Menai Bridge to Llanelian


ANGLESEY

Anglesey lies off the North West coast of Wales with a coastline of 125 miles. The Welsh name for Anglesey is Ynys Môn, which means "Mother of Wales". The reason for this is that in medieval times Anglesey was considered to be the granary of Wales, when its lush farmlands fed the barren Welsh highlands and there are remains of nearly 50 windmills scattered across the island.

Menai StraitIt is separated from the rest of Wales by the tidal Menai Strait which is only a few hundred yards at its narrowest point, between Bangor and Menai Bridge. Although on the edge of Snowdonia, Anglesey does not have any mountains. There are low, undulating hills and a rugged cliff coast interspersed with sandy coves and wonderful beaches.

The Celts arrived from about 1,000 BC, bringing new ironworking skills and there have been discoveries of Celtic riches - weapons, shields and chariots. The Druids made a major stand against Roman invasion on Anglesey, and even today most people on the island speak Welsh.

Eventually Anglesey settled down to life as a Roman colony, forming settlements such as Din Lligwy, a 4th century village in woods west of the Dulas estuary. Hardly any trace is left of the island's true golden age, when Aberffraw, now a windswept village, was the base of the royal house of Gwynedd.

Britannia BridgeThe last of the dynasty's princes, Llywelyn, ruled all Wales before his defeat by Edward l, the 13th century English conqueror. Baumaris Castle is the most impressive of Edward's string of fortresses, with its double walls and squat, symmetrical towers.

We drove over the Britannia Bridge on the recently built A55 and spent the first night in a hotel in Llanfair PG.



Menai Bridge


Menai BridgeThe first thing we did in the morning was to walk over the Menai Bridge - the first iron bridge of its kind in the world and it has carried the A5 since 1826. Parliament approved the building of a bridge over the Menai Strait in 1819, and the engineer Thomas Telford opted for a suspension bridge.

Menai VillageThe village on the strait's northern bank, which at the time was called Porthaethwy, was renamed in it's honour and has developed into a small town.

Menai BridgeThe promenade was built by Flemish refugees in 1914 and it leads to a causeway to Church Island. It was high tide, but we could see Church Island and the 14th century church of St Tysilio. We took photographs from a viewpoint beside the road to Llanfair PG.



Llanfairpwllgwyngyll


Llanfairpwllgwyngyll In the 19th century, a tailor who combined the business of tourism with a joke against the tourists, invented the name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, literally translated as 'St Mary's Church in the hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St Tysilio near the red cave'.

The name!The name has attracted visitors ever since, though it is commonly shortened to Llanfair PG. When British Rail closed the station in 1966 there was an uproar, and it was officially reopened in 1973. We visited in 1981 and it looked pretty run down, but now it has been restored with a huge visitor centre.

Bridge nowThe village is linked to the mainland by Stephenson's famous tubular Britannia Bridge, built in 1850 to carry the Holyhead Railway. There are four stone lions that are copies of those in Trafalgar Square.

ColumnThe bridge was damaged in 1970 after two boys on a bat-hunt set it on fire and the box sections have been replaced by steel arches. A few years later, a road deck was added to carry the A55. There is talk now of adding yet another road deck!.

Dominating the village is an 88 ft column with a bronze statue of the first Marquess of Anglesey. We climbed the 115 steps inside the column and had fantastic views of Snowdonia and the Strait. Nearby is an old road tollhouse with its original list of charges, starting at three halfpennies for a horse carrying a load of lime.



Plas Newydd


Plas NewyddThis is an imposing mansion, built in the 1790s by James Wyatt and Joseph Potter, for the Paget family, later the Marquesses of Anglesey. We loved Lady Anglesey's bedroom and in the dining room there is an immense mural painted by Rex Whistler in the 1930s.

Plas NewyddWe also saw the artificial leg of Henry William Paget, the first Marquess of Anglesey, who passed the famous remark at Waterloo 'By God, Sir, I've lost my leg'; to which Wellington replied 'By God, Sir, so you have'.


There are some lovely gardens, particularly the grotto.

