Anglesey: Helen Werin explores the island known as the ‘mother’ of Wales
Never has an ancient building looked so appealing. We’ve arrived on Ynys Mon, to give Anglesey its proper Welsh name, in atrocious weather. When we park alongside the prom at Beaumaris, our vehicle quickly becomes an island too. Part of the road floods as the Menai Strait flings its worst at us. It’s so blustery I can barely open the door. Beaumaris Castle, the last – and the largest – in Edward I’s chain looks a fitting refuge.
We make a mad dash for the castle across the seafront, but find little shelter because it was never actually finished. It’s a perfectly-symmetrical white elephant, though fascinating to explore. What a shame Edward never got round to completing this mammoth build. He had also forced a large chunk of the local population to move 12 miles to make way for it.
We’d had high expectations of Beaumaris. The local tourism officer had gushed that the town was “so pretty, that even the jail is picturesque”. The rain stops briefly, just long enough for us to clamber up on the castle ramparts. And yes. We can see that Beaumaris is lovely. Streets of pastel-painted cottages with roses around the door and small shops dripping with floral decorations. We get glimpses of the Snowdonia mountains across the straits.
While it was tempting to linger a while, we were determined not to let the punishing weather stop us walking some of Anglesey’s beautiful coastline. I’d heard that the island’s beaches were among the best in the UK so we make Benllech, one of the most popular, our first stop.
The appetite is whetted on the road down by misty views of the Great Orme headland above Llandudno. Waves are splashing over the sea wall, while families shelter in the shuttered ice cream kiosk. When we visit next day in what turns out to be a rare spot of blazing sunshine the beach looks fabulous and is, not surprisingly, packed.
We discover one after another of gorgeous, unspoilt, uncrowded beaches. Beyond the miles of sand at Llanddwyn, the Lleyn Peninsula sits on the horizon. Lligwy has soft white dunes. Out in the bay is tiny Ynys Dulas, the scene of so many shipwrecks that a refuge stocked with food and water was built on it. Seemingly-endless Llanddona looks out along the entire east coast of Anglesey and several appealing beaches circle Cemaes, Wales’s most northerly village.
The sun also brings out the wildlife. Anglesey’s one of the best places in Britain to spot red squirrels and we see a few of them in the woods at Newborough. There’s even more in the arboretum at Plas Newydd, home of the Marquess of Anglesey. From the lovely gardens here we watch water skiers and pleasure boaters out in force on the Menai Strait.
At Coed Cyrnol nature reserve, near Menai Bridge, footpaths lead us down to the water’s edge, home to redshanks, dunlin and oystercatchers. At low tide you can walk over to Church Island for even better views.
It’s on Holy Island – the area including Holyhead that’s an island in its own right – that we go in search of the dramatic Bwa Gwyn sea arch that we’ve seen in postcards. An easy three-mile walk takes us across the Rhoscolyn headland and past the coastguard lookout staffed by volunteers. Goats, imported from the Great Orme, leap about the rocky cliffs. There’s dozens of red-beaked choughs as we walk past the ancient St Gwenfaen’s well. Off Borthwen beach the islands are also smothered in birds.
Near Aberffraw, we’re divebombed by a squeaking oystercatcher as we photograph St Cwyfan’s Church, known as the church in the sea. It’s on a tiny island, which we reach via a rocky path at low tide. It’s a stunning location.
The 18th-century copper mine at Parys Mountain above Amlwch resembles the surface of the moon so much that sci-fi movies have been made here. To say that it’s other-worldly and slightly spooky does not begin to describe this incredible landscape.
We’re surrounded by rocks tinged with purples, oranges, yellows and reds. We’re looking at a mountain with its heart quite literally ripped out.
Down at Porth Amlwch, where the vast quantities of copper ore were smelted and shipped around the globe, we imagine another nightmarish place, a flaming, raging crucible of industry with smelters, chemical works, sawmills and conical sulphur extraction kilns 35ft high. After the mines were exhausted, Porth Amlwch developed a thriving shipbuilding industry. Looking at the peaceful village now it is very hard to equate it with a major industrial town 240 years ago.
On our last day we leave the pretty beaches of Treaddur Bay for what the RSPB calls “seabird city” at the clifftop Ellins Tower. All I can hear above the gusty weather is the foghorn from South Stack lighthouse 400 steps below. My husband yells: “Come and see this!”
I climb up to where signs warn about unprotected cliffs and peer gingerly over the edge. Hundreds of guillemots are squeezed onto every available shelf of rock and making an absolute racket.
Fog and bad weather may have thwarted my ambition of seeing seals or even dolphins out in the Irish Sea, but this wonderful guillemot concert provides an unforgettable finale.
Helen stayed at Home Farm Caravan Park, Marianglas. LL73 8PH. 01248 410614, www.homefarm-anglesey.co.uk
For tourist information go to www.visitanglesey.co.uk or www.anglesesyssattractions.co.uk
Walking: A variety of free walking leaflets are available from Llanfairpwll Tourist Information Centre. Tel: 01248 713177 or download individual walks from www.visitanglesey.co.uk
Cycling: The 13m linear Lôn Las Cefni, mostly traffic-free and flat, connects the two National Cycle Routes which cross Anglesey. If you’re feeling energetic, a 34 mile (55k) circular tour, the Copper Trail takes you past the island’s last surviving thatched cottage at Swtan, the only working windmill in Wales at Llynnon Mill and the Copper Kingdom around Parys Mountain and Porth Amlwch. For more information go to; www.visitanglesey.co.uk/cycling