MONDAY mornings are not renowned for their better qualities and are sadly often only appreciated in contrast to something worse. Monday last week (as I write this) was a glorious exception, beginning with the awareness that I’d taken the day off and that a full
English Welsh breakfast awaited. Also it was sunny, I had slept well and I was ready to walk…
To be honest, I think that Monday was more than a little confused. I know I was.
Returning to Benllech
Once up, dressed and breakfasted I set off back to Benllech, there to continue my walk.
I paused a while on the seafront there, mostly to put a proper break between the start of the day’s walk and merely getting to it. A lone seagull walked back and forth across the road and I found myself wishing it would move just a few metres to the left — a seagull using the zebra crossing would have made a great photo. The seagull refused to play ball. I decided to shun the seagull and peer into my future instead.
The Coast Path
On leaving the promenade at Benllech, the coast path climbed the low cliffs and then descended again. Much of this early stretch of the day’s walking turned out to involve a green, leafy undercliff path, flanked on the right by a cliff so stratified that you had to look twice to make sure it wasn’t a wall.
Occasionally, just for fun, the wooded undercliff alternated with actual open cliff path and then, towards the end, it became a stroll through the edge of a holiday park.
Red Wharf Bay
About a mile and half from Benllech this all came to an end at the quayside of Red Wharf Bay, a small village facing onto the bay also called Red Wharf Bay (Traeth Coch).
Another seagull, posing iconically atop a small rock, immediately turned away from me when I produced my camera. Today was clearly Difficult Seagull Monday; I must have missed that email.
Of course the trouble with the bay being full of water was that it was full of water. And, while the path theoretically led around the bay above the high tide mark, I couldn’t help but notice that it was a somewhat muddy path through a border of salt marsh. It was entirely possible that I’d find a patch that was impassable but then, on the other hand, I knew the tide would soon turn. It would be fine.
As it turned out the path was okay. Sure, there were patches that were somewhat squelchy but none of it tried to suck my boots off and it was largely easy going.
In fact, I was making harder work of it than some — such as two women I’d met that morning at breakfast, who had set off from Moelfre at about the same time as I had and now overtook me with a chorus of cheery hellos. I had wondered if they would catch up with me since they had taken the coast path from Moelfre to Benllech, while I had taken the road having already done that part.
They were on a definite schedule while I, for once, had allowed myself plenty of dawdling time. Thus I was content to sit, apply sunscreen and nibble on snacks while they charged off into the distance, trying to maintain their speed.
The path became a track, which became a road and this crossed the Afon Nodwydd (‘needle river’) by means of an arched stone bridge. Its waters looked green-brown and murky but that was okay, because the whole point of a bridge is not needing to wade across the river.
Although I wasn’t heading that way, a mile or so upstream, I’d have found the village of Pentraeth (‘beach head’) nestling on the Nodwydd’s banks.
Battle of Pentraeth
Pentreath has an old church but its best claim to fame is as the site of a battle in 1170 when Prince Hywel ab Owain arrived with an army of Irish allies to claim the kingdom of his dead father, Owain Gwynedd. His stepmother, Cristin ferch Goronwy, had other ideas and his half-brothers, Dafydd and Rhodri, caught him off-guard at Pentraeth and killed him. The House of Aberffraw took its familial dysfunction seriously
Having crossed the Nodwydd, I was now faced with a choice in the form of a tidal route along the very edge of the bay or a non-tidal route further inland. I wasn’t sure but I suspected that the two women from breakfast had taken the inland route.
I ummed and ahhed for a moment but came to the conclusion that the tide had already receded so much that the tidal route was probably fine. And so it proved.
The Tidal Trail
Initially the tidal route continued as a sandy track at the edge of the salt marsh that fringed the bay. Here and there, where the path was particularly muddy, there were raised sections of boardwalk. And then, to my surprise, it took the whole ‘raised pathway’ concept to a new level, the level in question being ‘head height’.
Walking on Walls
The wall stretched off into the distance with its wooden rail on one side and some ankle-high barbed wire on the other so that if you tripped it could take out your eye on the way down. The concrete top of the wall was slightly concave — not enough to make finding your footing difficult but just enough to tip you off if you forgot and got complacent.
I rather enjoyed the wall and was slightly disappointed when the path eventually descended, resuming the previous pattern of path and boardwalk interspersed. Then suddenly it was a metalled road, approaching the village of Pentrellwyn (Pentre Llwyn meaning ‘Bush Village’).
