Thursday, 27 February 2014


Many people who head for Anglesey (myself included the first time, I'm sorry to say) cross over from the mainland and whizz right across the island to Holyhead, from where there is a regular ferry service to Ireland, with crossings to Dublin and Dun Laoghaire.  The crossing is short enough to make a day trip to Dublin a possibility.  But for those who decide to linger on Anglesey there is plenty to see in the vicinity of Holyhead.  One thing to note, however, is that Holyhead is, strictly speaking not actually on Anglesey, but on Holy Island, a smaller island which is reached from Anglesey via the A55/A5, or alternatively a more minor road crossing at Four Mile Bridge, so named not because of its length, but because of the distance from Holyhead.  There was a Roman fort in Holyhead in the 4th century AD which was used as a coastal defence from Irish raiders, and the original walls can still be seen, surrounding the 13th century Church of St Cybi.  One Irish raider called Seregri is buried in the churchyard, his grave marked by the small chapel of Eglwys-y-Bedd.

More ancient sites can be found on the summit of nearby Holyhead Mountain, where there are remains of the Iron Age fort of Caer y Twr, incorporating the ruins of a 4th century Roman beacon.  Lower down is the 3rd century settlement of Cytiau'r Gwyddelod, with the walls of 20 huts surviving.  To the west of Holyhead Mountain is the South Stack RSPB nature reserve where you can park up and wander down to the crenellated Ellen's Tower, which acts as the Visitor Centre.  Alternatively, for a fee, you can descend the 400-odd steps leading down to a footbridge which gives access to the small island - or large rock, depending on how you view it - of South Stack itself, topped by a 90-foot high lighthouse.  The cliffs around here are colonised by large numbers of seabirds, including a colony of puffins.  The day we visited was a beautiful sunny day, and we had a wonderful alfresco lunch outside the reserve's cafe, gazing out at an alluringly azure Irish Sea.           

Map of the area. 

South Stack

Tuesday, 25 February 2014


The village of Bull Bay has the distinction of being the most northerly village in Wales, and it also has the most northerly golf course.  There was a busy fishing port and shipbuilding facility here in the 19th century, but nowadays it is purely a holiday village, with plenty of caves and rock pools for the kids to explore.  If you don't mind a bit of a walk, the secluded little beach of Porth Wen can be found by strolling for one and a half miles along the cliff top to the west of Bull Bay.  On the east side of the bay is the tiny island of East Mouse, where in 1877 the passenger liner SS Dakota, en route to New York, sank and broke into three pieces.  Thankfully, all those on board were saved by the Elenor lifeboat.  The wreck is frequented by divers, who have recovered pottery from the vessel.  

A short distance around the coast from Bull Bay is Cemaes Bay, centred around a picturesque harbour with sandy beaches on either side - Traeth Mawr or Big Beach with rock pools and a cave, and Traeth Bach or Little Beach, composed of sand and shingle.  Like Bull Bay, the village of Cemaes used to be a fishing port, principally for herring, and it too was a busy port in the 18th and 19th centuries, shipping out locally quarried limestone, marble and bricks from the Klondyke Brickwords, and importing coal and flour.  All this port activity was accompanied by a thriving line in smuggling, making use of the numerous coves and caves in the area.  There is a Heritage Centre and cafe in the High Street with displays and artefacts relating to the locality.  The clifftop path north of the village leads to the 14th century St Patrick's Church (Llanbadrig), where there is a cave, a holy well and early Christian stone carvings.  About 3 miles to the west is the CemlynBay Nature Reserve, which in summer plays host to one of the largest breeding colonies of sandwich terns.   

Map of the area. 

