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 Two

(If you missed Part One you can find it via this link)

I woke up around 0500 dehydrated and thankful for the bottles of water provided by our kind host at the AirBNB in The Mumbles. I could not get back to sleep but remained in situ until 0745. Meanwhile Lee had ventured out to catch some drone shots of the sunrise over Swansea Bay.

Our bathroom was tiny. The sink was so small that Lee had missed it when spitting out his toothpaste – and I had almost lost a contact lens, which fell on the floor instead of in the sink. The shower wasn’t much bigger. It was tricky to reach down to the toiletries without banging my head on the glass. I somehow managed though.

At 0830 we headed out into a still mild Mumbles morning, spotting a fairy door on our patio.

We crossed the main road to walk alongside the bay. The tide was out but we could still hear the joyful and peaceful seaside sounds of lapping water and seagulls.

Christmas had definitely arrived here and I had already lost count of the number of trees I’d seen.

We marvelled at the heated pods for outdoor dining at Bistrot Pierre, with fur wraps and chandeliers.

The Front Room Cafe

This was our breakfast destination, selected because it rated highly on TripAdvisor. I was surprised to find it empty when we arrived at 0850 but then The Mumbles was hardly bustling. That was one thing we liked about it. It was peaceful and not brimming with tourists. It may be different in the summer.

We sat in the window in the prime people-watching spot and each ordered a breakfast which seemed agreeable with the SlimmingWorld plan.

I also went for an Earl Grey (sans honey or milk), which I was delighted to have presented in a bone china cup and saucer.

Our food soon arrived not quite as expected.

I was terrified of the sourdough, tried in vain to dig out some fatless bacon and transferred my sausage to Lee’s plate. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on with the beans but they were tasty, as were the egg, mushrooms and tomato. I’m sure the bread and bacon would have been delicious too but I couldn’t risk them if I wanted to continue with my weight loss. I knew I’d have to hunt down some more food before the match to resist the temptation of a pie in the ground.

As we strolled back to our AirBNB, I remarked on how the local artists decorate everything here to make it more joyful. Example below.

Mumbles Ale House

I gazed longingly at this sign, in the knowledge that it was too early to visit and we might not get chance to call in. This is the oldest micropub in Wales. Definitely one not to miss on my next visit.

AirBNB

Back at the ranch I realised I’d failed to fully appreciate the visitor’s book. I love a visitor’s book but they are a rare find these days. The best one I found was in a cottage in the Trawden Forest when I went to Colne v Chasetown a few years back.

I took a moment to write a review and snapped some previous entries to read when I had more time.

We were now short of time though as we had an important engagement at 1000.

Christmas at Mumbles Pier

Of course being from Blackpool – home to three piers – it’s difficult for us to resist a pier when we’re on our travels. My research had also revealed that this morning saw the launch of the Christmas market at Mumbles Pier – complete with Santa and his elves making a grand entrance. I made this a priority and the focal point of our Saturday (we often forget we have a match to go to but we will get to that).

We managed to get onto the pier car park and I waited at the unlocked car while Lee tackled the pay and display machine. I checked the time. What was taking so long? My phone rang.

‘What’s the car registration number?’

I provided the information and Lee shortly returned to the car.

‘It won’t accept payment from my phone. It needs a card.’

I asked Lee to lock the car in the meantime so I could scuttle ahead so as not to miss the arrival of Santa.

When I arrived at Mumbles Pier, I chuckled as I spotted the bollards had been decorated with festive knitwear. They really do transform everything into art down here. It’s so joyful.

Lee soon arrived, having finally won his battle with the pay and display machine, but there was no sign of Santa. We decided to ask a member of staff, who revealed that Santa would be arriving at 1100. This allowed us time to explore the pier, which is exactly what we did.

We strolled round the outside of the pier towards the log cabins. I spotted a Pirates of Mumbles Pier game and cursed myself for carrying no cash. There’s always somewhere you need cash.

We then sauntered into the Christmas Market. Here are some highlights.

There were restaurants around here too.

On the other side of the market was the a secluded little beach and a spectacular view of the lighthouse.

We returned to the pier entrance and entered the amusement arcade, where I was delighted to spot a pinball machine – a rare sight these days.

But I had no cash so we continued through and strolled down the pier itself. And, dear reader, this was to prove my favourite pier of all time. Why? Read on.

There was an old lifeboat station jutting out to the left of the pier…

…and a new one straight ahead.

Halfway down the pier was a dragon (a common sight around here) and…well…answers on a postcard please.

There was work being done on the pier to improve it (I’m not sure what this means for the dragon) and the wooden planks were new, solid and without gaps little dogs can fall down like at Whitby.

Now back in the arcade for a proper explore while we continued to wait for Santa, I was delighted to find dinosaurs.

