IT WAS just before six in the morning when I returned to Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, having negotiated the cunning and secret railway challenge designed to prevent you from doing so:
Not only is the station saddled with the impressive (if contrived) name of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch but it is also a request stop, which means that the train will only stop to let you off if you can successfully tell the guard that that’s where you are going. It also helps if you can stop saying it before the train hurtles past.
I was the only person alighting at Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll at that early hour and the station was otherwise deserted. A small herd of articulated lorries clustered for protection in its car park, presumably resting on their way to or from Holyhead. An unusually functional village war memorial confirmed that it was well before breakfast.
I trotted the mile or so back to where I had left the Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path (Llwybr Arfordirol Ynys Môn). En route, I passed the oldest Women’s Institute building in the UK (the WI was formed in Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll in 1915) and also the low hill atop which stands the Marquess of Anglesey’s Column.
Marquess of Anglesey
The 27 m high monument celebrates Henry Paget, Earl of Uxbridge, who commanded the Allied cavalry at Waterloo and led a spectacular charge which routed part of the French army. Towards the end of the battle, one of the last cannon balls fired that day took his leg off, leading to this ever-so-British exchange between him and his commanding officer:
Uxbridge: By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!
Wellington: By God, sir, so you have!
While the Duke of Wellington’s understated response was entirely typical of him, it should perhaps also be noted that the relationship between the two officers was just a tad under strain. Although Uxbridge had served superbly with Wellington during the Peninsular War, he had subsequently run off with the wife of Henry Wellesley, Wellington’s younger brother.
Still, despite the duke’s understandable reticence regarding his appointment, Uxbridge served with distinction at Waterloo and was created Marquess of Anglesey a few weeks later (this was a social promotion; a marquess ranks higher than an earl).
The column stands near his country retreat of Plas Newydd and was no doubt excellent for reminding him of his own awesomeness.
St Mary’s Church
I picked up the path in the shadow of the Britannia Bridge and found that it ran straight through the churchyard of St Mary’s Church — the ‘Llanfair’ in the village’s name. Well, I say ‘straight through’, I actually managed to get a bit lost amongst the graves but I think that was more due to ineptitude than anything else.
The current St Mary’s dates only to 1853, when it was constructed for the princely sum of £950. It is however merely the latest in a line of such buildings, dating all the way back to the seventh century.
The rambling, extremely unlevel churchyard turned into an equally unlevel path that led me down to the banks of the Menai Strait. The shore here was covered with rocks, which in turn were covered with slippery seaweed. The heavily wooded far shore was far more interesting to look at.
The statue above is unmistakeably Admiral Lord Nelson and was erected in 1873 as a navigational aid, sixty-eight years after his death. Unlike most other monuments to Nelson, this one was created by an enthusiastic local amateur sculptor, one who was himself an admiral. The artist in question was Admiral Lord Clarence Paget (younger son of the columnar marquess), who had himself served during the Crimean War of 1853-1856.
From Nelson onwards the path was treacherous, involving mud and slippery rocks along a shoreline that would have been impassable at high tide. Indeed, I found a sign warning of that very situation but only at the far end, when I had already traversed it.
Passing Plas Newydd
Soon enough though, the path joined the road network and diverted inland conveying me alongside the A4080. This was pretty easy going but, I thought, a little dull. On my left was a long and largely featureless wall, screening off the marquess’s old estate of Plas Newydd, while on my right was open farmland dotted with copses of trees.
The path, taking advantage of a farm track, veered off into the latter, skirting the edge of a privately-owned wood. This seemed much more like it, full of greenery and rural delights while still being fairly easy going. Or not.
Wading through Wheat
The path and the farm track parted company and the waymarks became less than clear. At first I was perplexed but then I realised: the path edged its way round a series of fields with little or no path space at its margins. I would essentially be wading through cereal crops.
As it turned out, there was just enough path space that only my left side brushing against the dew-laden grasses and I rather enjoyed this ruggedly muddy adventure, charging onwards while rabbits scattered and butterflies flitted past my face.
Nearing the Village
When I eventually emerged onto a country lane somewhere near the village of Llandaniel Fab, my left leg — and only my left leg — was completely soaked. It must have looked pretty odd.
Bryn Celli Ddu
I turned my back on Llandaniel Fab, for the path wished to take me in the opposite direction. This was a bit of a shame as the Neolithic chambered cairn of Bryn Celli Ddu (‘mound in the dark grove’) lay just north of the fields on which I had been walking and it meant that I would not get to see it.
