Sam Day travels with his family to discover the delights of Anglesey and North Wales.
We are on a beach. The sun is beginning to sink beyond the horizon, blue sea laps gently at the sand and along the bay black peaks cut across the sky. This could easily be the Italian coast, or a Greek island. But it isn’t, it’s Anglesey in North Wales.
We are visiting Llanddwyn Island, only accessible via a beach at low tide. The island is on the south of Anglesey, an area of Wales that feels both inherently Welsh and something altogether different from the mainland. Named after Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers who is said to have lived as a nun here after leaving her lover. The island now attracts visitors from across the world who come to marvel at its natural beauty, the remains of the 16th century church, as well as the lighthouse and the four small white cottages built to house pilots who used to guide boats into the Menai Strait.
Anglesey is an island that is small and accessible – you are never more than a short journey from the sea – as well as full of places to explore and things to do. The town of Beaumaris is well worth exploring. Sitting on the Menai Strait, the town has a high street full of independent shops and a Victorian gaol, but its most famous attraction is the castle, built by Edward I in 1295.
The Isle of Anglesey is known for its natural beauty and it definitely does not disappoint. Moelfre, a tiny bay on the east of the island, has huge stretches of coastal and cliffside walks as well as a small beach. South Stack, on Holy Island, is a nature reserve with bewilderingly high cliffs and a series of steep steps down to a lighthouse. It provides stunning views of both the lighthouse, and, from the top of the rocky hill that stands above South Stack, the rest of Anglesey. There are also a huge range of great beaches throughout the island, from the expansive Red Wharf Bay to the tiny, secluded set of beaches at Church Bay and the old harbour at Cemaes.
Of course, you don’t have to stay on the island. From Anglesey, it is easy to get around the rest of North Wales. A short journey over one of the two bridges brings you to the depths of Snowdonia, where the roads wind through craggy mountains and slate covered cliffs. It is a world away from the beaches of Anglesey. From the village of Llanberis you can climb Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales, but if the 1,085 metres climb seems too much, you can always take the train. The Snowdon Mountain Railway has operated since 1896 and takes tourists up the mountain to sample the stunning views and even enjoy a cup of tea .
Well worth a visit on the mainland is the Italianate village of Portmeirion. Built between 1925 and 1975, Portmeirion is a tourist resort dripping with colour and playfulness, and as you walk around its streets you have to remind yourself that you’re just a few miles away from the dizzying grey heights of Snowdonia and not, in fact, on the Tuscan coast.
Added to its architectural attractions, the village received further fame thanks to its role in the 1960s television series The Prisoner, and fans of the show are unlikely to leave disappointed.
The jewels of the North Wales coastline are the towns of Conwy and Llandudno which lie only a few miles from each other and together offer everything you could want from the area. Conwy shows off the historic, medieval attraction of North Wales, with its huge castle and famous town walls, as well as a picturesque harbour and the Telford suspension bridge. Down the road is Llandudno, a Victorian seaside resort with a beach, a pier and Punch and Judy shows on the promenade.
The Great Orme, a limestone headland above Llandudno, offers stunning views across to Anglesey and the mountains of Snowdonia and even as far as the Isle of Man. You can take the historic tram up the headland or, if you’re brave enough, the cable cars which let you fly through the sky to soak up the breathtaking views.
We stayed in Anglesey for a week, but it feels there is so much more still to explore. There is no shortage of things to do – and you can even spend a day in Dublin travelling from the port at Holyhead.
So whether it’s the beaches, the history, or the breathtaking views – there is something for everyone to fall in love with on Anglesey.
Snowdon Mountain Railway, Llanberis, Gwynedd, LL55 4TT. 01286 870223, http://snowdonrailway.co.uk
Portmeirion Village, Minffordd, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd, LL48 6ER. 01766 770000, https://portmeirion.wales