Sunday, December 31, 2006

As 2006 comes to a close

It has been quite a year for us. In 2005 we decided that we had done as much as we could with the garden, here in Penysarn. When Spring 2006 arrived, there I was erecting a new greenhouse on a cold day. Shortly afterwards I had to force myself, in changeable weather, to put the glass in. Now we could make a start with growing lots of flowers from seed. So we set to and began sowing seeds in trays. By the time we had finished sowing both lengths of staging were full of trays filled with what looked like just compost. Weeks later we had the joy of visiting the greenhouse to view the progress of the seeds which were growing heathily.

As time went on we reached the point at which we planted the results in the garden where they continued to grow. By Easter we had decided to dig some flower beds to a design we liked and suddenly we had a very neat looking garden with the first plants nicely settled in. The photograph shows the garden at the end of May. By this time I had added stepping stones from the house to the greenhouse as can be seen. Some of the seeds were vegetables and these were planted out in a newly dug plot at the other end of the garden. The early potatoes were affected by late frosts and heavy rain so they ended up being harvested as late potatoes!
As the growing season accelerated I realised I was having problems keeping up to the lawns. They are small but, as I have asthma, the front lawns which are sloping were very hard work and made me ill sometimes. So, another decision was made: we bought a self-propelled petrol lawnmower. This meant that I could now cut the grass at the front without concern over how to push the mower up the slope. I just engaged the gears and off it went! But the biggest problem of all was the strimmer. It died on me the first time I took it out for use. Off I went to Bangor to buy a new one. The new one was an updated design with twin lines for strimming. The problem was that the line was used up within minutes and pieces of line were all over the garden. The manufacturers knew what was wrong and sent me a new part to install. It went wrong again - twice. After three failures I was very annoyed and bought a strimmer from another manufacturer and this gave me the same problem. Even today I have no reliable strimmer available to me.
During the summer when we enjoyed high temperatures, we bought and tested our new snorkelling gear ready for our holiday in September. Living on an island with countless beaches is great! We were able to spend a great amount of time outside by the sea. In September we set off to celebrate our Ruby Wedding anniversary on 1st October in Greece. There we visited other islands and really enjoyed our time away. Our celebration on the big day was very leisurely and set in a beautiful place. Two days later we flew home with wonderful memories of a great holiday.
Since then the weather has been often quite extreme. Temperatures have been up but so too have winds. As I write I can hear the high winds blowing from the south west. But it is not raining so I shall not complain. Tomorrow will be the start of another New Year on this lovely island of ours. The day after this will see the world return to normal after the long Christmas and New Year break. I am looking forward to this. The unreal period from Christmas to New Year is a strange experience indeed. It is often difficult to remember what day it is as they are so similar.
Here's to 2007. May it bring us all good things. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Friday, December 29, 2006