Boat tripAs it was sunny, we went on a boat trip on the Strait and saw loads of sea-birds on the opposite shore. They thrive here because of the tall 9-mile wall that was constructed in the 19th century by Irish labourers that keeps predators at bay.

Admiral NelsonOn the shoreline, near the Britannia Bridge, is a statue of Admiral Nelson, erected in 1873 as a navigation aid.

 

Bryncelli DduThe area has been inhabited for thousands of years and there are several ancient sites in this area. Bryncelli Ddu is one of the best preserved, the large Bronze Age burial chamber is set within a circular ditch which once contained 14 standing stones.

Bryn yr Hen BoblTo the southeast is Bryn yr Hen Bobl, where excavations of its small burial chamber revealed a cremation urn and the bones of some 20 people.

Moel-y-donAt Moel-y-don, a narrow road leads to a mud and shingle shore, where a ferry once crossed the strait to Port Dinorwic.

The slipway still survives and this spot is believed to be the place where the Roman invasion of Anglesey began in AD 60.



Brynsiencyn


St NidanWe had to hunt for the derelict Church of St Nidan, which marks what would have been the area's centre of habitation in the early Middle Ages. The saint visited the area in the 7th century, but the present structure dates from the 14th century and is now in a private garden.

Caer LebIn a field to the west is Caer Leb, the banks and a ditches of a 3rd century settlement. It was pretty difficult to make out the shape but it's probably obvious from the air.

At Bodowyr, there is a Neolithic burial chamber where coins have been unearthed and an earthwork enclosure at Castell Bryngwyn.



Dwyran


Sea zooAround this small village there are several 'visitor attractions'. Bird World has a collection of exotic birds from around the world. The Model Village reproduces buildings and sites of Anglesey, at a scale of 1 to 12 and Bryntirion Working Farm does guided walks round its dairy farm and displays 19th century agricultural machinery - such choice!

Caernarfon CastleWe opted for the Anglesey Sea Zoo, where many species of local marine life can be seen. It was pretty good actually, with underwater tanks and a lobster hatchery.

DwyranThe zoo is situated beside the pebbly shore of the Menai Strait, from where there is a superb view across the water to Caernarfon Castle, a perfect place for our picnic lunch.



Newborough Warren


Newborough WarrenFormer inhabitants of Llanfaes, ousted by Edward I, founded Newborough in 1303. Violent storms in the Middle Ages covered a huge area of farmland with sand but in Tudor times the dunes were stabilised by planting marram grass from which mats and netting were produced.

More recently Newborough Warren became home to a huge colony of rabbits, until the animals were almost wiped out by myxomatosis in 1954. The warren is now a national nature reserve, with paths through the dunes and plants including thyme and marsh orchids. There is a small lake that attracts ducks, grebes, coots, moorhens and twitchers.



Llanddwyn Bay


Newborough ForestA 4 mile stretch of sand, between Abermenai Point and the start of Llanddwyn Island, is bordered by the dunes to the east and the Newborough Forest to the west. There is a toll road into the forest and a car park at the end from where there are a number of forest walks and a beach.

Llanddwyn Island is really a peninsula and is named after St Dwynwen, patron saint of Welsh lovers, who founded a convent there in the 5th century. Several crosses commemorate her and ruins survive of a Tudor church built on the site of her chapel. At the tip of the island there is a disused lighthouse beside some cottages that once belonged to pilots who guided vessels over the sandbars at the entrance to the Menai Strait.

At Llys Rhosyr there is the site of one of the Royal palaces of the Princes of Gwynedd. The building has been preserved whole, having been buried since 1320.



Malltraeth


MalltraethWe drove north beside Malltraeth Sands to where the Cefni estuary is blocked by a huge embankment. Malltraeth means 'salt marsh' in Welsh and flooding was a regular occurrence until 1818, when Thomas Telford built the impressive embankment known as Malltraeth Cob and the river was canalised. Before this the estuary penetrated far inland and almost cut Anglesey in two.

MalltraethIt is very pretty with fine sands and bird-haunted salt marshes, but no paths along the western shore, although the marsh and dunes along the eastern side are still part of the Newborough nature reserve.



