Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Royal Disdain

Like all robust communities, Llanberis has several interesting historic occasions to refer to. For instance, twice in its history, despite an energetic entrepreneurial spirit shown by the community over centuries, introducing slate-mining, railways, new roads, mountain-climbing, tourism, etc etc etc, English Royals have snubbed it. Meanies.

The Royal Victoria Hotel at Llanberis has only a tenuous claim to the name because of an irritating no-show by HRH.  On a grand day in August 1832 when HRH Princess Victoria was due to visit, arriving with a huge entourage of courtiers and nobles, and with the whole town turned out to meet her, the Princess was indisposed and did not appear. Her huge party of celebrants and grandees came along, and it took the assembled townsfolk (and hoteliers) a while to realise that their patroness (and in the case of the hotel, their namesake) was not there. The party had to go on without her. She was too ill.  The hotel's written history says 'considerable disappointment was felt when it became known that the young princess, or as the quarry-men called her 'Frenhines fach' was not in the party.'

Her mother, the Duchess of Kent and the others all went on a day trip around about, on the lake and to the ruined castle of Dolbardarn, and the royal banner was displayed opposite the hill of the council where the barons of Snowdon encamped when they made a treaty with Edward which united Wales and England.  But, somehow, it doesn't quite work.  They called this huge hotel Royal Victoria, but she never turned up.

But this wasn't the first royal snub. The hotel is not far from the site of the town's ancient castle, a seat of resistance and national Welsh pride, built by Llywelyn Fawr who died in 1240. When the English King Edward took over, he decided that Dolpadarn was NBG for his purposes and Caernarfon would be a better place and he proceeded to partly dismantle Dolpadarn and use the timbers in his other pad.

Local bitterness was perhaps assuaged by Prime Minister William Gladstone who - in 1892 at the age of 84 - arrived in Llanberis and gave a truly stirring speech about (of all things!) the the freedom of small states, and he did this up on the slopes of Mount Snowdon, attended by a huge crowd. He was there to celebrate the opening of a footpath, because by that time, the wars of the past had faded away, the slate quarries were in fine fettle, a railway had connected the area to the outer world for tourism and freight, and a new road had been constructed down the terrifying Llanberis Pass, making access so much easier. Walking (or taking the train) up Snowdon became a national obsession. In fact, in the 1960s, I remember a weekend at my granny's house in Hampstead when some of the uncles arrived in jubilant mood having gone to climb Snowdon (there and back) between Friday and Sunday. They missed lunch when they got back, but were given sandwiches and cheers by the family. None of the uncles had anything special in the way of clothing or footwear... tweed jackets, twill trousers, brogue shoes.  They did it on a whim.

The hotel is rather grand where it can be. The breakfast buffet is offered at the entry of the large dining room (though your seating is quite a long way away in a glazed balcony). No trays are available so you have to go back and forth for each orange juice, cereal, toast, or whatever, wending your way between the tables in the main area... It dawned on us that one of their main preoccupations is petty larceny. Everything is arranged so you can't nick anything. It must be a big problem for them, with hordes arriving in summertime for walking and mountaineering. The books lining the wall are fake - a kind of wallpaper. On the buffet, the only fresh fruit is a slice of water melon (no apples to sneak into your lunch picnic). The yoghurt is served in a huge porringer. The butter comes in little open rolls all ready at your table (you have to take some with you back to the toaster if you want to put an egg on your DIY toast back at the far end of the dining room). Actually, once you get the hang of it, it's all fine - the choice is superb and everything is delicious.  But the night before, the head barman was really refusing to let me take a glass of wine to my room, although I was in my bedroom slippers, because I did not have the little slip of white paper which came with the room key.... And a whole picture had been stolen from the wall, leaving four patches of velcro where it had once been.  Stealing stuff from hotels is not a joke. And royal no-shows are not a joke either.  

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