An island lighthouse that marks the approach to Holyhead
The north-western coast of Anglesey is still surprisingly untouched by tourism. Tiny coves hidden below the cliffs and far from the nearest village are often difficult to find, and difficult to reach; but their remoteness ensures tranquillity even in the best weather and at the height of the holiday season. Holyhead Mountain looks down on one side to the port of Holyhead and on the other to the lighthouse set dramatically on South Stack.
The headland was an important landfall in the days of sail. Anxious Liverpool shipowners could be reassured about the arrival of their vessels by semaphore messages passed from there, by way of Mynydd Eilian, Puffin Island, the Great Orme at Llandudno and Hilbre Island, off the Wirral, in just 5 minutes.
But the headland has its dangers too, three-quarters of a mile to the north-east lies the group of rocks called West Mouse, and 2 miles to the north-west are the Skerries, with their lonely lighthouse. This was built in 1841 to replace a fire in a brazier kept burning by a man and wife who lived out on the rocks to maintain this lonely duty. The lighthouse was once privately owned and ships paid a toll each time they passed.
There are boat trips to the islands in settled weather, and fishermen can try for skate, ray, tope, pollack and mackerel.
This beach, partly pebble and partly sand, can be approached by road as far as the car park at the top of the cliff. Small boats can be taken down the narrow, twisting track to the beach for launching. The bay offers safe swimming, against the dramatic backdrop of Holyhead Mountain across the water.
The bay owes its English name to the church which sits 200 yds from the top of the cliffs behind the bay. In Welsh, however, it is known as Porth Swtan, ‘The Cove of the Swedes’, suggesting that it was once a landing place for Viking raiders who plagued this coast in the Dark Ages.
PORTH TYWYN MAWR
A sweep of sand edged by dunes rather than cliffs, Porth Tywyn Mawr is also known as Sandy Beach, and is best approached along the track leading to Sandy Beach Farm from Llanfwrog. Parking is limited along the verge of the road, but the bay offers safe swimming and seclusion.
PORTH PENRHYN MAWR
This quiet shingle beach lies on the opposite side of Holyhead Harbour from the town of Holyhead. To reach it, take the minor road west from Llanfwrog, then instead of turning right for Sandy Beach Farm take the track straight ahead.
Anglesey’s largest town is called in Welsh Caergybi. ‘Caer’, or fortress, refers to the fort the Romans built here in the 3rd century AD, and ‘gybi’ is St Cybi, patron of the church which dates back 14 centuries, though most of the existing building is Tudor. There are links with the town’s older past, too: the little church of Eglwys-y-Bedd (Church of the Grave) is supposed to contain the tomb of Seregri, leader of a band of Irish raiders who was killed in battle by the Welsh chieftain Caswallon Llawhir (Longhand) in the 5th century AD.
Holyhead’s harbour was built a century ago. The massive breakwater, nearly 2 miles long and sheltering some 700 acres of water from the fury of storms from the north-west, took almost 30 years to build. A triumphal arch put up in 1821 commemorates the opening of Thomas Telford’s road from London and the visit of George IV. The road was soon joined by the railway, and now the harbour sees a brisk trade in container traffic as well as passenger and car traffic to and from Dun Laoghaire and Dublin.
Salt Island, in the centre of the harbour, was named after an unsuccessful 18th-century experiment to produce salt from the sea. Between Salt Island and the breakwater, the shingly Newry Beach provides safe swimming close to the centre of the town.
Despite its name, Holyhead Mountain is only 720 ft high, a mere stripling compared with the giants on the other side of the Menai Strait, but by far the highest land on Anglesey. Because of this, it offers splendid views in clear weather – as far as the Isle of Man and even the mountains of Ireland in the right conditions.
The mountain is also covered with evidence of centuries of man’s occupation. Caer y Twr comprises the elaborate and massive defences of a 17 acre ancient hill-fort, while the Cytiau’r Gwyddelod (Irishmen’s Huts) are the stone foundations of a village of circular huts which belonged to a group of skilled workers in wood and metal dating back some 1,700 years; the positioning of the massive stone slabs shows where the inhabitants placed their fires, their seats and their beds.