Aberffraw


AberffrawWe drove across the small peninsula to Aberffraw, a village which has little to show of its historic past. A royal palace is thought to have been nearby, belonging to Rhodri the Great in AD 870 and continuing until Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was killed by the forces of Edward I in 1282. Some of the stonework in the 12th century Church of St Beuno is said to be remains of it.

AberffrawWe were too late to visit the Llys Llywelyn Coastal Heritage Centre but saw the 18th century stone bridge over the swift-flowing Afon Ffraw that reaches the sea by the sandy beach of Traeth Mawr.

A two mile walk along the cliffs leads to an islet that can be reached by a causeway at low tide and houses the disused Church of St Cwyfan.



Porth Trecastell


Cable BayThis small sandy beach, with ideal conditions for surfing, is also known as Cable Bay because the transatlantic telegraph cable comes ashore there.

 

Barclodiad y GawresAs we drove away, we spotted the burial chamber of Barclodiad y Gawres on the headland that was built around 2500 BC but we would have had to go back to Aberffraw for the key.



Rhosneigr


RhosneigrThis is now a resort that was developed towards the end of the 19th century. The streets are narrow with whitewashed cottages and it was once a base for shipbuilding and for shipwrecking gangs. The 'Crigyll Wreckers' used to lure ships onto the rocks and plunder them before help arrived.

There are wide sands of Crigyll Beach and Cymyran Beach with the usual holiday activities with static caravans and an 18-hole golf course.

The railway passes north west beside the Valley airfield that serves as a training school for RAF jet pilots and a base for sea and mountain rescue helicopters. We had to drive beneath the railway where we saw a camper van trying to get under the low bridge. (Been there!)




Holy Island


The road detour was quite a way inland via the town of Dyffryn (Valley) that is set in a cutting made through a hill in the early 19th century during the construction of the A5. From here, 2 major roads, a railway and a minor road all pass over bridges to Holy Island and the area is dominated by the RAF station. We took the 'B' road over Four Mile Bridge and drove onto Holy Island.

Holyhead MountainAt 720 ft, Holyhead Mountain still exercises a compulsive attraction as the highest point on the island and many prehistoric monuments survive here. Holy Island has been known to have traded with Ireland for four thousand years and anything from axes to gold came into Anglesey. Today the boats still run to Ireland from Holyhead harbour

Rhoscolyn
From the tiny village of Rhoscolyn, narrow lanes lead to sandy coves along the rocky coast, east to Silver Bay and south to Borthwen Bay. Offshore, on a small rocky crag, Rhoscolyn Beacon warns ships of the outlying rocks. The area was once renowned for oysters and its local marble.



Trearddur Bay


Porth DafarchWe ate fish and chips beside the cliff-girt cove of Porth Dafarch and stayed at pretty Treaddur Bay for the night.

Treaddur BayThe bay cuts deeply into the narrow neck of Holy Island and the whole area is rocky coves and small sandy beaches. There is a small promenade and family amenities.

Treaddur BayThe main beach is a long stretch of sand with rocky outcrops where there is surfing, canoeing and windsurfing and there is a nature reserve at the southern end which in late spring is covered in the rockroses.

 



South Stack


South StackSouth StackThe next morning was sunny and we threaded our way along the narrow coast roads to Holy Island's northwestern tip. Here, overlooked by 200 ft vertical cliffs with awesome geology, is a huge rock crowned by the 90 ft South Stack Lighthouse.

It was constructed in 1809 and automated in 1984 and is reached by a precipitous flight of over 400 steps and a short suspension bridge over turbulent waters. It's construction must have been an amazing feat of engineering.

inside lighthouse
The cliffs above South Stack, part of an RSPB nature reserve, are noted for their vast numbers of sea birds, including a large colony of puffins. We saw a peregrine falcon on her nest.

400 steps

 

Ellen's TowerAfter a long, hot walk back up the steps we had an excellent mug of coffee at the nearby café. On the rock face to the south of the lighthouse is Ellen's Tower which was built in the 18th century as a summerhouse by the Stanleys of Alderley and is now the reserve's visitor centre. We could see the island of North Stack and The Skerries Lighthouse in the distance.