Still, I wasn’t too distressed: Neolithic cairns are ten a penny on Anglesey, which is perhaps why Llandaniel Fab’s other claim to ‘fame’ is rather more Space Age: it was the birthplace of Tecwyn Roberts (1925-1988), the initial flight controller for NASA’s Project Mercury.
Project Mercury was America’s original manned space flight program and was desperately trying to catch up with the USSR, who had scored something of a coup when Vostok 1 put Yuri Gargarin into orbit in 1961.
Moel y Don
Dripping water from one side only, I followed the lane southwards to the cottage of Cefn Bach (‘small ridge’) where the lane met the A4080. Crossing the A-road, I descended a hill towards the shoreline at Moel y Don, from where the ferry to Felinheli could once be caught.
Moel y Don Ferry
The ferry between Moel y Don and Felinheli operated from the sixteenth century right up until the early twentieth century, though the opening of the Menai Suspension Bridge (1826) and Britannia Bridge (1850) pretty much destroyed its traffic.
The ferry was one of six operating between Anglesey and mainland Wales, all of which had rigidly defined areas of operation and were authorised by charters from those fiercely competing entities, the Crown, the Church and local aristocrats.
Selling the Slipway
In 2008, the ferry slipway caused something of an upset when Gwynedd Council, which owned the slipways on both sides, decided that there was no reasonable chance of the ferry ever being resurrected and thus decided to sell Moel-y-Don slipway into private hands. The inhabitants of the local Anglesey community of Llanedwen objected strenuously. Not only because they feared losing use of the slipway but also because Anglesey had ceased to be part of Gwynedd in 1996. Thus, their slipway was being disposed of by someone else’s council.
After the inevitable outcry terms were agreed to transfer the slipway from Gwynedd Council to Anglesey County Council, which should have made the locals very happy. Judging from the ACC signs warning not to launch anything from the slipway, the victory was somewhat Pyrrhic.
Gaius Suetonius Paulinus
Still, Moel y Don is no stranger to conflict, as one might expect from one of the principal crossing points to and from Anglesey. It was probably there in 60 that Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus landed his legions on his urgent mission to wipe druidic resistance from the face of the Roman Empire. A mission at which he generally succeeded.
Edward I of England also landed troops at this point in 1282. Or rather, he planned to. Unfortunately for him, his man on the ground — Luke de Tany, former Constable of Gascony (Edward was also Duke of Aquitaine and thus Luke’s feudal overlord) — thought he knew better. Ignoring the plan, which involved him waiting for Edward’s army to come and reinforce him, he crossed his men on a pontoon bridge and tried to seize Anglesey on his own initiative.
Gwynedd’s King Llywelyn ambushed them and they tried to flee for the bridge only to mostly drown in the violent tides of the Menai Strait, which had risen enough to cut them off. Oops.
From Moel y Don, I had two ways onward. I could try to swim across to Felinheli and die like a thirteenth century soldier, drowning in the whirlpools of the Menai Strait, or I could follow the Anglesey Coastal Path along what, according to my map, were little country lanes. I chose the latter.
Initially the lanes were narrow roads through open country, heading slightly inland and not quite parallel to the shore. As the road climbed what was a very gentle hill and thus provided an ever better vantage point, the mountains of Snowdonia rose into sight across the water.
Old Road to Llanidan
The metalled, tarmac-covered roads soon gave way to some rather older and more overgrown lanes that had the look not of mere farm tracks but of old roads, very old roads. At the very least, they are on the 1891 Ordnance Survey map, whereas the modern tarmac road that led to them is not. And they looked like this.
This delightful old road carried me for a mile or so for most of which I couldn’t shake a suspicion that a pony and trap would run me over any minute. Towards its end, it started to pass farm cottages and other buildings before suddenly developing a topcoat of modern road surface. Before me stood the walls of Llanidan Hall.
Originally a fourteenth century grange (i.e. church-owned farm) feeding the monks at Beddgelert, Llanidan became Crown land in 1537 and was later sold by Queen Elizabeth I to Richard Prydderch, who converted it into a country house.
