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Isle of Anglesey

‘Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllandysiliogogogoch Pronouncing the name of this small Anglesey village might present a problem to even the most fluent of Welsh speakers! For my part, however, I can reel it off without the slightest hesitation since I hail from North Wales, and Welsh is my native tongue. Furthermore, it’s relatively easy from anywhere in North Wales to reach Bangor, which is literally ‘a stone’s throw’ from Anglesey. Or perhaps I should say that it’s a mere brief car or bus ride from Bangor across the Menai Straits along the Menai Bridge – the first heavy-duty suspension bridge that was built by Thomas Telford in 1826. Prior to the building of this bridge Anglesey was not linked to the mainland. Now, of course, there is also the Britannia Bridge, designed by Robert Stephenson, which opened in 1850, and along which the train from Bangor to Holyhead travels.

In addition, the route across the Menai Bridge is now a continuation of the A5 – which can result in some less knowledgeable travellers heading for Caernarfon and the Lleyn Peninsula ending up in Anglesey! And one of the first places they come to is the fore-mentioned village, which is generally referred to as ‘Llanfair PG’ or ‘Llanfairpwll’. In fact, this was Anglesey’s first train station, and it remains a stop on the Bangor-Holyhead mainline! ‘Llanfair PG’ may be listed in the record books as having the longest place name in the whole of the United Kingdom, but in reality it’s a small village with only a population of 2,500. Originally known as ‘Llanfairpwllgwyngyll’, which most visitors had difficulty in pronouncing in the first place, its name was changed in the in droves!

Translated into English, the full name reads ‘St. Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel near the Rapid Whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the Red Cave’. And a large platform ticket bearing the full Welsh name can still be bought at the station as a souvenir. Anglesey itself is 276 square miles and is considered to be the largest island in Wales and England, and it is believed to have a population of about 71,000. The island is apparently sometimes referred to as ‘Mam Cymru’ (Mother of Wales) since for centuries it has been described as ‘North Wales’s bread basket’ because of its extensive fertile agricultural terrain.

And it continues to produce vast quantities of cereal crops and beef. It’s claimed that during the twelfth century Giraldus Cambrensis commented that ‘when crops have failed in other regions, this island from its soil and its abundant produce, has been able to supply all Wales’. And it’s claimed that the land still remains ‘predominantly pastoral, with small fields, stone walls and white houses’. It’s claimed too that in the past, the island relied on ‘smuggling, copper, coal mining, quarrying and the sea’ as a source of income. Historically, Anglesey is described as ‘the Celts’ last refuge in Britain against the Roman advance’, and as a result it is referred to as ‘the Welsh heartland’.

It’s claimed that at the time, as a result of the teachings of the Druids – the Celts’ religious leaders- Anglesey had become a sort of spiritual centre, and they resisted the Roman invasion with great ferocity. But the Romans finally managed to cross the Menai Straits in boats.

Included among Anglesey’s historic attractions is ‘Plas Newydd’, a three storey mansion situated about a mile and a half south of ‘Llanfair PG’, and described as one of North Wales’ finer stately homes. This is a mansion that was renovated in Gothic style by James Wyatt in the late 18th century for the first Marquis of Anglesey, Henry William Paget, who was the principal Commander of the Allied Cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo, where in the course of the battle, he lost a leg. Many of the mansion’s rooms feature paintings by Rex Whistler, who spent a couple of years here in the 1930s.

But described as the building’s ‘prize exhibit’ is the ‘state of the art wooden leg’ – all wood, leather and springs – which was the world’s first articulated false leg, which was designed for the first Marquis of Anglesey after he lost his leg in the Battle of Waterloo, and which is on display in a little ‘Cavalry Museum’. Anglesey’s coast features some rugged cliffs, rocky headlands, and many sandy beaches. And a favourite beach resort is Beaumaris, which once used to be the island’s principal town and chief port.

The town is now primarily known for its famous castle – Beaumaris Castle – which is described as being Edward I’s ‘finest, last, and most ambitious castle to be built in Wales’. Owain Glyndwr, however, apparently later managed to take it, and held on to it for a period of two years. Now people flock to Beaumaris to enjoy its ‘beach appeal’, and it definitely draws many tourists. In fact, Charles Dickens, it is claimed, once stayed there – at the Old Bull’s Head Inn, where many of the rooms have since been named after some of the characters from his books.