The road passed a car park which had a handy bench on which I could rest and consume some chocolate that was slowly melting in my bag. It also had one of those buildings that the public find so convenient.
Although the road would have led me directly into Pentrellwyn, the footpath branched off across fields before climbing a steep farm track up the lower slopes of Bwrdd Arthur (‘Arthur’s Table’), a flat-topped hill that was the site of a hill fort during the Roman invasion.
Bwrdd Arthur is the hill with the aerial on it in the previous photo and it is steeper than it looks. How steep I was about to discover as a landslip had closed part of the path and the diversion sent me straight up the hill on a road that the map shows as ‘steeper than 20%’. I ended up walking right past the aerial before following a different footpath around the hill, just below its summit.
Eating at Arthur’s Table
I was hot and tired now, and had come interestingly close to being run over by a Royal Mail van, so I decided it was time to sit and eat my lunch. Lunch was a sandwich I’d purchased in Benllech and I took my time enjoying it.
Getting Back on Track
The path around Bwrdd Arthur was rugged and flanked by bracken and gorse. It climbed and fell as it went and was thoroughly enjoyable but I wasn’t too upset when it finally joined a farm track. Another track, leading up from below, was the one that I’d expected to ascend and I realised with a wry smile that, although hard work, the diversion had been by far the better of the two routes.
The farm track led (of course) to a farm and cows watched me suspiciously from their shed as I passed. Beyond the cows, a more substantial track curved around the far side of Bwrdd Arthur and gave me a sight of Puffin Island (also called Priestholm or Ynys Seiriol) off the tip of Trwyn Du.
Farm tracks and fields led me back onto the public road, which in turn led me to the village of Mariandyrys, which bathed in sun-dappled splendour.
Off on my left and keeping its distance was one of Anglesey’s many windmills. This particular windmill was Melin Llangoed, which was built from local limestone in 1741 for a man named Henry Williams and is the second-oldest windmill on the island. Mr Williams sold it in 1787 for the then princely sum of £1,655.
It was sold on again in 1842 and 1883 and continued as a working mill until 1921, when it closed. Restored to a sail-less version of its former glory in 2007, it is now offers luxury holiday accommodation.
Glan-yr-Afon & Caim
The path now took a slightly bemusing turn — or rather series of turns — as it darted in and about the houses and lanes of Mariandyrys, Glan-yr-Afon and Caim. To be honest I completely lost track of which direction I was going in as the path ducked down the side of houses, nipped across fields, headed down roads and, at one point, passed an old lime kiln.
Eventually, I came to the end of the road — the literal end of the road — at the farmhouse of Pentir on the outskirts of the hamlet of Caim. Ahead was a field full of bullocks, which looked up uncertainly as I entered, ready to flee or fight. I blithely ignored them and they took this as a good sign, getting back to the important business of eating lots of lush green grass in order to make themselves tasty.
Couple Concerned about Cattle
On the far side of the field was another field, in which I encountered an anxious couple coming the other way.
‘Are there cattle in the other field’ asked the woman nervously.
She went on to justify her unease by noting that the bullocks were getting large and frisky. Having been assured that the cattle were at the far end and disinclined to the effort of a goring and death-trample in the not inconsiderable heat, they decided to brave it.
I headed east, following the path into bracken and trees as it led me down to the headland of Trwyn Du (‘black nose’).
Trwyn Du Lighthouse
Trwyn Du Lighthouse was erected in 1838, an event not entirely unconnected to the 1830 loss of the steamer Rothesay Castle along with 130 lives.
It cost £11,589 to build and originally had two keepers but was automated in 1922 and converted to solar power in 1996. In addition to its light, it is fitted with a fog bell weighing 178 kg and has the words ‘No landward passage’ painted prominently on its sea-facing side, which gives the puffins something to read.
Actually there aren’t that many puffins on Puffin Island, on account of the accidental introduction of the brown rat in the 1890s. It does have numerous guillemots, razorbills, shags and kittiwakes but even they are as nothing compared with the cormorants.
Puffin Island has one of the largest cormorant colonies in the British Isles, which I find oddly amusing. The island is also known as Priestholm but has a population of exactly zero priests.