South Stack is a tiny island off the northwestern tip of Holy Island – itself an island off the north-western tip of Anglesey. It is joined to Holy Island by a small suspension bridge for pedestrians, at the foot of a steep flight of 350 steps down the cliffs, and is crowned by a 90 ft lighthouse, now automatically operated.
High on the cliffs to the south of the lighthouse is Ellin’s Tower, built by the Stanleys of Alderley as a summerhouse, and now converted by the RSPB into a visitor centre for their clifftop bird sanctuary. From the sanctuary there are good views of guillemots and razorbills. A nature trail follows the cliff staircase, while further north the precipitous cliffs of Gogarth Bay, once popular for the hunting of gulls’ eggs for the table, now offer a training ground for intrepid rock-climbers.
A long, sandy beach with rocky outcrops offers good swimming. It is popular with skin-divers for the clearness of the water, and with surfers for the big rolling waves which sweep in when the wind is westerly. Sailing boats use the bay, too, while fishermen can expect tope and ray. At Towyn Lodge, on the south side of the bay, Thomas Telford stayed while supervising the building of the final stages of his London to Holyhead coaching road, the A5, in the early 1800s.
Porth Dafarch, 2 miles to the west, is another sandy bay that offers good swimming, and surfing when westerlies blow. It is popular among small-boat sailors and skin-divers.
A quarter of a mile from the village of
Rhoscolyn, down a narrow, winding road, is hill-fort which stood on the headland overlooking the bay, and its English name of Cable Bay to the transatlantic cable which comes ashore here.
In calm weather, it is safe to swim off the rocks at the entrance to the cove at high tide, while more boisterous conditions bring in waves ideal for surfing. There is a car park next to the main road, and a path to Barclodiad y Gawres, an ancient burial chamber on the headland with elaborate Stone Age wall carvings. a small picturesque, sandy bay called Borth-wen or ‘White Cove’ with safe bathing, and a small car park. There are spectacular walks along the coastal cliffs to the west, to Rhoscolyn Head, the ancient sacred well of Ffynnon Gwenfaen, and on to the Bwa Du, or Black Arch. Fishermen can cast from the rocks for pollack and bass.
China clay was once quarried locally, and marble from nearby quarries was used in the building of Bristol, Peterborough and Worcester cathedrals.
The airfield is an advanced training school for jet pilots and a base for part of No. 22 Squadron’s search-and-rescue helicopters, which have saved numerous lives from sinking ships and sheer cliff-faces all round the North Wales coast. Inland emergencies are dealt with by the RAF Mountain Rescue Unit, which has its headquarters at Valley, and the seaborne arm of the Air Force is represented by rescue launches. Holyhead’s coastguard cliff team are also involved in mountain rescue, covering the formidable cliff area of North and South Stack.
Visitors can watch the airfield at work from a viewing enclosure reached from near the railway bridge at Llanfair-yn-Neubwll. The road to Camau leads to an even more spectacular view, from a parking area at the end of one of the runways. From there a footpath leads down to the shore at Cymyran.
The name Valley did not exist before 1822. It was created by Thomas Telford when, during the building of the A5 road, a cutting was made through a small hill. Excavations in the area during the Second World War disclosed by chance an Iron Age hoard of weapons which are now in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. skills of flying high-speed jet aircraft.
Rhosneigr’s neat, clean streets of whitewashed cottages give little evidence of its past. The village was once a shipbuilding centre for western Anglesey, while the Afon Crigyll, north of the village, was the haunt of the Wreckers of Crigyll, a gang so notorious that a ballad was written to mark their trial at Beaumaris in 1741 and subsequent hanging. Today the waters where the wreckers lured ships to their doom are crowded with sailing dinghies and fishing boats. The sandy beach, studded with rocky outcrops, offers good swimming and, when weather conditions are right, spectacular surfing. Riding stables offer a chance to explore the miles of gorse and sand-dunes of Tywyn Trewan Common on horseback. The name Rhosneigr is said to be derived from Rhos-y-Neidr (’Moor of the Adder’).
A sheltered sandy cove between steep cliffs only a stone’s throw from the A4080, Porth Trecastell owes its Welsh name to the ancient