Exploring Historic Caernarfon: Black Boy Inn

North Wales will forever hold a special place in our hearts.

It was within the rugged hills of Snowdonia that Paul and I met, a lot longer ago than either of us care to admit!

There was a time when a caravan holiday was considered the peak of luxury travelling, thankfully those days are over now but if it wasn’t for my Father having sold his static caravan in Lytham St. Annes in the summer of ’67 I would never have met Paul. My Dad had got bored of visiting the same place every year and yearned for something decidedly more exotic. That’s how we found ourselves headed towards another static caravan site in North Wales.

Back in those days, taking a hike the mountains was less commonplace, so when we happened to cross paths whilst hiking through the stunning Welsh peaks, we knew that we were kindred spirits. Since that day we’ve made a special effort to return to Wales each year, so that we can breathe in the fresh air and indulge in a Fish’n’Chips.

This year we settled on Caernarfon as a destination. We had 2 and a half days to spend in this peaceful Welsh coast town, and were eager to make the most of our time there so we decided to book a room that was central as possible in the town.

There are plenty of places to stay in North Wales, but only a handful have the kind of history that this inn in Caernarfon can boast of.

The Black Boy Inn has been serving guests and locals to the town for nearly five centuries, and whilst you can bet your bottom dollar that the management has changed a few hands in that time, we found the hospitality at this tidy place to be in keeping with the rich history of the town and the inn. The Black Boy Inn has created quite the monopoly in Caernarfon, owning no fewer than four buildings, so you’ve got plenty of choice if you want to stay with them. We chose to stay in the refurbished Edwardian property, Jac Du – Black Jack’s.

The room was clean, tidy and well presented. An impressive four poster bed made for a very comfortable night’s sleep and made us both feel like royalty during our stay. Included in the room was a handy little mini kitchen complete with electric hobs, sink, fridge and microwave. We were particularly impressed with the complimentary goods on offer which included some of the finest toiletries we’ve seen in a B&B, as well as a varied collection of teas, coffees and hot chocolates.

Paul was particularly hungry on our first morning in Caernarfon, so it’s fortunate that the Residents Breakfast on offer was particularly bounteous. Their ‘Country Table’ made up the cold selection and made for an ideal started to a long, languorous breakfast with both of us picking away at Danish Pastries and a continental selection of Meats & Cheese. Once that was done, we both had a look at the cooked offerings. Paul opted for the Welsh Breakfast (no surprise there!), whilst I ordered the Welsh Rarebit with Bacon (when in Rome!).

Both meals arrived promptly and Paul was immediately impressed by the quality of the ingredients on offer. It appeared that everything on his plate lived up to the ‘Welsh’ name. The sausages were laced with pork, the bacon was of a fine quality (he suspected that it was locally sourced) and his eggs were also luminously yellow, a signifier of freshness that you rarely get from supermarket bought produce.

My Welsh Rarebit instantly took me back to my after school snack as a young girl, which is no easy feat considering how long ago that was! Needless to say, we were set up for the day and very pleased with the value for money that we received at the Black Boy Inn.

Visiting Dartmoor: The Cherrybrook B&B

Paul and I are often asked if we have any children.

As a happily married couple who are well into their sixties, many people assume that we’ve had our kids, sent them on their way and are now enjoying our twilight years with not a care in the world. The truth is, although our own parents were very keen for us to start a family of our own, both Paul and I were too enamoured with our jobs to bear the thought of leaving them for the sake of raising kids. Thanks to both of us earning a good wage for the majority of our lives we were able to take (relatively) early retirements and enjoy our years of retirement.

We’ve spoken frankly about this decision with another and have always come to the conclusion that we made the right decision, however there’s no easy quick way to communicate this to new acquaintances without going through the whole rigmarole. As much as we love getting to know hosts and fellow guests at B&B, we have got used to running through the same old small talk questions every time we meet some new, well-meaning people. We’ve come to expect these questions now, but struggle to answer them with any kind of enthusiasm. So we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the Cherry Brook B&B to be greeted with an altogether set of questions.

“So how long have you had your dog for?” “Where’s your dog?”

You see, The Cherry Brook B&B provides ‘truly dog-friendly accommodation’, something which we’d noted before booking the room but had chosen to forget. There are 7 rooms in this handsome B&B, all of which are dog-friendly whilst offering some spectacular views across Dartmoor. This 200 year-old farmhouse is a real treat for country lovers, whilst offering every amenity that you’d expect from a 21st century Bed & Breakfast. There might not be any conservatory roof to relax under, but there is excellent WiFi throughout the building, a cosy bar to relax in during the evening, and you can even order evening meals.