A Change in the Weather

Yesterday we took a break from having Tesco deliver our groceries and went into Banfor on the mainland to buy them. Pauliine has been entranced lately with the methods and ideas of Nigella Lawson so she wanted to buy specific items for cooking. To be honest I also like Nigella because she has such a fullsome personality in the way she discusses her approach to cooking food. As we are both into food and drink we watch a lot of cooking programmes on TV.
However, we decided to return home a longer and perhaps prettier way. We drove down the A55 towards Holyhead and then turned off into Valley, turning left for Trearddur Bay. One of the attractions there is that we can park up, facing the sea, and then get an ice cream from the van that is always parked there. With both of us suffering from chest infections we needed something smooth and cold to lubricate our throats.
Now for the bad news. There was no ice cream van there! Anyway, we sat and watched two women handling a jet ski in a very professional manner. They accelerated to speeds that were impressive in the choppy water. It was quite breezy. Next we saw two men set off in what looked like a cross between a jet ski and inflatable dinghy. It turned out to be a four seater jet ski. It was not as manoeverable as a standard jet ski but it could really travel. I eventually got out of the car for a couple of minutes and was subjected to a very noisy time by a Jackdaw who was loudly demanding that I feed him or her. By jove, he wasn't half agressive as he demanded food with was not forthcoming. He just stood at my feet and went on demanding at the top of his voice. Now that was a new experience for me!
Next we drove along the coastal lane, stopping at the small coves to watch the waves hitting the rocks and firing sea water upwards. Our next destination was to be the car park just above the South Stack lighthouse. It really is a lovely picture as you look over the wall and look down at the lighthouse sitting on its separate rocky islet. There are about 400 steps down the cliff to the minute suspension bridge that links Holy Island with the lighthouse. Of course, all lighthouses are now automatic so there are no keepers resident there.
As we looked out over the Irish Sea there was a very slight mist as you tried to find the horizon. At this point the wind was stronger and some seabirds in the distance were flying above the waves with only an occasional flap of the wings, the wind being so strong. The strong breeze was blowing from the south west. This is Anglesey's prevailing wind, the south westerly. It is still blowing today. As I rose today I went straight to my PC to see what the weather forecast was for today. It had recorded 48 mph winds at RAF Valley a little earlier. the next three days are forecast to be windy too. The rain was heavy and beating on the study window.
Eventually, we set off down to Amlwch, about two miles away for our eggs and meat and Pauline's prescription from the pharmacist. Having got what was needed we drove over to Point Lynas near the pilot jetty to see what the sea and weather were like. From up there you could see high winds driving the rain northwards from the land. But the sea was just about calm. It is like this for about five miles out into Liverpool Bay which makes it a good place for ships top wait before entering Liverpool on the appropiate tide. They may get the gale but not the rough seaa that you would associate with a gale at sea. Sadly there were no ships to stare at today.
Yesterday we were able to see the island in beautiful sunlight. Today we had a grey sky which offered no highlights in the countryside or across the sea. Mind you, we enjoyed the privilege of being here to see the island as it was. Over the years we have visited Anglesey in all four seasons and have known all its different views and moods. These days we can see any part of it in any weather at will. Now that is a privilege!

Monday, December 25, 2006


Happy Christmas to you all!
The weather is fine in Anglesey and all around is peace and quiet. May no one be in danger on the sea around us as we celebrate our third Christmas here.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Weather

