

There was some fun interactive stuff in this section, including a giant Jaws and a little game where you had to avoid being eaten.

We met a macaw who appeared to be on a sponsored silence, which was disappointing.

And then there were the crocodiles. I am terrified of crocodiles and alligators ever since a visit to the Welsh Mountain Zoo ahead of Colwyn Bay v Chasetown a few years back. The crocs here were sinisterly still and I was not comfortable in here at all, despite there being plenty of barriers between them and me.

It was a blessed relief to find some cheeky chipmunks in the children’s area and they were my favourite animals of the day. I could have stayed and watched them for hours.

We resisted the – er – unusual fayre in the zoo shop.

If chocolate chip cricket cookies are the future, all I can say is I’m glad I’ve got a good stock of Lincolnshire Plumbread in the freezer.

National Waterfront Museum

We still had time to squeeze in a museum before they closed, so headed over to the National Waterfront Museum to learn a bit about Wales. On entry, we were greeted by a friendly host, who explained the one-way system to us.

‘First head into the room on the right, then exit and head up the rainbow stairs and turn right, where you’ll find our exhibition on worms.’

Had I heard that right? An exhibition on worms? I was intrigued to find out. And also relieved to not be asked to wear a mask, despite the signs indicating that we should. I never know if COVID signs are out of date or not.

The first room introduced us to a hydrogen-fuelled car and also a three-wheeler (not the only one we would see this weekend).

Indeed this was to prove to be an interesting car weekend, but more of that in Part Two.

There was a display of retro computers…

…and a Subbuteo set.

Next we ascended the rainbow stairs, turned right and…

Well I was hoping to learn about Wales but it was interesting to learn about worms instead.

We did get onto Welsh matters as we continued around the museum, learning about industry…

…and Welsh football.

This needs updating

Whilst I knew that players received actual caps for international appearances, I hadn’t appreciated they only got one per season.

We also encountered some Welsh legends.

The museum shop had a brilliant marble display that was a blast from the past.

I used to love playing marbles on the grids on the school playground. Is that even still a thing these days?

Waterfront Winterland

Of course we couldn’t resist this!

Being from Blackpool, we gravitate towards fairgrounds. Also I love Christmas! Despite being quite short on time now, we had to pop in here.

On entry there was an Alpine market, with wooden huts selling mulled wine and the like.

I then saw something that was a real test for my diet.

I love a Yorkshire Pudding Wrap! They’re so messy but they’re delicious and moist and they had Christmas ones here! Oh what I wouldn’t have given for a Slow Cooked Turkey, veg and gravy Yorkie wrap right now! Lee reminded me how we scoured the whole of the Pleasure Beach hunting for one in vain on my birthday a couple of years ago. I’ve since found a cracking Yorkie outlet in Manchester called Porky Pig, who also cater at Manchester United apparently. I guess they need their comfort food at the moment.

We headed for the Big Wheel so we could get a good view of the surrounding area – and this proved to be even more spectacular than its counterpart at Bournemouth. There was so much eye candy all around us – in the Winterland and beyond.

There was the fair…

…the Alpine village and fairground stalls…

…and the ice rink.

We also enjoyed great views of the surrounding mountains and buildings. It was a delightful ride that I heartily recommend. Even Lee enjoyed it and he is terrified of heights.

Sadly we had no time to enjoy the other rides, but took a moment to enjoy the fake snow spewing from The Frozen Express.

AirBNB

We were in an AirBNB in The Mumbles for the night. It was a 15-20 minute drive down here. On our way out of Swansea we passed an imposing building.

‘Ooh what’s that?’ Lee enquired.

Google Maps informed me it was Brangwyn Hall. It really was a huge and impressive spectacle. We gazed on in awe.

Soon in The Mumbles, we found our house on the main road on the seafront. There was parking down a dark alley at the back of the property and our host, Tony, was waiting for us on arrival.

As we opened the door to our room at the rear of the house, Lee exclaimed:

‘Ooh a cat!’

And indeed there was a cat under the bed. I was sure I hadn’t seen that included on the property description but it was a welcome bonus.

‘Ooh sorry about that – she must have snuck in when I was preparing the room earlier. Come on out, you little monkey.’

I chuckled and we made our way in. The room was lovely and homely. I was particularly delighted with the range of biscuits offered.

And the bedside lamp was so exciting, we had to research where we could get one.

The Range, apparently.

It was now 1730 and we had to be back in Swansea for a ticketed event at 1900, so we took the decision to have something to eat in The Mumbles, as we had spotted an alluring pub within walking distance. We quickly unpacked before strolling down the road into town. It was a lovely walk across the road from the stunning bay, where the tide was in and the water gently lapping. We felt like we were on holiday in the Med. The weather was mild, too, and it was hard to believe this was mid-November. We had even toyed with leaving our coats back in the room.

The White Rose

This pub is in a fantastic location and was really well-lit. How could we resist it?

I approached the bar and ordered a pint of the only cask ale offering.

Whilst often chastised, it’s not really a bad drop if kept well. I have warmed to it more post Lockdown I (Where Have All The Seagulls Gone?), when it was the first cask ale I managed to get my hands on in months. I was grateful for it and I enjoyed three pints of it that night and it felt like nectar as it made its way down my throat.

It was nicely festive in here tonight.

The food was Very Nice Indeed.

I swapped in an undressed salad for chips so my food was still on plan. I’m 10.5lb down in five weeks so this stuff works.

I also enjoyed the artwork in here.

Now suitably sustained, we made our way back into Swansea for the main event.

Pwdin Reis @ Ty Tawe

As part of my research for this weekend, I had a look at a local what’s on guide, which threw up two gigs for tonight. One of these was G4 Christmas. I had enjoyed watching G4 on X Factor back in 2004 (gulp!) so that was an option. But then my eye was taken by another gig. This was a Welsh rockabilly band called Pwdin Reis. I was suitably intrigued, so hunted them down on YouTube.

