There's no doubt that I'm a fan of North Wales; the rugged coastlines, tall mountains and winding country roads can give the sense of isolation you need when you need to 'get away from it all'. My love affair with this part of the British Isles started back in 1996 when I went up to Bangor for an interview at the University there and continued as I spent three years of my University life in the city.
Fourteen years after leaving the city I've tried to go up there every couple of years but as things get busier at work, making time for a jaunt to my favourite places can be hard work. The last time I made it up there was in 2008, so being very overdue for a look around, I headed up there for a long weekend.
The drive down from the A55 to Bangor shows that the economy of the city has grown, a couple of small industrial estates that I don't recall have surfaced and the roads have been 'upgraded' by way of three roundabouts. This used to be a straight road with pretty much no obstacles at all, so the first one caught me by surprise. As I came down the Llandegai Road onto Beach Road and the sight of the sea hit me, I couldn't help but have a tear in my eye as memories of some of the best times of my life came flooding back. Three years in a place with good friends and good times has an impact on you, and emotions can get the better when you think back.
The first thing that hit me was that the famous boat shop, "Dickies of Bangor" had gone - what looked like some affordable housing was being built in its place. The pier, shown above, doesn't appear to have changed much at all and the Pulcinella restaurant is still on the pier's car park, but sadly it was closed on the day I rolled into town. Heading down Garth Road, not much had changed, but on Deiniol Road, the new Pontio Building was well under construction where the Students' Union used to be. Memories of a full
English Welsh breakfast at Fat Freddies on a Wednesday morning and a quick coffee in the Circle bar are now just a memory as the 1960s SU building is all gone. On the right hand side of Deiniol Road, the Undeb companies have taken over a building and converted it into a nightclub called "Academi" which is probably an improvement over the Time/Amser the SU had at the foot of Granrafon hill.
The Junction of Sackville Road and Deiniol Road hit me hard with the Football Ground completely gone, and with an ASDA in its place. Having worked for ASDA while I was a student, it was a 20 mile or so trip to Llandudno each week to greet and zap shopping, and there was pretty much no prospect of an ASDA in Bangor. Great to see it, but with there already being a Tesco, Morrisons and Lidl, I couldn't help but think that it's overkill in the city.
Caernarfon Road was a huge surprise for me; with the old hospital grounds being redeveloped, much of the road is now dotted with retail parks with all the big names such as Matalan, Currys/PC World, Next and the like. Again, this highlights the success of the city (and probably the University in attracting students) in growing its economy.
A quick look at the old Reichel Halls indicated that the University had finally spent some money on it with new windows and from what I gather kitchens and furniture. Well overdue, but in my opinion not as sympathetic as I would have liked in relation to the overall style of the building.
So what are my overall thoughts? I'm sitting in two camps. The one side of me despairs a little for the city; much of its appeal when I was a Uni student was the fact that it didn't have all of the main shops (no McDonalds and no M&S are two examples) and this meant that a lot of independents filled the gap. For more serious shopping a trip to Llandudno was in order, and Christmas shopping needed a trip to Chester. The other side of me admires the work done to grow the economy and the University but I can't help but mourn for some of the things that have been lost that made Bangor unique.