Heathrow Airport is having another bad time because of the fog that keeps getting dense. Although flights continue to use the airport there are less of them for safety reasons. British Airways are on the receiving end of vitriol because their passengers cannot make the journeys they had planned. Considering the airport runs at 98% capacity it cannot be surprising that it takes very little to disrupt an even flow of traffic.
All those people who consider it the in-thing to live and work in London place themselves at risk of disruption to travel simply because there are too many people living in one place. They can be affected by transport strikes, bombers, roadworks, snow on the line, leaves on the line and a host of other features affecting travel. Despite some efforts to move people out to other locations they continue to cling to London and the home counties.
Whilst so many people continue to be affected by fog there are 67,000 people who have had all day sunshine yesterday and look likely to have it today and for the nex few days. Those people live in Anglesey where the best weather is just now. Not that long ago I was talking to a weapons instructor at RAF Valley whose flights were delayed because of bad visibility - not in Anglesey, but in the area used for weapons training. The only thing that looked like fog in Anglesey this week was a mist hanging over the Menai Strait between the two bridges. As we travelled over to Rochdale we encountered fog in the Queensferry area. Apart from this western end of the M56 there was no problem with fog.
Sunny days are a winter feature in Anglesey even if the temperature drops to freezing. Even so we can report that our pelagoniums lasted all winter two years ago. They continued flowering again in the following spring and summer. Now that we have a greenhouse we shall see if the winter kills off the plants we have put in pots there.
This year, if the weather stays as forecast, we shall be able to walk on a local beach bathed in sunshine! Now that is how we like to celebrate Christmas. Mind you, it is only days since we experienced rain and gales continuously for over two weeks. Anglesey is certainly prone to high winds as well as sunny days. As the winds blew and the rain poured we had a problem in our additional loo. There was water on the floor and it was seeping from under the skirting board. It seemed obvious that we had water coming down the wall cavity. I went aloft to examine the roof. There was no problem - not a single tile was out of place. As I descended my ladder I spotted a large crack in the pebble dashing. During a lull in the gale I covered it with mortar. The next morning showed my handiwork completely blown away. I went to B & Q and bought some rapid setting mortar and this time the stuff stayed where it was.
We inspected the loo and the water was still seeping in! I had to remove the skirting board to see better what was happening. The first 2/3 inches of the wall above the floor were wet. Maybe there was a residual pool of water at the bottom of the cavity. Then, out of the corner of my eye I spotted the cause. The toilet cistern was leaking through a joint on the overflow pipe. I tightened it up and there was no difference. The water on the floor had dripped through the joint onto the floor, run behind the skirting board and then run back onto the floor. These things are sent to try us!
Luuckily we are waiting for a renewal of the loo and the addition of a washbasin so the problem will be permantly solved fairly soon.
But it shows that just because you have had two weeks plus of howling gales this is no reason to worry that the house is not weatherproof. The new uPVC windows have held back the weather so we now have the hottest bathroom in the world! When the plumber installed central heating just after we moved in he calculated the radiator strengths for each room including the bathroom. He got it wrong for this room where it is extremely warm with the radiator set on 1. He showed us a huge heated towel rail which was, he said, the correct size to be able to heat the bathroon. When we saw how big it was we dropped the whole idea of having a towel rail and opted for a radiator. But still the bathroom is tropical!
One thing which is often a chore at this time of year is the transporting of excess packaging to the local tip. It usually happens after Christmas but I had to make a trip this morning. There were cardboard cartons to be disposed of due to the acquisition of a new TV, a TV table, and a case of wine. So off I went to the island tip and disposed of it all. As I set off from Amlwch I was flashed by an oncoming driver. "Ha, ha" I thought, "There is trouble ahead!" Other drivers flashed me to confirm my thoughts. A short way further along the A5025 was the expected item of trouble! It was one of the Arrive Alive vans. North Wales Police employ these vans as mobile speed traps as they say they cannot afford to use static cameras. The local authority makes the comment that the vans are very clearly marked. This is true. Each one is a different colour and the drivers park them "in hiding" to catch the unwary. They have an opening window at the back and on the side so the camera can be used to make much money for the road safety aspects of local life.
Police officers have commented that at some places where they are employed the vans generate thousands of pounds. Of course, this tells you that they are not doing their job. They are not deterring drivers from speeding - just making lots of cash from the resulting fines. This is all because we have a chief constable who has an obsession with speeding. So, beware the trap of speeding along in Anglesey, celebrating the Christmas weather and collecting 3 points on your licemnce. Few new residents on the island have avoided this situation. They have been used to their local police being encouraged to do their job using common sense.
Well, all that remains is to wish you all "Nadolig Llawen - a joyful Christmas!"

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Birds of Anglesey

For the first time for over a fortnight the weather, yesterday, was fit enough for us to take a walk down by the lifeboat station at Moelfre. This is such a popular walk that the path has been tarmacadamed by the council.

It was late afternoon with the temperature now dropping as the sun set behind the clouds, sending the western sky into many shades of pink and rose red. We parked the car on the car park at Seawatch and walked round to the front, passing the bronze statue of Dic Evans as we reached the coastal path. The sea was calm and in the bay there was not a single small boat.

Out in Liverpool Bay, however, it was a different story. There were about six ships, of whom five were at anchor. A sixth ship sailed very slowly past the others. It passed so slowly that there was almost no bow wave. Between us and the ships lay Ynys Moelfre, the tiny island which is home to a host of seabirds who are never silent by day.

But just below us on a rock was a cormorant, watching the water. The cormorant seemed to have its characteristis evil gleam in its eye as it prepared itself to dive into the water in pursuit of the fish that humans can never actually see. On the island there are quite a number of cormorants standing like sentinels each day. With my binoculars I could see a flock of herring gulls roosting by the shore in the crevices on the little cliff. Now that winter is upon us there are no puffins in residence. We have to wait until spring to make our aquaintance with them once.