Holyhead Mountain


SignOn the lower slopes to the west is the well preserved settlement of Cytiau'r Gwyddelod, inhabited during the 3rd and 4th centuries. The low stone walls of 19 huts survive, some showing where the inhabitants placed their fires, their seats and their beds.

Cytiau'r GwyddelodThe stony mountain is really a hill covered in gorse and heather and on the summit are the remains of an Iron Age fort and the ruins of a Roman watchtower. On the northeastern slopes is a former quarry used for the building of Holyhead's breakwater that is now the Breakwater Country Park.



Holyhead


HolyheadAnglesey's largest town is called Caergybi in Welsh. 'Caer' refers to a fortress built by the Romans, and much of its surrounding walls remain, encircling the Church of St Cybi, originally founded in 550AD. In the southwest corner of the churchyard is the small chapel of Eglwys-y-Bedd, marking the grave of Seregri, leader of Irish raiders in the 6th century.

It became a large port from the 16th century and in 1821 of a new toll road, engineered by Thomas Telford provided a direct link with London - the A5. Its opening in the presence of George IV is commemorated by a triumphal arch that we found by the harbour on the wrong side of two metal fences!

BreakwaterA railway was soon built and then the 1½ mile breakwater that surrounds a marina and has a lighthouse on the end.

Holyhead is a major ferry terminal for Ireland and there is a brand new dual carriageway that eventually joins with the M6.

ferry terminalTwo ferries were moored in the harbour and there are at least 5 sailings a day. There is a maritime museum on Newry Beach showing the history of the port.



Penrhos Coastal Park


Penrhos Coastal ParkBeside the A5 is an aluminium smelting works with a tall chimney that can be seen for miles. To its west, is the lovely Beddnanach Bay, crossed by the Stanley Embankment that carries the A5 and railway. Bordering the bay is the Penrhos Estate. The Penrhos woods were created in the early 1900s with broad-leaved trees, but most were replaced in the 1960s with commercial forestry species.

Paths cross the park and it is a bird refuge. The freshwater lakes were flooded by seawater during exceptionally strong storms in 1990.

tollhouseThe old tollhouse built in the 19th century at the start of the A5 has been moved from its original position, and re-erected in the park as a tearoom.

We bought a snack lunch in Tesco and ate it beside the sands, before driving back through Valley and on to the beaches overlooking Holyhead Bay



Porth Penrhyn Mawr and Porth Tywyn Mawr


Porth Penrhyn MawrTwisty lanes lead to the quiet shingle beach, but there is a large caravan site here. There are good views over Holyhead harbour to watch the boats.

Porth Tywyn MawrAnother lane travels across rolling grassland before ending by a wide, dune-backed sandy beach with a scattering of rocky islets offshore.

There was absolutely no parking left along the side of the road because the place was heaving with wet-suited clad holidaymakers. There was a good view of the caravan site though.



Porth Swtan


Church BayAfter a few wrong turns, we finally found the road to Porth Swtan or Church Bay. It was well worth discovering as the sheltered bay has a fine, long beach with reefs and rock pools that are exposed at low tide.

Church BaySteps lead down through the red cliffs that flank the wide bay, and there is a superb view of Holyhead Mountain across the water.

I made a blunder and missed the last thatched cottage that is right next to the car park even though it was open.



Carmel Head


West MouseAnglesey's northwestern corner is a treacherous area for shipping, this remote area has steep cliffs and two navigation beacons on the headland. A third is set offshore on the islet of West Mouse and further out are The Skerries with their lighthouse, built in 1841 to replace a fire in a brazier kept burning by a couple who lived there. There are two more islets on the north coast called Middle Mouse and East Mouse!

Carmel Head is National Trust property and can only be reached by footpath. The cliffs are popular with birdwatchers and on the head is a pine forest where pheasants are reared by a local landowner. We drove towards Cemlyn Bay on roads that had a grass track growing through the middle and were convinced we'd gone the wrong way - thank goodness no one was driving in the opposite direction as there was nowhere to pass.