The place was fully booked whilst we were there, despite there being 8 dogs staying along with their human owners, the Cherry Brook was surprisingly quiet for the entirety of our stay. Over breakfast we got to know our fellow guests and were quickly asked where our own furry companion was, how old he/she was, what breed they were – unfortunately we couldn’t give them any satisfying answers! Regardless, this made a nice change from the usual small talk and for once we were never asked if we had any kids.

The breakfast itself was a robust affair featuring delicious fresh salad bowls, toast with excellent local preserves, as well as some lovely local sausages that Paul had to inquire after (we made sure not leave Dartmoor before buying a pack to take home). All of this food came from an unbelievably tiny kitchen, which explains why they needed some advance warning if they had any extra guests wanting dinner.

Walking Through York’s Past: The Bloomsbury

We don’t often opt for city breaks, but when we heard about The Bloomsbury Guesthouse Hotel after reading an article in the Guardian, we thought a trip up North would do us some good!

It’s not often we find ourselves wandering through a city, but then again it’s easy to forget that York is a city at times. The winding streets have largely retained many of their Georgian and Victorian features, making a visit to this small city feel like stepping into an anachronistic alternate universe. We thoroughly enjoyed wandering through ‘The Shambles’, the best example of Winchester’s mercantile past, and were surprised by just how much this small city had to offer the British visitor.

The Bloomsbury is one of those charming B&Bs that completely lives up to the hype. After stumbling across a number of articles mentioning how cosy this place was, we decided that it would be worth a drive up to see what all the fuss was about. This family-run business has been garnering favourable reviews for years now both in the hands of Paul and Matt, and Matt’s parents, Tricia and Steve. We arrive in York just a few weeks after the guard was changed once more, as Tricia and Steve came out of retirement to allow Paul and Matt to move out to New Zealand.

As far as we can tell the standards at the Bloomsbury haven’t dipped since the day it as opened. Whilst the location may be a little more out of the way than its competitors (the B&B is a good 20 minute walk from the centre of York), the detached property is on a relatively quiet road and makes for a nice enough location. Whilst the spaces in the Bloomsbury are perhaps not quite as lofty as the name suggests, there is an over-whelming feeling of comfort here that has to be experienced to be believed.

Whereas some ‘luxury’ Bed & Breakfasts make the mistake of decking their hall with a surplus of artworks and precious looking ornaments, the owners at the Bloomsbury understand that a good B&B should be a home from home, rather than an art museum with rooms. Comfort comes in the traditional form of squishy armchairs and sturdy, cosy beds, but it can also be found at the breakfast table. Although our interests had been piqued by Paul’s breakfasts, we were more than happy to tuck in to Tricia and Steve’s ample offerings.

York itself proved to be a great deal more cosmopolitan that we’d initially expected. Despite being around 2 hours away by train, it would appear that the innovation of London’s food scene has made its away up North. Although Paul and I aren’t usually suckers for overly fancy food, we’d heard that the oddly named Skosh was the best place in the city, and not too fancy for us old types. Despite having to ask for clarification on a few menu items (the ‘miso glazed cod’ had us scratching our heads), we found this restaurant to be utterly delightful.

It’s always a pleasure to be surrounded by the hubbub of young people and that’s exactly what we found at this trendy restaurant, which made both of us feel considerably younger than our years. With that being said, we were both happy to return to the Bloomsbury for a nice cup of tea after.

Highland Heather Lodges: What No Breakfast?!

We’re often asked by friends if we ever get bored with all the cooked breakfasts and cream teas, to which we say: Nope!

We’re well settled into our life of leisure now, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy ‘roughing it’ on occasions. Of course, when you reach our grand age the notion of camping is strictly out of the window, so instead we opt for ‘self-catered’ options like we did at Highland Heather Lodges.

The benefit of staying at self-catered accommodation over a B&B is the added privacy that you get from staying in your own little house, as well as also being able to decide when and where you eat your breakfast. As slightly older folks we like to rise early and eat our breakfast accordingly, during our fifties we hit a perfect ‘sweet spot’ where we found that most B&Bs would be serving breakfasts exactly when we wanted it, but as the years wore on we soon found that we were waking hours before breakfast was due to be served, leaving us twiddling our thumbs!