In the season there are many, many seabirds to be seen on the island. You can see them in abundance in the nesting season on Llandwyn Island at the southern end of the Menai Strait. A visit to Rhosneigr will present views of cormorants and shags on the rocks just offshore. Driver further along the coast and onto Holy Island to visit the cliffs at South Stack. Walk part way down the 400 steps to the lighthouse and then look back. There you will see a huge cliff populated by a host of different birds.

If you continue round the island on the A5025 a visit to Cemlyn Bay with a pair of binns will present a reward. At Cemlyn there is a lagoon, cut off from the sea by a huge spit of shingle. Sit there quietly and look out for all sorts of birds. In the past I have seen red breasted meganzers, mallards, great crested grebes and many more. Drive on to Cemaes, buy fish and chips in the best chippy on the island, and then watch out when you visit either the harbour or the beach. You will be dive-bombed by the cheekiest black headed gulls in the world! But it can be fun to feed them your scraps and see how they react to actually being formally fed. They strut about on the ground and then take off vertically all together as they try to get into the best position to catch the food you throw.

Of course, Anglesey is not just home to seabirds. There are many different species of other birds to be seen. If you spend any time on the lesser used roads you can have fun with the pheasants that you meet. We seem to see only Common pheasants and Golden Pheasants. But they entertain as they run along by the side of the car as if racing you. I have been told it is to protect their nest which will be close by. However, as this happened to me only this week it disproves the theory. Along with the birds many wild animals such as foxes, rabbits, hares etc can be seen in the lanes. My wife spotted a dead fox hanging from a field gate yesterday. But we have seen the live version quite often in the headlights at night.

Anglesey is a naturalist's paradise and many of them come to see what's happening all through the year. Many visitors shun the late autumn and winter time. We never have because we say that the island's beauty changes with each season. Anyway, I would rather be here in the depths of winter in the horizontal rain of which we have had so much recently than back in the large industrial towns and cities. Mind you, if we get any snow the island will come to a halt. All you need is a flurry of snow and people ring in to the office to say they can't make it. Where we come from, the only problem that faces us is the slow traffic as thousands make sure they get in to work on a snowy day. Three times we found the Llangefni library closed during a snowy week. The staff could not get in but we did - very easily.

Come and see our island. You will suddenly discover one of the most beautiful places in the United Kingdom. Finding your way around is a matter of keeping to roads that signpost the main towns and villages. But, be wary. You may not be able to pronounce the place names! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas in the Copper Miners' Chapel

I am proud to be a member of the Amlwch English Methodist Church. Its roots go back to the 19th century when it was founded by none other than James Treweek, the manager of the Mona Copper Mine on Parys Mountain above my village of Penysarn. Our church is one at which there is a guaranteed warm welcome and this is never warmer than the one visitors will have tomorrow when we have our Candlelit Carol Service at 6.00pm.
During the afternoon special candle holders will be attached to the ends of the pews. Essentially these are square poles with a square board at the top on which four candles can be placed. Each pew end will have one. The window sills will contain candleabra from the homes of members. During this evening there will be no electric lights illuminated. Candles will be the only source of light. In our little chapel the atmosphere will be warm and very much of Christmas as we sing our carols to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
There will be readings and sketches with Christmas themes. The sketch in which I take part is called "Three Wise Guys" and is about three people rehearsing their parts as the three wise men. The part of the director will be played by a retired librarian, Ellen Jones, Melchior by myself, Bathazar by Rev David Jones, a retired Methodist minister living in my village of Penysarn, and Caspar by the minister, Deacon Stephen Roe. It should prove to be good, knowing the people involved. We shall raise a laugh!
We have already held an Advent Gathering which was a mid week service organised by myself along the lines of previous such services at my previous church in Shaw, Lancashire. Next week sees our Christingle Service which involves the Amlwch Brownies. Then on Christmas Eve, Revb David Jones will lead our Late Night Communion Service. Christmas Day service will be conducted by Deacon Stephen Roe.
Our tiny chapel will be alive for the next days, as Christmas approaches. It is a time not to be missed by those who love to worship God on the occasion that his son, Jesus of Nazareth came to earth. Pauline and I will be off to celebrate Christmas in another fashion on 21st December when we attend the Bangor Cathedral Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. That too is a great occasion.
At some point on Christmas Day we shall go for a walk by the sea and give thanks that we were able to realise our dream to come and live in Anglesey. We feel we are two very lucky people.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Gales of Anglesey

