Isle fit for a king-to-be

The royals may be off, but Paul Kirkwood finds there’s still good reason to explore their former island home.

The South Stack lighthouse

Sometimes a place gets an unexpected tourism boost.

It happened with Anglesey when Kate and William decided to live there.

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With the heir to the throne having recently announced he is leaving the military after seven years’ service, the island’s most famous residents are about to move on.

In truth it won’t make much difference as there were only the faintest traces of the world’s most famous couple. A Sea King helicopter flew over Holyhead Mountain while I was on a walk – worth a royal wave in case it was Prince William – and there’s a plaque on the lifeboat station at Trearddur Bay which records it was opened by Kate and William on their first official engagement in 2011.

William supposedly proposed to Kate at a safari lodge in Kenya. An equally romantic spot is Llanddwyn Island which I visited on the first day of a four-day tour.

An early resident in the sixth-century was St Dwynwen, the patron saint of lovers to whom the medieval church, now ruins, was dedicated. For such a small island of only 60 acres there’s bags of interest including two former lighthouses, a lifeboat station, large cross and row of pilots’ cottages. Men of families who lived here would meet ships approaching the hazardous Caernarfon Bay and guide them into the Menai Straits.

A short distance further around the coast is an even more enchanting island, containing just a church and cut off from the pebbly beach at high tide. Called “the church in the sea” some of its stonework dates back to the 12th-century.

A far more recent addition to the Anglesley landscape is a racing circuit where motorcycles were competing.

Another of my favourite spots along the coast is the north-western corner. From the rocky summit of Holyhead Mountain I admired the full length of the Holyhead harbour’s breakwater as it snaked out to sea and watched as the Dublin ferry arrived in Wales. For most visitors Anglesey’s capital is purely a gateway out of or into the country via the artery of the A55. They don’t know what they’re missing.

My ramble took me down to a country park built on the site of the former quarry which provided stone for the breakwater and back via the coastal path and South Stack lighthouse. A day of ups and downs ended with plenty more – in the form of the 1,126 steps which led me down a zig-zag path and over a dramatic suspension bridge to the island where the lighthouse is perched and then up to its lamp. Remarkably, a 150 watt bulb only 2.5ins long generates a glow that can be seen up to 20 miles away.

My favourite part of Wales’s biggest island was the south-eastern peninsula. Most of it was owned from the 15th-century until recent times by the Bulkeley dynasty. In fact, I could barely get away from the family. On the final day of my bike ride I passed entrance lodges to their former seat (now derelict and lost in the trees) near Beaumaris and an obelisk in honour of Victorian Sir Richard. I paused at the ruins of Penmon Priory bought by the family following the dissolution.

Sadly I didn’t have time to visit Beaumaris Castle (once owned by the you-know-whos) and finished up in gaol.

Operated as a prison in the mid-19th-century and subsequently as a police station and tourist attraction, the building has retained every bit of its forbidding gloominess. I was last out at 5pm after which the keepers locked the gates behind me.

I’d have been happy for a longer detention – in gaol and on Anglesey.

I’ll have to come back with the family as, I expect, will Kate and William.

Getting there

Bryn Aethwy B&B, Menai Bridge (01248 712228, www.brynaethwy.com). Large, recently renovated Victorian house on National Cycle Network. From £80 for a double/twin.

Trearddur Bay Hotel, Trearddur Bay (01407 860301, www.trearddurbayhotel.co.uk). Small hotel yards from the blue flag beach of the same name. From £80 per person.

Ty Dderw Country Inn, Moelfre (01248 410777, www.tydderw.co.uk). Stylish converted farmhouse just outside picturesque fishing village. From £70 for a double/twin.

Beaumaris Gaol & Courtroom. Open Easter to Sept from 10.30-5pm and in Oct at weekends and half-term. Closed Fridays. Joint ticket £7.50 for adults and £6 for children. 01248 810921.

Beaumaris Castle. Open daily except Christmas. Adults £4.50 and family ticket £13.50. 01248 810361. Three or seven day explorer passes available for free admission to historic sites in the care of Cadw.

For more information about cycling on Anglesey see visitanglesey.co.uk/en-GB/cycling-19.aspx.