His descendants enlarged and improved it over the years — particularly Peirce Lloyd in the early eighteenth century — until 1740, when Thomas Lloyd died without heirs but with debts. The estate was then purchased by Henry Paget, 1st Earl of Uxbridge (father of the Marquess of Anglesey), who let it to his nephew, Lord Boston. Lord Boston in turn sublet it to tenants including Thomas Williams, part-owner of a copper mine, who made extensive improvements.
The Lords Boston subsequently alternated between living there themselves and letting the property to others.
National Gardens Scheme
Although the house remains in private hands, its gardens are made open to the public through the National Gardens Scheme, a charitable body established in 1927 to support district nurses. Its benefactors still include a variety of health-related charities, who receive a proportion of the entrance fees.
The gardens were open on the day that I passed them but I decided not to dally and went straight past them. I never got to see the house on account of a high wall around it.
At this point I was feeling vaguely hungry and hopeful of buying food and water. So, when the coast path branched off across fields to my left, I instead followed the rightward curve of the road past an ancient tumulus and on to the village of Brynsiencyn (formerly also anglicised as Brynshenkin), which I knew had a shop.
Unfortunately ‘had’ turned out to be entirely the correct tense; the shop was shuttered and forlorn and showed every sign of having recently gone out of business. My little diversion had been for naught. Well, almost.
And so, with a sigh, I set off down the road back to the shoreline, meeting up with the coast path near a cottage named Barras. There, I paused for a moment to look out over the Menai Strait towards both Snowdonia and Caernarfon. Another walker joined me for a moment and we, propelled by deeply ingrained British imperatives, commented on the weather.
The sky was filling with fluffy white clouds but dark ones were promised for later…
Sea Zoo & Farm Park
For the next three quarters of a mile the road and the coast path kept each other company as they followed the shoreline and passed such delights as the Anglesey Sea Zoo (Sw Môr Môn), which is basically an aquarium, and Foel Farm Park, a farm turned tourist attraction. Both of these possessed cafés, which would have answered my food and water requirement, except that both were yet to open on account of the still early hour.
Tal y Foel
The road ended at Tal y Foel, which comprised a small mooring pier and some holiday homes that had once been the Mermaid Inn. This was my second abandoned ferry-site of the day, for the Tal y Foel Ferry ran to Caernarfon from 1464 (or earlier) until 1852. Tides and silting then moved it along the shore a little but the ferry limped on, despite the two bridges, for another hundred years until 1952. And once the ferry had gone, the Mermaid Inn’s days were numbered.
A Stroll Along the Shore
Beyond Tal y Foel, the path took to the beach for about half a mile, taking me to the ferry’s other landing point. The beach was all stones and the tidemarks suggested that it would be fully submerged at the height of the tide. I looked at the time and my notes on the tides. High tide was about twenty minutes away; there wasn’t much beach left to walk on. The only sensible option was wait for the tide to turn.
‘Pah,’ I thought. ‘Half a mile is what, ten minutes? Or seven or eight at a good pace.’ And so it proved.
The path off the beach was more of a challenge, being so overgrown as to be invisible without a waymark, but a few moments of forcing my way through brambles was rewarded by my emergence, blinking and scratched, into an open field.
The field led to another, which in turn led to a metalled track which connected the farm of Cae Mawr to the public road network. I thus followed the leafy farm track and then quiet country lanes, pausing only for horse riders and (once) to get thoroughly lost.
It wasn’t my fault. I was looking for the next lane on the right. The actual next lane wasn’t on my map.
Vaguely Towards Dwyran
When the lane headed off in entirely the wrong direction I quickly realised my mistake and backtracked. I soon found the right road and headed vaguely towards the village of Dwyran, knowing that I would never reach it. Sure enough, the footpath soon shunned the road again and I did dutifully likewise. It seemed to appreciate my effort…
For a while, the footpath varied between ‘in need of a trim‘ and ‘completely overgrown’, and flirted in places with the concept of ‘impenetrable’. And then suddenly, without warning, I found myself in a wide open space, following the marshy banks of the Afon Braint. The green, flat countryside of Anglesey stretched away in all directions, liberally dotted with cows and sheep. It was glorious.
No Sign of a Bridge
I was vaguely aware at this point that the path had to cross the Afon Braint, if I was to head northwards up the coast. I therefore kept an eye out for any sign of a bridge up ahead. There was none.
After I while, I started to wonder when the bridge would eventually appear and decided to consult with my map. The map was of the opinion that it should be just ahead and the flatness of the terrain should mean that it was clearly visible. I looked at the map again. There was indeed a crossing marked on the page but no sign of a bridge. So how…?