For ten days now we have experienced gales. As I write the latest observation records 37mph winds from the south. Pauline decided we needed to go over to Tescos at Holyhead today for food we need for Christmas. The fresh food will be purchased just before the stores close for the festivities. So we set off across the island with a strong gale blowing. As we passed Parys Mountain copper mine we entered a short cutting and you could hear the wind noise grow louder as it funnelled through this open tube.
From Llanerchymedd through Carmel and Trefor it was a wet and windy experience. The wind and rain was so bad as we joined the A55 that I went round the wrong roundabout to turn onto the road. Visibility was not too good at that point. I eventually found the slip road and turned onto the A55. A car was coming westwards and the driver had got her lights on - but not headlights. I could hardly see her car as I joined the faster road. The light was very bad and seeing extremely difficult with lots of spray blowing around. Why she did not have the common sense to have all lights on I do not know.
The experience of rain and spray continued right into Holyhead. The car was being battered from the south as the wind just blew across the low lying land from the Irish Sea. Pauline bailed out in front of the store's main door and I went off to find a parking place. After we had bought our shopping we returned to the car. She wanted to go the long way round on the A5025 and see the waves crashing onto the shore at Cemaes and then Bull Bay.
Off we went and the first thing I noticed was the amount of shelter from the wind as we passed Anglesey Aluminium. At Valley we turned left and set off towards Cemaes Bay. When we eventually arrived we stopped to look at the sea. The tide was in, the harbour full of water. The waves - what waves??? The sea was a calm as it could be because we were now on the north coast. It was the same at Bull Bay - not a single slash!
It is worth remembering that when you come on holiday to Anglesey you must not be put off by winds blowing on shore. If they are on shore, all you do is visit the opposite shore where the wind will be offshore. Off the northern coast of Anglesey it is classed as a lee shore by mariners. The effect lasts for about five miles. So, when the wind blows up, you will find ships sheltering upto 5 miles out from the shore around Llaneilian and Moelfre. Michael Williams, who measured our rooms for carpets, is the Second Coxwain on Moelfre Lifeboat. It was he who told me about the lee shore.
Having said all this we cannot complain about average temperatures which are still high for the season. So far, our autumn has been very mild indeed. Now that all the trees have lost their leaves we can see more as we drive around the island. Even though it gets quite wild I can stiil say that, wherever I drive, I still go through wonderful scenery. I could not say that when I lived in the Greater Manchester conurbation!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Plas Newydd

On the banks of the Menai Strait, just south of the Britannia Bridge, you will find Plas Newydd. It is the ancestral home of the Marquess of Anglesey. From Easter to October each year Plas Newydd is open to the public. It is under the care of the National Trust. To get there you need to take the road from Llanfairpwll to newborough and look out for the entrance on your left.
Car parking is at the top of the grounds where there is a tearoom and shop. In the shop you get your entrance ticket for the house. Next you set off down the path that winds down to the house itself. Just a short way along this path you will see the collection point for passengers using the minibus service down to the house. The house itself is in a setting to die for, with views across the water to the Vaynol estate on the mainland.
For my money, the interior is rather disappointing in that I get an impression of an old house rather than a stately home. There is a military museum displaying all manner of colourful uniforms. I find this very boring. I get nothing out of matters military. The Marquess at the time of Waterloo is hailed as a hero. He was second in command to the Duke of Wellington and commanded the cavalry. There is a famous remark attributed to him as a cannon ball hit him. He glanced down an remarked,, "By God, sir, I have lost my leg!" "By God, sir, so you have!" replied the Duke of Wellington.
A one time friend of the family was the famous artist, Rex Whistler. Plas Newydd has a large collection of his work and the glory of the place is Whistler's amazing 58 foot long mural in the diningroom. I have never seen anything remotely like this painting. It is surely unique. An art lover could spend endless hours standing in the diningroom just gazing at this wonderful piece of art. Having said this, Plas Newydd is, for me, a disappointment. It does not make me want to return again and again which other "stately homes" do. If you like sailing there is a boat which will take you on a sail along the Menai Strait from Plas Newydd.
A few miles away in llanfairpwll stands the Anglesey monument. This is Anglesey's answer to Nelson's column. It is 112 ft high and on the top stands the figure of Henry William Paget, First Marquess of Anglesey. I understand that the column stood alone for a number of years before the statue was placed at the top. There are steps inside so visitors can climb up and stand on the balcony above. Therre are stunning views on a clear day.
There are other estates on the island but this is by far the biggest and most grand of them. The Mona Copper Mine on Parys Mountain above Amlwch was owned by the Marquess of Anglesey. So he can be considered one of the island's old employers. Mind you, the dangers of working in the copper mines were considerable. Frequent deaths of orkers were the accepted order of the day.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Historic Road

