Monday, January 29, 2007

Penmon and Penmon Point

A few days ago, Pauline and I took advantage of a lovely sunny day to take a series of photographs along the north east coast of Anglesey. Whilst temperatures tend to be one or two degrees lower than Rochdale/Oldham area where we lived prior to settling here, there is a lot of sun during winter. The day in question was a perfect example. The gales had gone after blowing for a few weeks, the rain had stopped, and the sun was shining. It was a really lovely day and we truly loved the sunshine on us as we drove around looking for good shots.
Eventually we decided to drive along the Menai Strait from Menai Bridge to Beaumaris to try and get some good shots of the wonderful vistas we had seen there. This we failed to do because the tide was too low and there was mud where blue water should have been. Having reached Beaumaris we carried on to Penmon Point which is a spot we love. There I was able to get a nice photo of the little lighthouse just off the rocks. It has a warning bell that sounds every minute and a sign tells sailors not to pass between it and the land. Should the unwary attempt this passage they would find themselves impaled on rocks which lurk just below the surface at high tide.
Like all lighthouses it is an automated affair and access appears to be along a concrete path over the rocks. Personally, I would not try to get there by this path which is all green and slippery. I love this small lighthouse, because when I am travelling along the A55 between Bangor and Conwy I can see it across the sea. It marks that corner of the island where I live and seems to lead my eye across to Ynys Seiriol or Puffin Island as the English call it. This small island is a haven for many seabirds and a pair of binnoculars is needed to get an appreciation of how many birds live there. Just in front and to the right as you look from Penmon Point, is a red marker to tell vessels to sail between it and the island to be safe. We often come and get a good blow at Penmon Point on a breezy day. Sometimes you see the Bangor University fishing vessel steaming by as it searches for whatever the sea bed will offer.
Driving back from the Point you encounter the dovecote at Penmon Priory. Inside is evidence of many former inhabitants of the building. Just to the left is a wide gateway in an old wall and this is shown on the photo I have posted on this blog. Before driving on past the Priory itself, it is interesting to take a look along a path which is signposted to St Seiriol's Well. Walking along you see on your right a pond with a number of water hens swimming along. Turning right at the end of this section of path you come to the well itself. In normal, drier weather the well consists of just a small pool of water inside the building placed over it. When I took the photo the water was flooding out for a few square yards. But I don't think the well looks any the worse for this. Indeed, it appears to be basking in the afternoon sunshine!
Visitors who come to see all this in summertime will be charged a toll for using the road from Penmon Priory to Penmon Poit and also for parking outside the Priory. So, be warned!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Stones of Anglesey

Because Anglesey stands out into the Irish Sea it was the landing place for a number of invaders. These people formed part of the early population of Wales. Hence the title affixed to the Menai Suspension Bridge: "Mon Mam Cymru" (Anglesey, Mother of Wales). These ancient people settled in a number of different locations at ifferent dates. Throughout the island there are many, many ancient sites where local people lived and died.

Visitots to South Stack lighthouse can see a signpost on the approach road directing walkers to the right onto the bracken. It points to the Holyhead Mountain Hut Circles. There are the remains of twelve circular hut dwellings. They are quite clear and can be viewed on a number of archaeological websites. Take the road back through Trearddur Bay to the A55 and leave it at the exit for Rhosneigr. Travel along this road, ignoring the right turn to Rhosneigr, until you reach Porth Trecastell or Cable Bay. There is a car park and a sandy beach here. Go to the right of the beach and take the footpath to the headland with the beach and the bay on your left. You will arrive at a manmade mound which covers a Cruciform Passage Grave.

To protect the megaliths inside a concrete roof has been constructed but the essential layout of thye tomb remains the same as ever. The most exciting feature of Barclodiad y Gawres (the name of the tomb)must be its rock art. Several of the chamber stones bear carvings of lozenges, zig zags and spirals, but what makes some of them exceptional is the way the carved shapes are manipulated and shaped with each other to form an overall integrated design. The snag with this tomb is that is well protected with steel gates and the key is obtained at a nearby shop.

Travelling anti clockwise round Anglesey you come to Brynsiencyn. Close by is the village of Landaniel-fab. On the south side of this village there is a sign directing the interested visitor to the ancient site known as Bryn Celli Ddu. This is another passage grave and is thought to be the best example in Wales. The tomb is set in the middle of an ancient henge with a circular ditch round it. The henge is almost certainly older than the tomb. The tomb, following construction, was covered by a huge mound of earth - much larger than the present mound we see today.

Continue along the main road back to the A5. From Llanfairpwll travel round on the A5025 to Lligwy where you can see an ancient burial chamber with the largest capping stone I have ever seen. In this case the chamber is dug down lower than the surrounding ground. This gives the visitor a good view of the magnificent capping stone. A quarter of a mile away is Din Lligwy and to get there you have to pass an old church known as Hen Capel. This too is worth visiting for the history types among you. But eventually you reach Din Lligwy you notice that it is a settlement of varying styles fo architecture. Therre are two round houses as well as other rectangular buiildings. All that remains are walls of up to two feet and it a matter of conjecture what one read into these remains.