Meanwhile Lee had wandered off upstairs to see if there was a shuffleboard table up there. About five minutes later my phone rang again.

‘Guess who I’ve just bumped into upstairs.’

He sounded excited.

‘Er…Josh Bowler?’

‘Better than that!’

‘Better than Josh Bowler?! Er…Critch?’

Our new manager had just signed a new contract, committing to the club until 2026. We loved him.

‘Think bigger.’

‘Bigger than Critch?! Er…Simon Sadler?’

‘Yes!’

Blimey. Sadler is the owner of Blackpool FC. This was the man who was facilitating all this joy we are currently revelling in through having a properly run football club that’s only going in one direction. And here he was playing pool in an amusement arcade on Mumbles Pier.

‘Do you want to go up and say hello?’

It’s not really my bag speaking to ‘famous people’ so I declined and focussed on hunting down a cash machine so we could play pinball. But then Sadler came down the stairs.

‘Come on up and you can do some filming for your video.’

Lee was delighted – it meant the world to him that the owner of Blackpool Football Club was happy to appear on his matchday vlog.

Back downstairs I drew £20 out of the cashpoint – I wouldn’t spend more than a tenner in here but the other tenner would come in handy at some point – and headed to a CHANGE machine to convert a tenner into pound coins. In the short time it took us to return to the pinball, pesky Sadler had beaten us to it and was merrily playing away at Wrestlemania. Our chairman, our hero.

We ambled round the arcade and soon saw Sadler walking past us, flashing a huge, genuine smile. How wonderful that he, too, finds joy in an amusement arcade on a pier. As he said:

‘You can take the boy out of Blackpool, but you can’t take Blackpool out of the boy.’

He really was one of us. I liked him.

We returned to the pinball – only to find it accepted card payments. Who knew that was a thing on arcade machines?

I inserted coins anyway on principle and we played for quite some time. I quickly got the hang of the flippers and the game and really enjoyed playing. The multiball flummoxed me a bit but I did pretty well overall. There should be more pinball in the world.

It was now approaching 1100 – or Santa O’Clock – so we headed outside to look out for the man himself.

Oh look – here are some elves skipping over.

And here’s Santa – arriving in a three-wheeler!

Dear reader, I can’t begin to tell you how much joy it brought me, seeing Santa. I have no memory of going to see Santa when I was little, although I always wanted to go and visit him in his grotto in Lewis’s. I felt a wave of joy travel up my body and huge beam spread across my face. I’d just seen Santa!

Now we’ve taken to car spotting in recent months. We’ve ordered a new car (which we’re hoping will turn up soon) so we’ve been looking out for the same model so we can marvel at it. On our way back to our current car we observed a car that we didn’t recognise; nor did it have a make or model noted on the rear. What on Earth was it? Closer inspection revealed the word Polestar – and that was indeed the name of the car. Take a look at this beauty.

Oystermouth Castle

We decided to go and see the nearby castle simply because it was there. We snuck into a parking space in a nearby road and approached the entrance.

‘Oh look – a hill – your favourite thing!’

I groaned. I had forgotten that with castles come hills. Would the boost of seeing Santa – and Simon Sadler – make the ascent easier?

In fact the approach to Oystermouth Castle was curved and thus not too bad on the legs and lungs. I stopped halfway to take a photo that has to be one of the best I’ve ever taken.

Sadly the Castle itself was closed so we were unable to gain entry but, on the bright side, we were saved further ascent, whilst still being able to enjoy the nice view.

It was so serene here that I can imagine it’s a favoured spot for locals to sit and enjoy some quiet time with a book or their own thoughts.

Next up we needed to tackle the food problem, so we headed to M&S (which had its own little car park). Here I picked up some boiled eggs & spinach, mango & pineapple and a bottle of pink cranberry lemonade. That should see me through to the end of the match.

Next we headed back down the high street…

…in search of beer.

The Pilot

This pub is home to Pilot Brewery, the only brewery in The Mumbles. How could I not pay it a visit?

The pub had very much an old fashioned ‘local’ feel and there were plenty of beers on offer today.

I went for half of the Pilot Black Storm, which went down a treat as the hair of the dog I needed.

We sat in the window with great views of the bay. I correctly identified the landscapes of Port Talbot (cloud factory) and Swansea on the opposite coast.

My eyes later turned to the pub’s interesting interior, which included old images of Mumbles – including a tram – and some bespoke stained glass windows.

Swansea City v Blackpool

We’d arrived in plenty of time as requested by our hosts, as they needed to conduct checks of our COVID passes before allowing us entry into the stadium (Wales have different rules to us).

We were pleased to discover there was a car park at the ground. It was £10 and cash only but – aha! – I now had a use for that extra tenner I’d drawn out at the arcade. Result! We parked up and ambled towards the ground.