The harbour at Cemaes Bay

Saturday, 22 February 2014


The harbour at Amlwch owes its existence to copper, being close to the site of what was, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the largest open cast copper mine in the world, although there was mining here as far back as Roman times.  The harbour was once a busy port, with shipments going out to Liverpool and the Isle Of Man.  According to legend, the town was deliberately built in such a way as to be concealed from Viking attacks.  The eerie landscape of Parys Mountain serves as a reminder of these times, when at peak activity the Parys Mountain Copper Company employed 1,500 people from Amlwch.  The company was responsible for the construction of the town's Church of St Eleth, which was built in 1800.  It even issued its own coins with the company's initials on one side and a druid's head on the other - examples of the coins are on display at the National Museum in Cardiff.  In the 1900s Welsh copper mining fell victim to competition from Africa and America leaving Parys Mountain as a relic from the past.  The Copper Kingdom Centre, centred around the Parys Mountain mine, tells the story of the town's mining past. There is a 2-mile path through the ruined mine landscape taking in the ruins of an engine house.  The present-day Amlwch has no beach, but still retains the attractive small harbour from the copper days.  

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Whatlep, via Wikimedia Commons 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014


The village of Moelfre on the east coast of Anglesey consists of a cluster of houses, pubs, cafes and shops ranged around a small sheltered beach with boats hauled up onto the shingle.  The village lies on the Anglesey Coastal Path, and a short walk along the path out of the village brings you to the Lifeboat Station, which has operated since the 1830s and is still very active now.  The value of having a Station here has been proven time and again over the years, with over 1,000 lives saved.  One particularly tragic incident involved a steam clipper called the Royal Charter which was returning to Liverpool from Melbourne in 1859, carrying Australian gold.  The ship sank during a storm and ran aground on rocks near Moelfre, with the loss of almost 460 lives, making it the deadliest shipwreck ever to occur on the Welsh coast.  Charles Dickens visited Moelfre a couple of  months later, and he adapted the story of the shipwreck for a work called The Uncommercial Traveller.  Almost exactly 100 years after the Royal Charter tragedy, and almost in the same place, a coaster called the Hindlea hit the rocks on this unforgiving coast.  This time the outcome was much better, with all eight crew members rescued.  Such was the bravery shown by the Moelfre lifeboat crew in the rescue, which took place in horrendous conditions, that the Cox, Dick Evans, was awarded the RNLI Gold Medal for his part in the rescue, an award which was much deserved given his role in a later rescue in 1966, this time of a Greek freighter crew - by now Evans was 61 years old.  There is a statue of him outside the Seawatch Centre, a museum dedicated to the maritime history of the village, with an RNLI shop attached.   

Statue of the heroic Dick Evans

One of the most dramatic events in Moelfre's maritime history took place in 1157, when the village was caught up in a sea battle between the men of Anglesey and Henry II's English fleet.  However, the area's history goes back much further, and there are signs of habitation in the area going back to 2000 BC in the form of a burial chamber or cromlech.  The Romans also came through here, and left traces of their stay on the island at a site called Din Lligwy, believed to have been occupied during the 4th century AD.  Near Din Lligwy is a ruined 12th century chapel called Hen Gapel.  For nature-lovers, just offshore from the village is the small island of Ynys Moelfre, which is home to an abundance of seabirds such as cormorants and shags.  More seabirds, as well as a colony of seals, can be found on and around the nearby Ynys Dulas.  The waters off Moelfre are also a good place for looking out for porpoise and dolphins.  

Map of the area.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


Red Wharf Bay, or Traeth-coch in Welsh, is an expanse of sand stretching from Llandona Beach to the resort of Benllech, with the small village of Red Wharf Bay in between.  Red Wharf Bay was once an important port, with records of trading going back to the 15th century.  The beach covers an expanse of almost 10 square miles at low tide, when it is tempting to cut across the sands from one side to the other, but care needs to be taken as the tide comes in very quickly, so it is best to stick to the high tide line.  The beach is hemmed in by two headlands and is backed by dunes and grassland.  There is a path leading from Red Wharf Bay harbour to the site of an Iron Age fort called Castell-mawr built onto a large limestone rock.  Today all traces of the fort are gone and the rock has been taken over by nesting seabirds. At Benllech the cliffs backing the beach are stuffed with fossils.  The presence of corals among them is proof that these rocks were once a subtropical seabed.  The birds which can be seen going about their business in the bay include oystercatchers, grey plover, purple sandpipers, curlew and dunlin.  There is also an abundance of seashells for the kids to collect.  Waterborne activities in the bay include sea kayaking, and there is a sailing club.      