All over Anglesey there are countles standing stones. They are, without doubt, very ancient but why there are so positioned and by whom no one knows. I doubt anyone will ever know why standing stones are there but they give an enduring look to the rural scene. They are protected by law and so are likely to remain untouched as a reminder of former people whose name we shall never know.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


It is in Moelfre that the Anglesey Committee for Macmiillan Cancer Support holds its meetings. Having said this, I can assure you that there is much moe to say about Moelfre. Visitors to the village can have a lovely pint of Robinson's bitter in the local pub, The Kinmel Arms. They also do some very appetising bar snacks with a choice of kids' meal too. In the summer it can get very indeed, as its fame has spread!
Facing the Kinmel Arms is the shingle beach where the Vikings raid Anglesey every two years. They sit quietly in their two longships just off ther lifeboat house until they receive the siignal. After that the crowd waits with bated breath until they come into sight and land on the tiny beach. At this point the Vikings and the local "troops" start knocking ten bells out of each other. At the end of the battle veryone lives to fight another day.
If you walk along the footpath which begins at the bend in the village road you will eventually pass a bronze statue of the late "Dic" Evans outside "Seawatch" a seasonal exhibition centre which has a Watson class lifeboat to see. In the main car park for the Seawatch centre you can see a large piece of the hull of the "Royal Charter" that sank off the cliffs back in the 19th Century.
Further along the footpath you find yourself at the modern Lifeboat Station with its Tyne Class all weather lifeboat and D Class inflatable inshore liifeboat. When Alan, the steward, is on duty you can walk down the side of the life boat which looks hughout of the water and filling the boathouse wo within 4 inches of the roof beams. I think I am right in saying that eventually the lifeboat station will get a new lifeboat - one of the new Tamar class.
Moelfre lifeboat station's list of rescues includes two in which "Dic" Evans won the RNLI Gold Medal as coxwain of the lifeboat some years ago. They say that to win a Bronze Medal you have to to go to hell and back. Just what you have to do to win a Gold Medal I cannot imagine but "Dic" Evans did just that. In saving the crew of the steamer, "Hindlea" Dic set off without a full crew as there was some problem with communications on that day. In fact one crew member was not a serving lifeboat crew member. He was a land based person who assisted in the launching of the lifeboat usually.
The footpath is part of the Anglesey coastal path and so you can carry on walking round the cliffs to another shingle beach which looks out at Ynys Moelfre, a small island a few hundred yards off. The island is a haven for many seabirds and seals can be seen in this area from time to time. To the right of the shingle beach is a rocky shoreline where, in summer, many anglers come to fish for mackerel. There are even people who come to harvest mussels on the beach.
Following the footpath you come to a concret base with a seat that commemorates the saving of the crew of the "Hindlea". Walk even further along and you will come to a large stone that is there to remember the wreck of the steam/sail ship "Royal Charter" in a hurricane in the mid 1800s. As you look out to sea you will see a number of ships at anchor. They are waiting there for one or other of two reason. They may be waiting for a pilot into the Port of Liverpool or there may be a gale blowing and they are taking shelter. The north coast of Anglesey has cliffs for a few miles which create a lee shore for about five miles. As the prevailing winds are south westerly, Anglesey can play its part in protecting the lives of sailors.
This part of the Anglesey coastal path is very popular with visitors each year and is well used as a result. To get to Moelfre you take the A5025 from the Britannia Bridge, going towards Amlwch. At the first roundabout you take the third exit and proceed down Richard Evans Road into the village. There is free car parkiing at Seawatch.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Four to five years ago, when we first began considering relocating to Anglesey we looked at various websites for local estate agents. Every time we saw a property located in Amlwch we ignored it because we thought we would not like Amlwch. Today, the story is different. We have discovered the historic side to Amlwch and it is fascinating.

Amlwch began as a small and sleepy village like many others on the island. Then came the extraction and exporting of copper from the two mines on Parys Mountain. Everything changed and Amlwch became a town of 5,000 people with the busiest port in Wales. In the early days of extraction on a large scale the ore was taken from the surface, creating what is known today as the Great Opencast. To view the Opencast as you walk the heritage trail is to see many more colours of rock and spoil than you might imagine. It is rather like the many shades of autumn colours among trees.

Although Amlwch was the port for exporting copper the copper mountain is actually nearer the village of Penysarn where I live. Penysarn was part of the local industry as the place where clogs and clothes for the workers were made. A large figure in the boom of copper was the Cornishman, James Treweek. He it was who arrived as the Marquess of Anglesey's manager of the Mona Mine. Cornwall has a number of derelict copper and tin mines and provided many recruits as Treweek improved the furtunes od the Mona Mine. He recruited whole families where wives and children also worked in a supporting role up on the mountain. It was, of course, the men who undertook the dangerous work, hanging over the side of the Great Opencast on ropes to get at the copper ore. Many people died in industrial accidents and of diseases related to working in the open in all weathers with poor protection in the way of clothing.