Much like the puffins, the island used to have many more priests than at present and they too were sorely vexed by rodents. In the sixth century, St Seiriol established a monastery on what had hitherto been Ynys Lannog and was buried there when he died, hence its Welsh name of Ynys Seiriol. His patron, King Maelgwyn of Gwynedd, might possibly also be buried there.
The following century saw King Edwin of Northumbria invade Gwynedd in 629 and King Cadwallon ap Cadfan sought sanctuary at the monastery (three years later he would kill Edwin in battle and briefly conquer Northumbria, until he too died fighting).
Plagues of Mice
The chronicler Gerald of Wales visited the area in 1188 and reported that whenever the monastery was beset by internal conflict it was also then beset by a plague of food-devouring mice.
Llywelyn the Great & Llywelyn the Last
Llywelyn the Great issued a couple of charters to the monks in 1221 and 1237. Having persuaded them to adopt the Rule of St Augustine, he confirmed their possession of the island and the church and manor of Penmon on the mainland.
Llywelyn’s grandson lost the kingdom to Edward I of England in 1283 but the monks kept their holdings until Henry VIII got a serious case of wealth envy in 1537 and dissolved all the monasteries.
Penmon Priory, pictured above, lies a little way southwest from Trwyn Du, at the end (or rather the start) of a toll road. It too was founded by St Seiriol, who was said to be a friend of St Cybi (who founded the church at Holyhead).
According to legend, the two saints would meet weekly near the centre of the island. Since Cybi would walk east in the morning and west in the evening he developed a tan from facing the sun and was known as Cybi the Dark. Seiriol, with the sun at his back remained untanned and was thus called Seiriol the Fair.
Seiriol’s well (now beside a car park) was at one time a site of pilgrimage.
St Seiriol’s Church
Seiriol’s original church would have been wooden and it was still made of wood in 971 when the Vikings arrived and set fire to it. Initial rebuilding probably used wood again but it was finally rebuilt in stone during the twelfth century.
Dissolution saw everything but the actual church sold off to the Bulkeley family, who built a dovecote nearby and turned the priory grounds into a deer park. The church is still a church but was mostly rebuilt in 1855.
Above the priory, and now largely hidden from view, was an old limestone quarry. White limestone (nicknamed ‘Mona marble’ on account of grey-brown veins running through it) was quarried here and shipped from jetties on the shoreline; an inclined track that was bridged by the road hinted at tramlines in days past.
Penmon limestone was used to build, among other things, Penmon Priory, Beaumaris Castle, Birmingham Town Hall, wharves in Dublin and the stanchions of both Menai bridges.
The Menai Strait
I followed the road away from the priory and the promontory of Penmon (from pen Môn, meaning ‘Anglesey’s head’). The road followed the coast, which was now facing onto the Menai Strait. Across the water, hills and mountains loomed bluely in the haze.
The tide was at its lowest and great swathes of the Menai Strait were exposed as beaches of mud, sand and stones. Many, many stones. Some were small and some were large but most were just about the size to be a real pain to walk on.
Shingle and rocks are one of my least favourite walking surfaces and as the road continued, I was actually quite relieved that I need not step foot on the beach.
On the Beach
The beach was actually fairly sandy where the footpath joined it. Or rather where the footpath stopped; there’s obviously no actual path on the beach. Low cliffs showed shallow proto-caves where the sea was beginning to erode them and up ahead swarms of rocks and stones waited to ambush my feet.
The moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) is not dangerous but its sting can still, well sting. There were quite a few of them dotted about and they added a level of excitement to the rocky beach: before I had only at been at risk of tripping over thanks to the rocks and my poor sense of balance but now I was at risk of tripping over and planting my face in a jellyfish.
Ha! I laughed at the risk. My middle name is Danger1.
Just as I was getting thoroughly fed up of picking my way across rocks, jellyfish, seaweed and — to mix it up a bit — seaweed-covered rocks hiding an unexpected jellyfish, the coastal path put me back onto a road on the outskirts of the village of Llanfaes.
Names Old and New
Llanfaes takes its current name from ‘llan’ meaning ‘church site’ and ‘maes’ meaning ‘field’. An older name was Llan Ffagan Fach (‘Little Fagan’s church’), referring to the second century apostle St Fagan (Latin Fugatius) who was dispatched to Britain by Pope Eeutherius.
The village was a maerdref or Royal demesne directly under the King of Gwynedd.