We were joined on our walk by Phil from Leeds and Ashleigh of Lee Charles TV fame (sporting rather magnificent tangerine hair).

We got into the ground without any trouble and, as soon as I was through the turnstiles – by now bursting for a wee I should have gone for in the pub – I was approached by a burly steward.

‘The ladies toilets are up the stairs.’

How did he know?

I ascended the stairs and utilised the facilities.

On the way out I noticed a lift.

Oh boy I loved this stadium so much. I recalled my first visit here when I had been awestruck by how PERFECT it was. It was symmetrical and a complete bowl.

The concourses were roomy, the stewards were friendly and it was simply a delight to be here.

I paid a visit to the refreshment kiosk and reviewed their offerings.

Dammit another exciting pie! And – even more shocking – actually a range of items that I would have had to choose between, had I not been dieting. The pasty and chicken burger might have tempted me too. Instead I ordered two bottles of water, which were decanted into plastic pint glasses.

Happily our early arrival – and permission from the stewards to sit anywhere we wanted – meant we secured some great seats on the front row, by a wall and with a ledge in front of us where we could rest our drinks without worrying about them being kicked over in a goal celebration.

At 1400 we were confused by the team news. There were a good few changes and we couldn’t figure out what the formation was. I concluded that, if we were foxed, our opponents would be too, so it was probably a good thing.

Cyril the Swan walked past and I hope he wasn’t gesturing at us.

I wondered if he got neckache in that outfit (which may or may not have been acquired from Mascot Workwear, who were again advertising here today).

As the players emerged it struck me what a beautiful spectacle this stadium offered on the pitch too. The grass was lush and green, Blackpool were all in tangerine, the Swans were all in white and their keeper was in Everton blue. It all just looked good.

I was also interested to note from the excellent big screen that Swansea City encouraged the reporting of discrimination.

There has been at least one occasion this season where I have felt inclined to report discrimination but didn’t feel comfortable to do so whilst inside the ground. Here I would have felt this was a safe space to do so – although happily there was nothing to report today.

I kept seeing and hearing reference to ‘Jack’ and the ‘Jack Army’ – and I recalled the beer I had been drinking last night was called ‘Swansea Jack’. At half time I felt compelled to ask one of the friendly (and many) stewards:

‘Why Jack?’

‘There was a dog called Jack who rescued people when their boat went down. He dragged them back to shore.’

‘Oh wow – thank you. I’m so glad I asked!’

I’ve since done a little further reading on Jack and it turns out he saved at least 27 people from the sea in separate incidents. Here’s the link to Jack’s Wikipedia page.

I particularly love this bit.

Oh the match? Well it was terribly dull in the main. We played like Milton Keynes, all passy-passy backwards and sideways and back to the keeper. The game seemed to last an age. Swans were 1-0 up at half time courtesy of a worldie but they hadn’t offered much else.

The second half was equally dull until – hang on – what’s this? We only went and scored a goal out of nowhere – from a corner, would you believe? We had no idea what had happened or who had scored but apparently it was that Keshi finesse again. Yeah we’d take that all day long!

Then – with three minutes remaining (plus five minutes added time) the game sprang to life and it was frenetic end to end stuff. Bloody hell! I’d have happily been bored for eight minutes longer to secure that point!

After what seemed like half an hour with my hands to my face, the final whistle blew – and the game ended 1-1. Phew!

This had been one of those matches – like at Bristol City on the opening day – we were destined not to lose. We’d had such an amazing weekend, Critch had signed a new contract, we’d bumped into a beaming Simon Sadler in the amusement arcade and we’d seen Santa – how could Blackpool possibly lose this afternoon? It was simply never going to happen.

Here’s our matchday vlog:

We found our way back to the car and were off the car park and away surprisingly quickly. I was ravenous by now and gromphed an Alpen Light and some cherry tomatoes before we’d even got moving. I was also now freezing – the temperature had dropped the minute we set foot in the ground – and I was very much looking forward to a hot meal at Gloucester Services on the way home.

Sadly, Waze had other ideas and took us on a route that bypassed Gloucester. This also put paid to some impromptu Christmas shopping that I could have done there.

Instead we stopped at the Beefeater at Ross-on-Wye, where I ate the chicken, beans and sweetcorn from this plate.

Most of the journey home was spent listening to music in the Welsh language: Pwdin Reis (who we’d seen last night), Y Bandana (who we’d picked up from Soundhound as being the background music before last night’s gig) and a random compilation that Apple decided to throw up. We later moved on to a rockabilly compilation, followed by G4 Christmas (which was quite painful and justified my decision to choose the alternative gig last night).

We landed home just after 2300, which was 5h30 door to door, including a sit down meal stop. We were delighted with that.

Here’s the full video version of A Football Tourist’s Guide to Swansea.

Next up: West Brom at home.

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