The Stepping Stones
The stepping stones were uneven and slippery and just a little too far apart to step across with comfort. I’m sure they are a doddle if you’re six foot tall or have something resembling a working sense of balance. I quickly realised that I would have to make a bold, half-jumping step across each gap.
‘Well, here goes,’ I thought.
Over I Go
I stepped boldly across onto the first stone. My foot slipped. I pitched forwards, stepped across with the other foot and then, aware that I was wobbling alarmingly, sat down in a controlled fall. I was now sitting on the first stepping stone, wondering if my dodgy sense of balance would let me get back up again without falling off. For the first time that day, I wished I’d taken walking poles.
At this point my calf muscle, annoyed at this falling over nonsense, decided to cramp up in order to teach me a lesson.
‘Nnng!’ I said through gritted teeth.
The Mammal Prevails
I stayed on the stone for some minutes, massaging my calf muscle back into compliance. Then, very carefully, I climbed to my feet. So far so good. I hopped back to the riverbank and paced up and down until my leg finally relaxed. The stepping stones stretched away in front of me, daring me to have another go.
‘You’re on,’ I said.
I won’t have won any awards for graceful movement but I did hop uncertainly from one to the next, arms windmilling for balance. In truth I quite enjoyed it but I can’t say I wasn’t relieved to reach the far bank.
Seeing How It’s Done
Grinning like a madman, I headed up the path, unduly alarming a woman who walked past in the other direction. Curious, I paused to see how she handled the stones.
Boldly and confidently, she marched right up to the river’s edge and then stopped. There was a bit of a comic double-take as she saw the stepping stones for what they were. She hesitated. And then she took a half-jump step onto the first of the stones. Her arms waved wildly for balance…
‘It’s not just me then,’ I thought, reassured, and continued onwards to Pen-lôn.
Pen-lôn (‘lane end’) is a small village, seemingly clustered around a roundabout, where the A4080 turns north. More realistically, ignoring modern road numbering, it is both the western end of the road from Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll and the southern end of the old road to Aberffraw and Rhosneigr. It is therefore well-named.
Anglesey Model Village
This small village also contains an even smaller one in the form of the Anglesey Model Village, which is pretty much what you’d expect — a collection of scale models of the island’s principal attractions. I had no time to spare for the model village as I had instead spotted a sign for a café.
The Marram Grass
The café was attached to a campsite and I had no great expectations, which only meant that I was utterly amazed by its excellent standards of food and service. Refuelled with tea and a plate filled with more food than I could eat, I was positively bounding down the road when I left.
The way onwards was essentially an access track leading to the dunes of Newborough Warren and their neighbour, Newborough Forest.
Both are named for Newborough, a nearby village that was founded in 1294 as a new home for the evicted inhabitants of the port of Llanmaes — Edward I was building a new port at Beaumaris and didn’t want competition from its predecessor. Though just a small village now, Newborough grew prosperous on producing nets and rope from marram grass and was even Anglesey’s county town for a period in the sixteenth century.
I wouldn’t actually be passing through Newborough but would instead be heading in the opposite direction, following the edge of Newborough Forest down to the beach.
The skies, which had turned an unfriendly grey colour while I was enjoying my lunch, now opened and dropped a considerable amount of water on my head. But no sooner had I wrestled my coat from my bag and put it on than it stopped. This was apparently a fun game as the weather and I played it for some time.
Border Collie Lady
The path down towards the beach was quite busy with people, mainly dog-walkers, heading to or from the sands. Most seemed to be facing the same clothing quandary that I was (others, ill-equipped, simply got wet).
‘I don’t know what to do,’ admitted one elderly woman with an over-excited border collie, ‘if I put on my coat it’s too warm, and if I don’t I get wet.’ She wasn’t wrong.
On reaching the beach, I found that I had a choice of routes and I chose to take a woodland path, more for the shelter the trees provided than for any other reason.
Newborough Forest is a fairly recent creation, having been afforested between 1947 and 1965 partly in order to provide shelter for Newborough from wind-blown sand and partly for the usual reasons of timber and jobs. The trees are predominantly Corsican pine and were planted at a fairly low density, presumably on account of the poor nutrition of dune soils.