Cemlyn Bay


NT signThis place was weird but I liked it very much.

WeirThere is a large rocky bay, in which a storm driven shingle ridge has formed that shelters a saltwater lagoon. This forms the Cemlyn Nature Reserve, home to a wide variety of waterfowl, including red-breasted mergansers and its summer tern colony that were currently nesting within the lagoon.

The water level is regulated by a weir that was originally built in 1930.

Cemlyn BayThe lagoon was managed for 40 years by Captain Vivian Hewitt who lived in the house until he died in 1971 and the National Trust bought the estate. He constructed a 12 ft brick wall around his property to provide a nesting sanctuary for his birds.

On the western edge of the bay, a memorial stone records the launch in 1828 of Anglesey's first lifeboat.

Wylfa power stationAcross the bay, on Wylfa Head, the view is dominated by the twin reactors of the Wylfa nuclear power station. The visitor centre was closed and several deserted tour buses were parked outside.

 



Cemaes Bay


Cemaes BayCemaes Bay was the main harbour until the development of Amlwch in the 18th century, a centre for fishing, shipbuilding, and a good deal of smuggling. Now only a few fishing boats shelter behind the harbour breakwater.

There are several sheltered beaches; the biggest is to the east of the harbour and separated from the village by the Afon Wygyr.

Cemaes BayWith more time I would have liked to walk along the cliff-top footpath to the cove of Porth Llanlleiana. It passes 14th century St Padrig's Church, dedicated to St Patrick, who is said to have been shipwrecked nearby. There are ruined buildings of a former china-clay works, the remains of the Celtic hill-fort of Dinas Gynfor and the inlet of Hell's Mouth. Further on is Porth Wen with structures resembling huge beehives that are the remains of an old brick works.

Nearby are several electricity-generating wind turbines but their output must be pretty minimal compared to the nuclear power station next door!.



Bull Bay


Bull BayThis is a small holiday village built around a rocky cove that used to be a busy fishing port and shipbuilding centre, and a depot for pilot boats which met ships making for Amlwch harbour. Now there is a sailing club and a golf course. There are caves to explore at the foot of the cliffs to the west and rock pools left by the tide



Amlwch


AmlwchAmlwch is the biggest town we reached after Holyhead, it was developed as a port and shipbuilding yard to serve the mines of Parys Mountain at the height of the copper boom.

Amlwch harbourTo the east, a picturesque harbour is set in a deep ravine. Pleasure craft now fill the harbour with fishing trips and cruises available and an oil terminal and chemical industries provide the town's employment.



Llaneilian


Llaneilian The north eastern headland of Anglesey is the narrow rocky Point Lynas with its lighthouse.

St EilianIn 1766 the Liverpool Pilotage Service was established here, to send out six-oared gigs to meet ships heading for Merseyside. The headland encloses a pretty sheltered bay where several people were jet-skiing.

In the hilltop is the 15th century Church of St Eilian, built on the site of a 5th century hermitage. Inside are some fine wood carvings



Parys Mountain


Parys Mountain Although not on the coast, I wanted to drive 2 miles inland to the eerie landscape of the old Parys Mountain mines. Now desolate and scarred, 419 ft Parys Mountain was exploited for its copper in a small way by the Romans, but in 1768 there was a boom.

Parys MountainThe Parys Mountain Copper Company employed 1500 people, endowed the town's Church of St Eleth and even minted its own coins for local use.

Examples of the coins, which had the company's initials on one side and a druid's head on the other, can be seen at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.

Parys MountainFortunes were made and for a while Anglesey was the copper centre of the world, but by 1815 copper mining was in decline, and the industry was destroyed by competition from African and American mines, after which the harbour at Amlwch fell into disuse.

WheelhouseA new shaft has been drilled recently and the company is waiting for prices to rise before beginning production.

WindmillWe followed the heritage trail where paths explore the rocky and unstable wilderness surrounded by acidic, ore-stained pools. On the hill are the stump of an old windmill and the ruins of an engine house.

The evening sun made the gold and red colours stand out and it is easy to see how this moon landscape has been used in the making of several sci-fi films. Fantastic.


 

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