A maze of clifftop paths above sheltered Anglesey coves
Anglesey’s northern and eastern coasts, notorious for their violent past of smuggling and shipwreck, offer shelter from the south-west winds that makes them ideal for summer-holiday resorts. There are many different coves and harbours, the more remote among them offering peace and seclusion. Above them, clifftop walks provide breathtaking views, and reminders of the peoples who lived on this coastline in earlier days.
This tiny, remote cove with a sand-and-shingle beach is approached by a footpath from the right-angle bend in the minor road 150 yds back from the clifftop; there is limited parking on the verge. Because of its remoteness, it is often possible to find relative solitude at Hen Borth even on a sunny summer’s day.
Mynachdy (Monks’ House), half a mile to the west, is built on the site of an old monastery. Local legend says there is an underground passage from the monastery cellars underneath the house to a cave in the cliffs where the monks’ treasure was hidden for safe keeping.
Near the headland is one of the two nuclear power stations in North Wales (and the eighth built in Britain) – a 1,000 megawatt station providing electricity for North Wales and north-west England. The nuclear reactor needs 55 million gallons of seawater every hour to cool it. There is an exhibition and public observation tower on the edge of the site, and on weekdays throughout the year tours of the station start from the Information Centre. The headland is open to the public, and there is a waymarked cliff walk on the south-eastern side which starts from the power-station car park and takes about an hour to complete.
Before Amlwch’s harbour was built at the end of the 18th century, Cemaes Bay was the centre of the coastal trade in this part of Anglesey, and of the smuggling that went with it. Since then, the fishing trade has risen and then declined, to be replaced by tourism. Within the bay are no fewer than five beaches, three predominantly sandy and two with stretches of pebbles, but all providing safe bathing.
There are good cliff walks, too, westwards towards Wylfa Head and eastwards across cliffs owned by the National Trust, with superb scenery, to Llanbadrig, The clifftop church there is said to have been founded by St Patrick in gratitude for surviving a shipwreck on the Middle Mouse rocks just offshore.
This three-sided bay, a deep bite into Anglesey’s northern cliffs, is more difficult to reach, and therefore more secluded, than most bays in the vicinity. Follow the farm road leading off the A5025 Cemaes to Amlwch road, and then the track down to the beach. The bay was not always so quiet, for the ruins on the western side of the cove are those of the once-flourishing Cemais Brick Works.
A clifftop path leads over the old hill-fort of Dinas Gynfbr, perched on the northernmost headland of Wales, to the even smaller and lonelier cove of Porth Llanlleiana. The ruined buildings at the head are the remains of a china-clay industry once centred on Dinas Gynfor.
Once a busy little shipbuilding port, and later a depot for the four-oared pilot boats which rowed out to guide incoming ships safely into harbour, Bull Bay has settled easily into a newer role as a holiday resort. The rocky beach offers plenty of pools left by the falling tide, and the cliffs contain sheltered coves and caves. Boats can be hired from the harbour. There are cliff walks with unrivalled sea views, fishing from the rocks for flatfish and codling, and an 18 hole golf course.
At the beginning of the last century this was the busiest and most prosperous part of all Anglesey, with 1,500 men, women and even children toiling high on the lunar industrial landscape of nearby Parys Mountain to produce 80,000 tons of top-grade copper ore a year. So good was the copper that when the country ran short of small change at the end of the 18th century the Parys Mountain Copper Company minted its own coinage: 250 tons of pennies and 50 tons of halfpennies, each with the company’s initials on one side and a Druid’s head on the other.
The old port of Amlwch was built in 1793 to load the ships which took the ore all over the world, and the ruins of the warehouse, offices and smelting shops can still be seen on the quayside today. But by the end of the 19th century the boom was over, and falling prices, due to competition from American and African mines, caused the mines and the harbour to fall into disuse. Many ships were built at Amlwch, and the remains of the yards and slipways can still be seen.
Now the quays and the waters of the bay are busy again, with pleasure-boats and the traffic resulting from Shell’s offshore marine terminal, from which supertankers can pipe their liquid cargo direct to Stanlow refinery in England. In the town is a sports and leisure centre with a heated indoor swimming pool.
Llyn Alaw, 4 miles to the south-east, is Anglesey’s largest lake – 77 acres of water with fishing for trout and picnic areas on its banks.