Red squirrels (Scuirus vulgaris) live in the forest, not that I saw even one. I was really hoping to, though; on the mainland red squirrels have been almost entirely displaced by the American eastern grey squirrel (Scuirus carolinensis).
The forest path brought me to a car park with a bewildering number of possible routes onward, none of which were clearly the coastal footpath. It had just stopped raining, so I decided to walk along the lovely beach, which was proudly flying its blue flag, indicating that it met the cleanliness standards of the Foundation for Environmental Education.
Thanks mostly to the rain, I had the beach almost to myself as I strolled towards the tidal island of Llanddwyn. The beach was broad and flat and backed by dunes forming low, sandy cliffs topped with a wall of Corsican pine.
A path winds around Llanddwyn Island (Ynys Llanddwyn) and I decided to take it.
The island is named for the church of St Dwynwen, one of twenty-four daughters of St Brychan, Prince of Brycheiniog. Dwynwen fell in love with a young man named Maelon but, somewhat contrarily, rejected all of his advances. Accounts differ as to why — either because she wished to stay chaste and become a nun, or because her father wished her to marry someone else for political reasons.
Praying that she could be released from her feelings for Maelon, she dreamt that she was given a potion that would do just that. What it actually did (in her dream) was turn him to ice. She then prayed that three wishes be granted: that Maelon be restored, that all lovers find happiness and that she should never wish to be married. The last one she pretty much guaranteed by living on the island as a hermit.
Dwynwen came to be seen as a patron saint of lovers and the Welsh equivalent of St Valentine, with lovers making starry-eyed pilgrimages to her shrine. It, in turn, became one of the wealthiest ones for miles.
Llanddwyn Island Lighthouse
The island is liberally dotted with crosses and ruins, while at its tip stands the old Llanddwyn Island Lighthouse (Tŵr Mawr, ‘big tower’), erected in 1845. It was built by a local stonemason using the same techniques and design as the numerous Anglesey windmills.
Tŵr Mawr was built to replace an older beacon (Tŵr Bach), which itself then replaced its replacement: In 1976 a modern light was placed on top of the older Tŵr Bach and Tŵr Mawr retired from use.
The lighthouse and the pilots were needed as this stretch of coast is actually pretty dangerous. Between 1840 and 1903, a lifeboat was also stationed on the island. The importance of these things was neatly brought home to me as I set off along the deserted beach on the far side of Llanddwyn Island. There, jutting from the sands, were what’s left of the timbers of the cargo brig Athena.
Built in 1840, Athena was sailing from Alexandria to Liverpool in December 1852, laden with a cargo of beans. Having come so far and got so close to her destination, she was caught in a storm and ran aground. The Llanddwyn lifeboat was launched to assist and not only were fourteen crewmembers saved but the sails and part of the cargo were also recovered. This was a relatively happy ending to a shipwreck, except perhaps to her owner’s accountants.
The beach stretched on, windswept and empty, until it met the marshy estuary of the Afon Cefni. Today the Cefni’s tidal estuary reaches inland only as far as Malltraeth, where an embankment (‘the Cob’) dams its progress. Further inland, the Cefni is non-tidal and canalised but prior to the 1820s, when the Cob was constructed and land was reclaimed, the Cefni’s tidal estuary reached as far inland as Llangefni, forming a significant barrier to overland travel.
I took a footpath through the low, flat salt marshes, taking great care not to stray. My caution was due to two reasons: firstly, at this time of year birds nest in the marshes and I had no desire to disturb them and, secondly, it was a salt marsh. I had very little desire to sink to my knees in foul-smelling mud.
Soon enough the footpath returned me to the edge of Newborough Forest, after which it was just a case of following two or three miles of forest tracks. With exquisite timing, I emerged from the relative shelter of the forest just in time for the heavens to open for another downpour, which hit with its fullest force as I was crossing the exposed top of the Cob.
Soaked to the skin and suddenly quite cold, I squelched into the tiny village of Malltraeth, the name of which more or less means ‘bad sands’. I availed myself of one of Malltraeth’s two pubs and filled my inside with beer while my outside slowly dried out.
With my ‘official’ walk over for the day, now all I had to do was find the nearest station. Despite the railway line passing within a quarter of a mile, Malltraeth has never had a station of its own; the closest was the request halt of Bodorgan, just over a mile and a half way. The rain had ceased and the sun was once again shining as I set out for Bodorgan and a train ride back to my hotel…
This time: 24 miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,682 miles