Ooh yes! I’d like me a bit of that! I downloaded their new album on iTunes and promptly booked tickets to their gig. It was necessary to book in advance for COVID reasons and we needed to take our COVID passes with us to gain entry (as we would at the match tomorrow). I couldn’t get my head around what the venue was. It appeared to be a book shop. I imagined something like the Wrecking Ball in Hull, which was a shop at the front and then a cafe at the back, with bands (presumably) playing back there. Nor could I fathom what time the gig started. Was it doors at 1900 or would they be on at that time?

Driving past Brangwyn Hall once again on our way back into Swansea, we noticed people gathered outside the entrance so I peered in the door to see what was going on.

‘Oh that’s where G4 are playing tonight.’

Lee growled as we drove straight past this grand venue in favour of a little book shop. I felt compelled to justify my decision.

‘Yeah but G4 aren’t Welsh. These trips are all about immersing ourselves in local culture. And who doesn’t love a bit of Welsh rockabilly? Pwdin Reis are ace. I’ve been listening to them all week. You’ll love it. And they’re called Rice Pudding!’

We found parking without much faff and soon found ourselves walking to the venue, Lee deciding to leave his coat in the car. How was it so mild here?

We were greeted by a friendly man on the door.

‘Ooh are you the ones from Blackpool?’

He’d seen my Tweet from this morning. It was nice to be anticipated and welcomed personally. We explained what we were doing with the Football Tourist Guide series and received a warm welcome. We showed our COVID passes and enquired about the start time. The band weren’t due on until 2030. Hmm. Dilemma. Did we head off to a nearby pub for some pre-gig shuffleboard action or did we stay and support this little venue which had welcomed us so warmly? Of course we stayed.

We were directed upstairs, where there was a cafe on the left and the band were setting up in the room on the right. We went in to say hello to the band – who confirmed they would be on nearer 2100 and who were happy to be filmed and interviewed for the Football Tourist Guide. We’d definitely made the right decision in coming here.

We retired to the cafe at the back, where I was pleased to find some local ale in the fridge.

This was a lovely drop and was quaffed quickly and easily. I do particularly enjoy a drink ahead of a gig so I can really lose myself in the music without being self-conscious about singing or dancing.

We learned from our friendly hosts that we were in a Welsh language centre. I perused some books and magazines in the Welsh language and was looking forward to hearing the band performing in Welsh.

I am really enjoying immersing myself in local cultures whilst researching these Tourist Guides. Why had I never done this before? These football towns and cities have so much to offer.

Around 2030 we made our way through to grab front row seats for the main event. There was a ledge to my left where I could rest my beer, taking care not to spill it over the nearby merch.

Pwdin Reis were brilliant. As mentioned above, it is not necessary to understand the words to a song to enjoy it. The tunes were catchy, it was fascinating to watch and hear the double bass being played and we recognised Welsh covers of Stray Cats, Blondie and Soft Cell numbers. As well as singing in Welsh, the band addressed the audience in Welsh, but the guitarist (a Swansea fan) made a point of addressing Lee and I in English on a few occasions so we didn’t feel left out, which was a lovely touch. He pointed out that his guitar was in Blackpool’s colours and informed us that Blondie and The Stray Cats were ‘from just up the road in Morriston’. It was a really great gig and we enjoyed it very much.

After the gig ended at 2200, we were on such a high – despite our early start – that we decided to extend our night a little longer.

Uplands Tavern

This was the pub with the shuffleboard. We had fallen in love with this previously unheard of game on our recent trip to Sheffield and could not resist another session. After all, how many places even had shuffleboard? We managed to get a parking space close to the pub and headed in.

It was rocking in here. The beer garden was full – it was still mild – and The Bullfrogs were rocking the place with classic rock and pop numbers (in English). I bopped my way to the bar. This was another GBG find but the bar was so busy I couldn’t see the pumpclips. I could, however, see the fridge – a fatal thing at the time of the night when I was already four or five beers down. I did at least have the sense to avoid the Tiny Rebel Stay Puft (5.2% ABV but so tasty it’s hard to stick at one) and instead ordered the Wild Beer Millionaire (still lush and 4.7% ABV).

I also asked for the shuffleboard pucks.

‘Do you want half an hour or an hour?’

‘Oh an hour please!’

I have no idea how much it was for an hour but the tab came to £19.70 for the beer, a lemonade and the pucks, so I’m guessing a tenner? It had been free in Sheffield because we’d gone in the afternoon.

The shuffleboard tables here (there were two, side by side) were smaller than the one in Sheffield – and they were drowning in sand to the extent that the markings were difficult to see and the pucks got buried in the stuff when they were out of play.

But the game was equally brilliant and we had a great time. Of course Lee won again (as a rule, he wins the practical stuff, but I win the mental stuff) and a great time was had here.

The Uplands reminded me of the Head of Steam in Birmingham, with its imposing bar in the middle of the room, great drinks range and lots going on around the bar. It’s definitely a happening place and we certainly plan to make a return visit.

Oh and my camera informs me I did manage to find some cask ale, although I cannot confirm if these were the only offerings.

Untappd informs me that Gower Gold, Greene King Bonkers Conkers and Greene King Gangly Ghoul have been enjoyed here in recent weeks.

And that, dear reader, was Day One of A Football Tourist’s Guide To Swansea. It was an action-packed brilliant day out and I suspected I might regret that last beer in the morning. But the above was nothing compared to what was to come on Day Two. Stay tuned for:

  • Christmas at Mumbles Pier
  • Oystermouth Castle
  • The Pilot Inn
  • Swansea City v Blackpool
  • The video of our adventures
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