The present Amlwch English Methodist Church was built under the direction of James Treweek who was also a keen Methodist local preacher. The house around the chapel in Wesley Street were also built to house the copper miners and their families. Walk down the street and spot which house were for managers! Amlwch Port was a hive of activity and there are many old photographs of sailing ships tied up in the port. Ship building was another trade that went on in Amlwch and the visitor can see, even today, the remains of a dry dock just below the old sail loft.

In order to optimise their earnings the ships' captains made sure they brought profitable cargo to Amlwch for distribution in Wales and the North of England. One cargo was tobacco which became a very important industry in the town. I believe I am correct in saying it was principally snuff and pipe tobacco that Amlwch produced.

The coming of the railways meant that a branch was constructed from Gaerwen to Amlwch for both passengers and goods. It was a single track which was extended by way of sidings down to the port area where eventually a chemical works grew up. The passenger service closed in 1964 but the line remained open for freight traffic until 1993. Unusually, the track for Anglesey Central Railway still exists all the way from Gaerwen to Amlwch. Within the town there are still a number of disused level crossings to be seen. When trains entered the town there was a posse of workers from the chemical works doing level crossing duty. I have seen the later shots of diesel locos being slowly driven from the port to the line itself. These locos dwarfed the surrounding cottages in the main street. There is in existence a group dediicated to re-opening the railway line at some point in the future.

There are a number of significant buildings in Amlwch today. Mona Lodge, the residence of James Treweek, is now split into three houses. The Sail Loft in the Port is the home of the heritage centre where visitors can discover information about the copper mountain. The English Methodist Church is a noticeably Cornish-influenced design. A more modern building is the Roman Catholic church on the road to Bull Bay. I can say that this is a unique design created to resemble an upturned boat - and it does!

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Menai Suspension Bridge

My very first impressive sight locally was when I attended the Bangor Youth Conference at Easter 1960. It was the sight of the beautiful Menai Suspension Bridge. I walked across it and back to Bangor with a fellow delegate to the conference. It ws the first suspension bridge I had ever seen, then. My abiding memory is seeing Crossville double deck buses pass slowly through its narow arches. Further down the Strait you could see the Britannia Tubular Bridge that took the railway over to Anglesey, terminating in Holyhead. As a train spotter I knew that each day the Irish Mail passed over the Britannia Bridge on its way from London to Holyhead where passengers boarded the feries for Ireland.

Although the Britannia Bridge was not as pleasing to the eye as the suspension bridge it looked better then than today with its road deck and huge steel span beneath the rail deck. But we also have to remember that in 1960 there was only one road onto Anglesey and that was the A5 across the suspension bridge. Thomas Telford designed the bridge which opened in January 1826 with the first vehicle being the London to Holyhead Mail Coach. To this point the only way to reach Anglesey was by walking across sand banks at low tide and taking small ferry boats to the other side. Now, foot passengers and wheeled vehicles could cross in safety 100 feet above the sea. This height was insisted upon so that tall ships could pass beneath the bridge. Naturally the bridge had a toll for users and the building on the mainland side was where the tolls were collected. Later, a central toll booth was built in the interests of efficiency.

The toll ended in 1941. During the 1930s and 40s the bridge was strengthened and the wrought-iron chains were replaced by steel links. For ten months during 2005 the bridge had its first complete repaint for 60 years. In order to facilitate this work a one way traffic system was devised. From 6.00am to 2.00pm traffic from Anglesey to the mainland crossed the bridge and then for the remainder of the 24 hour clock it was traffic from Bangor that used the bridge. This caused quite a lot of traffic congestion on occasions, particularly during the tourist season that year. I can tell you that it caught us out from time to time and you always tried to beat the 2.00pm turnround! We often lost the contest!

I did hope that the repaint would include cleaning of the stone work at each end of the bridge but this was not included in the work. The buses still thread their way through the arches and hold everyone up as they do so. But they somehow don't impress me like the Crossville buses of days gone by. From a photographer's point of view there are some excellent views of the bridge from the lay bys on the A5 as you go down to Llanfairpwll. One view includes the rocks at low tide and really enhances the beauty of our lovely bridge.

It was during the seventies that I brought my family to Anglesey on holiday. On one occasion a poster had been attached to the bridge saying that the RAF Valley Open Day was on. I quickly went over to our holiday bungalow, dropped the luggage and then shot over to RAF Valley in time to see the Red Arrows for the first time ever. On one holiday I was speaking the wife of an Anglesey farmer who told me they were not too happy to see huge gas tankers arrive from Ireland and slowly cross the only road link to the island. She would have been glad, no doubt, when the road deck was built on the Britannia Bridge. The weight limit ensures that no juggernauts try to use this bridge, and, in any case, the A55 is the obvious quick route across the Britannia Bridge for all traffic.

At times of very high winds we experience the imposition of speed limits over the bridges but this does not really affect the suspension bridge as one's passage across is always slow and safe.