Beaumaris is also an ideal location from which to pursue some walking routes. One particular favourite walk involves travelling two miles northward along the coast from Beaumaris to the resort of Llangoed. From Llangoed a three hour walk takes one to Penmon Point, which is Anglesey’s easternmost tip. En route one passes through Penmon Village and also one walks past an Augustinian priory which is said to have been founded in the 12th century by Saint Seiriol – one of the island’s saints. Boat trips too can be undertaken from Beaumaris, one of which is to Puffin Island, where there are both puffins and seals. The trip to Puffin Island usually involves an hour’s cruise. Boat trips can also be undertaken that simply cruise along the Menai Straits.

Located on the southern section of Anglesey, lying about nine miles west of ‘Llanfair PG’, and at the western entrance to the Menai Straits, is a peninsula known as Llanddwyn Island (Ynys Llanddwyn). Paradoxically, this is an area that doubles up as both an island and a peninsula for it only becomes an ‘island’ at high tide! The area is part of the Newborough Warren, a National Nature Reserve around what is described as ‘one of the UK’s finest sand-dune systems’. Regarded as the area’s main landmark is its disused lighthouse, known as Twr Mawr (translated Large Tower), which was built in 1845 and designed to resemble a windmill. The area is considered to be a wonderfully serene and isolated place for walking, having grassy dunes and a long, coarse beach that is believed to be about a mile in length.

According to legend, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, known as St. Dwynwen (and one of the 24 daughters of the Welsh Prince Brychan) is said to have founded a chapel on the peninsula in the 5th century. And there are ruins of a chapel on the peninsula, which was believed to have been built in the 16th century – when apparently the Dwynwen pilgrimages were at their height!

North west of Newborough lies the village of Aberffraw, from which a mile long lane runs down to a tiny cove known as Porth Cwyfan. And on a small nearby island there stands a church known as ‘Church of St. Cwyfan’ – also referred to as ‘Church in the Sea’ – which dates back to the 12th century.

North of Aberffraw, and south of the seaside resort of Rhosneigr, lies Wales’ most important Neolithic site, a burial chamber known as ‘Barclodiad y Gawres’ – which translates as ‘The Giantess’ Apron’! Dramatically situated at the top of a cliff, the burial chamber has a cross shaped inner chamber and several side chambers.

Also regarded as one of Anglesey’s most important Neolithic monuments is ‘Bryn Celli Ddu’ – a burial chamber in which archaeologists found the remains of Stone Age people. And this particular site lies just two miles west of ‘Llanfair PG’. Holyhead (Caergybi) is probably Anglesey’s most well known town, being situated on the island’s north west coast, and representing both the end of the ‘railway line’ and the end of the A5 main road. For, beyond Holyhead lies the sea, beyond which lies the unseen shores of Ireland. And it’s from Holyhead that the ferry boats leave for both Dublin and Dun Laoghaire in Ireland. And it’s claimed that even ‘day trips’ to Ireland can be arranged at ‘special offer’ prices. The ‘Holy Island’ (Ynys Gybi) is separated from the island of Anglesey by sandbanks and a narrow channel. It’s ‘Holy’ because this was the terrain of a monk known as St. Cybi who was granted land for a monastic settlement during the 6th century.

Holyhead’s Maritime Museum is said to merit a visit. Situated in an old lifeboat house, its exhibits include model ships, photographs and other examples of maritime history. West of the town rises the 700 foot Holyhead Mountain (Mynydd Twr) – Anglesey’s highest point – whose summit is encircled by a pre-historic 17 acre hill fort known as ‘Caer y Twr’

Further west one descends to a rock called ‘South Stack’, where there is a lighthouse that dates from 1809, which is open to the public. And above it stands the RSPB Ellin’s Tower Sea Bird Centre – initially a private bird watching refuge – from where one can look down at Anglesey’s myriad bird population, which includes cloughs, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes, gulls, and even puffins. By following the South Stack Road one can locate the excavated foundation of a Circle of Stone Age huts which are called ‘Ty Mawr’. And two and a half miles south of Holyhead is Anglesey’s main water sports centre, namely Trearddur Bay. In fact, Anglesey abounds with beaches and bays, and represents the perfect holiday location for those seeking sea, sand and superb coastal scenery……

Roberta Crookes has worked as a newspaper journalist throughout most of her life, writing news stories, editorial features, advertisement supplements, and reviews. And in the course of her work she has interviewed many famous people from all walks of life. She has also managed to combine parallel careers in both journalism and acting, and, being Welsh speaking from North Wales, her main television featured parts have been Welsh language roles with BBC Wales.