Thanks to the internet there are plenty of ways we can keep ourselves entertained during these moments of limbo, such as catching up on television series (I think we watched the entire Game of Thrones series in 2017 whilst waiting for breakfasts) and reading the news; when we’re in self-catered accommodation, though there’s no need to wait! Of course there’s a bit more preparation required in staying at a self-catered lodge, compared to staying at a B&B, but this prep can often be very satisfying.

We made sure to leave for Crieff as early as possible on the Friday, so that we could drop in at a Scottish shop to pick up our supplies before reaching our destination. Assembling his very own Scottish cooked breakfast was certainly a highlight for Paul, he loved talking to the butchers about where the meat came from and particular enjoyed picking out all the Scottish specialities that we don’t get down in England. Tasty treats such as ‘Lorne sausage’, ‘Fruit Pudding’ and ‘Potato scones’ were cheerfully thrown into the basket along with some juicy looking links of sausage and fat slices of bacon.

Upon our arrival at Highland Heather Lodges we were greeted by the owners and shown around our lovely lodge. As far we are aware, there aren’t many Perthshire lodges with hot tubs, but each property at Highland has one, a feature that we were particularly impressed with. Suddenly it seemed we weren’t roughing it any more!

There was something so decadent, in fact, with being able to saunter out into the crisp fresh air in the morning and enjoy a lovely hot bubbly bath whilst Paul cooked our fry up, if only every weekend could be like this…

Taking a trip to Whitby: High Tor Guest House

First things first, Whitby is not your usual seaside town.

Before we check into the B&B, Janet and we took a little wander around this rightfully legendary seaside town. There’s a palpable history here in Whitby present in some exquisite old buildings and charming architecture.

Everywhere we look there are nods to the past: shops have traditionally painted signage, there are book shops everywhere and even the hotels seem to be getting in on the action, lending the town an eerie anachronism which is only highlighted by the impressive number of goths scattered throughout the streets. If we were visiting a metropolitan city then we would assume that there was some sort of rock concert on, but this is Whitby and there is an altogether different reason for this many black-clad people converging here.

When visiting Whitby in the years before publishing his most famous novel, Bram Stoker found himself drawn to the grand Gothic ruin of Whitby Abbey. So taken was he by the 7th Century building that he decided to have his titular vampire arrive in England by way Whitby; for that reason Goths and occult tourists alike flock to the town in droves (especially during Halloween) and spend thousands of pounds on jet trinkets and black coffees.

All of this useful contextual information is passed on to us by our hosts at High Tor Guest House, a charming, luxurious Victorian property run by Sue and Gary. 7 well decorated en suite bedrooms are kept in pristine condition in this tastefully decorated town house makes for a perfect getaway for couples. Janet was very pleased with the quality of the towels and complimentary toiletries, and I was more than happy with their generous cooked breakfast. Their Full English is a hearty plate, coming with 2 rashers of bacon, sausages, tomato, hash browns and mushroom. Janet opted for the lighter option of poached eggs on toast, and we were both happy with the range of preserves available to guests. The dining room is light and airy, the perfect place to spend a relaxed morning eating and reading the papers before heading out to explore Whitby.

Buying some Jet

Although the gemstone Jet can be found all over the world, the finest specimens are to be found in Whitby (or so the owners of numerous gift and souvenir shops are to have us believe). You won’t have to look hard to find a shop selling these wares, but their quality does vary from place to place, so it’s best to take a good look around before you settle on making a purchase. Staff in most of the shops aren’t pushy and will give you space to browse without pressuring you.

Visiting Whitby Abbey

The Abbey is a must-visit location and although the 199 steps leading up to the ruin are a much touted challenge, Janet and I didn’t find them too difficult, but were certainly grateful for the flask of tea that we brought up with us. As we’re both members of English Heritage, entrance was free for us, but prices seemed pretty reasonable for non-members (£7.90 for adults, £4.70 for children). At the top you’ll find some terrific views and a quick walk will take you to the Mansion Visitor Centre which houses plenty of interesting information.

Grabbing some Fish’n’Chips

Trenchers Fish’n’Chips doesn’t mess too much with the tried and tested formula of the English chip shop, in fact it’s so rigidly traditional that you might be initially put off. Hipsters seeking out a modern take on this seaside classic will probably turn their noses up at the door, but in doing so they’ll be missing out on the best Cod and Chips that Yorkshire has to offer. Trenchers was the only shop in the North short-listed for the top prize of the National Fish & Chip Awards, an honour that is well deserved.