The village is close to the cliffs of Point Lynas and to the pebbles, rock pools and firm sand which appear at low water in the little bay of Porth Eilean, lying below the road leading from the village to the Point Lynas lighthouse. The lighthouse, signal and telegraph station were established in 1835 by the trustees of Liverpool docks. Six-oared pilot boats used to be moored at the Point, and ships making for Merseyside still take on pilots here.
The village church is mainly 15th century, though the pepper-box tower dates from the 12th century and there was a church there for 700 years before that. Look out for the tongs, used for separating fighting dogs, the painted skeleton with the motto ‘Colyn Angan yw Pechod’ (The Sting of Death is Sin), and the chapel through the small doorway in the chancel, Inside the chapel is the wooden base of a panelled shrine with a missing panel. Traditionally anyone who can squeeze through and turn without touching the sides will have good luck.
The shingle beach is one of several south of Point Lynas that can be reached only from the sea or by a 10-15 minute walk across fields. The footpaths leading to the shore start from narrow lanes where parking is difficult.
Ynas Dulas, about a mile offshore, is a rocky islet where many ships came to grief in the days of sail.
One of the wide, sandy beaches typical of the east-facing coast of Anglesey, Traeth Lligwy offers good swimming and plenty of space. To the south, a clifftop walk leads to Moelfre, while to the north a trek leads to a more secluded but equally sandy beach at Traeth yr Ora.
The lane from the southern end of Traeth Lligwy leading back to the main road passes two echoes of the remote past: the fortified village of Din Lligwy, dating back more than 1,600 years and one of the major native settlements of the Roman period, and the even older Lligwy burial chamber, a vast tomb which, when it was excavated in the early years of this century, was found to contain the bones of more than 30 people.
The picturesque little village straggles along the edge of a rocky headland, which presents a dangerous obstacle to shipping in stormy weather. So Moelfre’s lifeboat is justly famous, with almost 1,000 lives saved in 150 years. Its two most famous rescues occurred a century apart, to the very day.
On the night of October 25/26,’ 1859, a ferocious storm smashed 114 ships on to the rock-bound coast of Wales. One of them was the iron-hulled sailing ship Royal Charter, homeward bound from Australia to Liverpool with a cargo of wool, sheepskins and half a million pounds’ worth of gold when she was driven on to an underwater ledge of rock just north of Moelfre. A sailor managed to swim to shore with a line, and the rescuers set up a breeches buoy on the cliffs; but before they could pluck the passengers to safety, the ship broke her back in the high seas. The sailors, the villagers and the lifeboat crew managed to save a dozen lives, while more than 400 men, women and children, many of them gold-miners and their families, were drowned.
Two-thirds of the Royal Charter’s gold was later recovered. Two months after the tragedy Charles Dickens visited Moelfre and adapted the story of the wreck for a tale in The Uncommercial Traveller. There is a memorial to the victims in nearby Llanallgo Church, and another on the cliffs where the rescuers strove in vain.
On the 100th anniversary of the Royal Charter shipwreck, another local emergency had a happier ending, when eight crew members of the 650 ton coaster Hindlea were rescued by the Moelfre lifeboat, a feat which earned coxswain Richard Evans his second RNL1 gold medal for gallantry.
Those who visit Moelfre in better weather can swim in safety from its pebbly beach. There are boats for hire, and the sheltered waters of the bay are popular among sailing and water-ski enthusiasts. There are splendid walks around the headland from the small car park at the end of the main street, with good views of the Anglesey coastline. Keen fishermen can try for mackerel from the rocks beyond the lifeboat station.
A small sheltered bay, flanked by rocks and banks of shingle, Traeth Bychan (small beach) is one of Anglesey’s most popular places for small-boat sailing. The sailing club has a slipway, but there is a speed limit for powerboats in the bay. Swimming is safe close inshore, but beware of fast currents sweeping round the bay further out, especially when the tide is ebbing.
A long stretch of beach is backed by cliffs which are studded with fossils – mainly corals, showing that this was once a subtropical sea-bed. Bathing is safe, as is boating in settled weather, for the island offers shelter from the prevailing south-west winds. Ramps lead down to the beach, and small boats can be manhandled across the sand. There are tennis and bowls in the village, and riding stables near by for exploring the area on horseback.
PLACE TO SEE INLAND
Llangetni, 9 miles SW of Moelfre. Open air market. Thurs; leisure centre, daily.