Llywelyn the Great’s wife Joan, the daughter of England’s King John, was buried in the village and a Franciscan monastery built in her remembrance. It was also built in a meadow, hence the village’s new name.
Conquest & Rebellion
As has previously been mentioned, Edward I of England conquered Gwynedd in 1283 and this didn’t go down too well. Madog ap Llywelyn, a distant relative of Llywelyn the Last, declared himself Prince of Wales and launched a rebellion in 1294. He did stormingly well for about a year, even besieging Edward in Conwy Castle at one point. It didn’t last, however.
After Edward had crushed the rebellion, he set about building more castles to exert control over the Welsh. One such was nearby Beaumaris and, since Edward wanted the castle to control the nearest port and that port was currently Llanfaes (which was also the northernmost ferry point to the mainland), he simply did away with Llanfaes and built a new harbour at Beaumaris.
The inhabitants of Llanfaes were evicted in their entirety and sent to live on the far side of the island in a new settlement, which is still called Newborough today.
Towards the Town
I too left Llanfaes, though I was heading along the road towards Beaumaris. The road in question was the busy B5109 but hardly had I stepped foot upon it than I was being routed off it again, across a field with some cows in it. The cows eyed me incuriously as I passed, judging me to be not much of a threat. I was okay with that assessment.
At the top of the hill was a bench and a rather splendid view of Beaumaris below with its imposing castle. It was a great view but you’ll have to take my word for it as it was also directly west and everything was silhouetted by the evening sun. A fiery halo embraced the scene below in such a way as to simultaneously make me say ‘wow’ and to ensure that any photos would be impossible to make out.
As I sat there, vainly trying to make my camera do magic, a couple approached me hesitantly. They were a bit older than me but probably less so than I care to admit. Did I know, asked one, if the mainland town to which he was pointing was Bangor? I did know and it wasn’t, it was Llandudno. Also I could show him on the map.
His wife practically did a little ‘I was right’ dance, noting that geography was far from being her strong point. How far? She wouldn’t know — distance would be geography.
‘You’ve done it now,’ said Llandudno-as-Bangor Man in tones of mock exasperation. I certainly had.
Down below, Beaumaris awaited…
Beaumaris (Biwmaris) takes its name from Norman French beau marais meaning ‘beautiful marshes’. The town was founded in 1295 on the site of an old Viking village called Porth y Wygyr (‘port of the Vikings’).
Built as a shiny new port by Edward I as part of his strategy to subjugate Gwynedd, its impressive concentric castle was designed by James of St George, the Savoyard architect who also built the castles at Harlech, Conwy and Caernarfon.
An Exclusive Development
Since Beaumaris was a town and castle with a specific purpose in mind — namely occupation — its charter was drawn up to ensure that the Welsh were forbidden to own any land in it.
Even so, the Welsh were slightly better off than the Jews, who weren’t allowed in it at all — Edward had already expelled the Jews in England and had previously forced them to wear identifying yellow badges on their clothing. This illustrates horribly the kind of king that Edward was and also that the genocidal horrors of 1930s Europe were really only new in terms of scale.
Naturall,y Beaumaris was an important centre for the execution of justice, with an emphasis on ‘execution’ and a particular value of ‘justice’.
Its importance continued long after Edward’s time and a Jacobean courthouse was erected in 1614. Not only is it still standing but is also still used, albeit annually, as a courthouse.
Trade & Industry
Its charter not only made Beaumaris a market town and shipping port but actually mandated that local trade had to occur in the town, cementing its importance. As a regional ship registration port it quickly came to dominate the north Welsh coast and became an important centre for shipbuilding.
Today, it mostly relies on tourism, which if nothing else means that it isn’t short on hotels.
I found my hotel, booked in and enjoyed a leisurely bath before dinner. At dinner a rather chatty trio at the next table engaged me in conversation and I realised to my amusement that one of the two women at that table was (still) merrily exulting that she had been right about Llandudno not being Bangor.
An excellent meal and maybe one or two drinks made me sleepy, sending me to my bed. The next day I would be completing the Anglesey Coast Path and returning to the island of Great Britain…
This time: 16 miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,789 miles
1No, not really. If I was Helpful Danger Mammal, I’d need an eye patch and a sidekick who said things like ‘ooh-eck!’ and ‘crumbs!’