Map of the area. 

File:Red Wharf Bay, Anglesey - - 133042.jpg
Photo by Dr. Neil Clifton, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 15 February 2014


If you are approaching Penmon Point from Beaumaris, the drive is a stunner, with several stopping points right up against the shore for admiring the view across the Menai Strait towards the Great Orme.  Towards the end of the road lie the ruins of Penmon Priory, with a 1000-year-old font and a graveyard with carved Celtic crosses.  The original building, dating from the 6th century, was destroyed by Viking invaders, and a new one was built in the 12th century.  Nearby are a 17th century dovecote and St Seiriol's Well, a cell belived to have been occupied by this hermit saint.  To reach the Point itself requires a drive along a toll road which leads to a car park from where there is a view across to Puffin Island.  There is a tea-shop, rock pools for the kids to mess about in, and if you time your visit towards the end of a sunny day you will be rewarded with spectacular sunsets.  The black and white Trwyn Du Lighthouse, built in the 1830s, stands 29 metres tall just offshore.  The lighthouse was designed by James Walker, with a stepped base which has the effect of reducing the force of the waves pounding into it. 
Puffin Island is a favourite destination for locally operated boat trips, mainly due to the charms of its inhabitants, which include seals and, not surprisingly, puffins.  This little island lies half a mile out to sea from the lighthouse, and is now uninhabited, although St Seiriol founded a settlement on the island in the 6th century.  The remains of a monastery are a reminder of that time, while a more recent human addition to the island is a 19th century telegraph station, now disused.  The only way for ordinary mortals to visit the island is to take one of the boat trips around it, as actual access is restricted to naturalists with special permits.  The island enjoys Special Protection Area (SPA) status.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Steve F, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 10 February 2014


Beaumaris is a fortified town on Anglesey, or Ynys Môn as it is known in Welsh.  The town's rather French-sounding name derives from the Norman for 'fair marsh', Beau Mareys.  The main street in the centre of town, with a range of independent shops, pubs and restaurants, is one block back from the seafront.  The seafront itself is a joy to stroll along, with a wide green, a small pier and wonderful views across the Menai Strait to the mountains of Snowdonia.  Boat trips are available from the pier to Puffin Island with its birds and seal colony, with a choice of conventional boats or rib rides for the more adventurous.  Sadly, when we visited last year none of these were available due to inclement weather, so it is a question of wandering down to the kiosks to see what is or is not going out.

View from the seafront

Beaumaris is best known for its castle, built as a last-ditch attempt by Edward I to maintain a faltering grip on Wales.  The perfectly formed outline is characterised by a 'walls within walls' design which was and is widely regarded as the finest example of its kind, earning it UNESCO World Heritage status.  However, the castle was never fully completed as both money and supplies ran out before it could be built to its full height.  Unlike so many other castles, Beaumaris Castle nestles within its moat in a low-lying position near the sea and facing across to the mountains of the mainland.  One of the features is a tidal dock which allowed supply vessels to sail up to the castle.  Because the castle was never fully completed it saw relatively little action apart from in 1403 when it was taken by Welsh forces during the Owain Glyndwr rebellion, only to be recaptured by royal forces two years later, and in the 17th century when the castle was held by forces loyal to Charles I, but was surrendered to the Parliamentary armies four years later.  The other main historical attraction in Beaumaris is the disused gaol, now a museum.  For nature enthusiasts, apart from the birds and seals of Puffin Island, the area around Beaumaris is reputedly one of the best places in the country to spot red squirrels.

Partial view of castle and moat

Map of the area.

Saturday, 8 February 2014


Once upon a time the only way to get across to Anglesey from the mainland was by ferry.  Then along came Thomas Telford, who worked his engineering magic to build a magnificent suspension bridge, the largest suspension bridge in the world at that time with its two towers and 16 giant chains.  The first chain was hauled into position in 1825 watched by a large crowd of onlookers.  Three of the workmen involved celebrated this achievement by running across to the other side on the chain, which measured just 9" wide.  The bridge was purposely built high enough to allow the biggest ships of the time to sail through.  Telford's bridge is now one of two bridges across the strait; the other one carries the A5 road and the railway, both of which make their way across the island to Holyhead to link up with the ferries to Ireland. 