Back in the days when stagecoaches ran, Thomas Telford was contracted to build a road which stretched from London to Holyhead where passengers could sail for Ireland. Today, you can drive along the route ofthe A5 and see signs reminding you that you are on an historic route. Telford also designed and built five toll house across the island. These are to be found at Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, Nant Gate, Gwalchmai, Caergeiliog and at the Holyhead end of the Stanley Embankment that takes the traveller from Anglesey to Holy Island and Holyhead.
The Holyhead road was the last turnpike in Britain. Today, the traveller can see the original charges for various modes of transport that used the road. They are displayed on a list of charges on a plaque set in the wall of the toll house at Llanfairpwllgyngyll. In 1895 the road became free of tolls as ownership passed to the county council.
By this time rail travel had greatly reduced travel by road. At the mainland end of the Menai Suspension Bridge can be seen gates of iron, patterned like the rays of the sun. The gates guarded the turnpike from those who would pass without payment. The numerous milestones along the A5 were made from stone quarried at Red Wharfe Bay. On each milestone is a plate showing the distance from Holyhead and two other locations. Believe it or not these milestones are "listed" structures and are preserved and conserved with great care. Where certain stones have become damaged they have been replaced with replicas.
Of course, the A5 is not restricted to Anglesey. Although parts of it have been upgraded to dual carriagways you will find it a very long journey from Anglesey to the midlands and south of England. From Bangor at the mainland side of the Menai Strait the road winds many miles through the northern part of Snowdonia through Betws-y-Coed and Llangollen. As it winds one hopes not to be following a slow vehicle such as a farm tractor. It is a classical country road with very few passing places. At one point where the original road was abandoned in favour of a short cutting there has been a serious fall of rock and the road there has been out of use for many months. Large vehicles are banned from this stretch which requires traffic to temporarilyuse the old road. This is so narrow at one point that traffic lights have been set up to make the road safe.
Looking at the North Wales road system, one would think that only people from North West England are expected or encouraged to visit Anglesey. These days, the traveller on the A5 turns on to the busy A55 and crosses to Anglesey on the Britannia Bridge which caters for both road and rail traffic today. But, for my money, one cannot beat crossing via the Menai Suspension Bridge. It is a leisurely affair, particularly if following a bus which has to pass very slowly to avoid the sides of the arches at each end. I seem to remember the drivers of the original Crosville buses handling the task much better than the Arriva drivers today.
At night the older bridge is lit up and takes on a special beauty. Ascetically, the Britannia Bridge cannot compete with its older partner. It has a huge steel arch these days beneath the rail deck which looks quite ugly. The road deck pierces the original piers and this looks more practical than lovely. Of course, it has to be mentioned that the Holyhead bound driver no longer uses the A5. A new road, the continuation of the A55 North Wales Expressway, now handles the traffic. This has made a great difference to the island and especially for the passengers wishing to visit Ireland.
If you know the narrow lanes which cross Anglesey you can reduce the travelling time from Penysarn, where I live, to Holyhead by including a stretch of the A55. I found good short cut to RAF Valley by using satellite navigation!