Menai Bridge is also the name of the town which lies on the Anglesey side of the bridge.  There is a pleasant walk along the shores of the strait which takes in a promenade known as Belgian Walk, so named because it was built by refugees from Belgium during World War I.  A causeway leads out to Church Island where there is a 15th century church dedicated to St Tysilio, who built the original church in the 7th century.  The Thomas Telford Centre contains an exhibition called Treftadaeth Menai Heritage which tells the story of the Menai Strait bridges, while for the future there is a project called Menai Heritage which aims to build a heritage centre in a warehouse on the Prince's Pier quay.  Other attractions in the town include an artgallery and the Pili-Palas Nature World incorporating a butterfly farm, just outside Menai Bridge on the B5420.

Map of the area.

File:Menai Bridge - Anglesey August 2009 (3834581170).jpg
Photo by Airwolfhound, via Wikimedia Commons 

Thursday, 6 February 2014


Bangor in the county of Gwynedd is a small university city on the Menai Strait facing Anglesey.  The city dates from AD 548 when the Cathedral was founded by St Deiniol.  The cathedral's location in a low-lying site, making it difficult to discern from a distance, is thought to have been a deliberate attempt to avoid attracting the attention of raiders coming from the sea.  Continuing the religious theme, there is a Bible Garden next to the Cathedral, so called because it was created with plants referred to in the Bible.  The GwyneddMuseum and ArtGallery covers the history of North Wales from prehistoric times.  Out in the strait, an ornate pier named Garth Pier sticks out over halfway across this body of water, a length of 1,500 feet, making this grade II listed structure the second longest pier in Wales and the ninth longest in the British Isles.  There are a couple of little shops on the pier and a cafe at the end.   Just to the east of Bangor is Port Penrhyn, or Porth Penrhyn in Welsh, which was built in the 19th century for the export of slate, but is now used by pleasure craft.

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Garth Pier. Photo by Talsarnau Times, via Wikimedia Commons

On a hill just outside Bangor, and occupying a commanding position overlooking the Menai Strait, is Penrhyn Castle, run by the National Trust.  Visitors who expect to see a crumbling medieval stronghold will be disappointed, since the 'castle' was only built in the 19th century.  The neo-Norman pile was designed in 1820 by Thomas Hopper for the Pennant family.  The interior of the building includes elaborate stone carvings and there are paintings by artists including Rembrandt and Canaletto.  The stables have been given over to a railway museum and a doll museum.  In the sloping grounds are a ruined medieval chapel and a pet cemetery, not to mention the wonderful views along the coast to the Great Orme and the stunning Snowdonia backdrop.

View from Penrhyn Castle

Map of the area.

Monday, 3 February 2014


The Afon (river) Llanfairfechan is barely 3 miles long, but its source is 2,000 feet above where it enters the sea at the resort of the same name which nestles in the shadow of the mightly Penmaenmawr mountain.  Llanfairfechan's beach benefits from a wide strip of sand which is firm at low tide and which is a popular haunt for kitesurfers and windsurfers.  The view from the seafront takes in the Great Orme, Puffin Island off Anglesey, the coast of Anglesey and Bangor, a view which is particularly lovely at sunset.  There is a newly built jetty for small craft, and the Wales Coast Path and cycle path pass through here.  The boating lake on the seafront is used by  nesting swans as well as humans, and there are croquet and bowling facilities on the front as well.  The resort truly marks the spot where Snowdonia meets the sea, and is a good base for exploring this majestic mountain range.  For birding enthusiasts the Traeth Lafan Local Nature Reserve consists of a range of habitats including mudflats and shoreline habitats and in autumn and winter the sands here are home to the the largest population of moulting great crested grebes in Britain as well as a range of other species including cormorants and little egrets.  Llanfairfechan was declared the finest village in North Wales in the 2009 Calor Village of the Year competition.   

Map of the area. 

File:The Beach, Llanfairfechan - - 241994.jpg
Photo by Nigel Homer, via Wikimedia Commons