Caravan County: Anglesey
Anglesey – or Ynys Mon to the Welsh - is the largest island of Wales and, indeed, one of the largest within the entire British Isles. The impressive civil engineering that finally ‘bridged the gap’ to the island by road and rail across the Menai Strait in the mid-nineteenth century, greatly reduced its splendid isolation and increased the speed and importance of what, via the A55 trunk road, remains the shortest sea-route to Dublin.
The island has a 125 mile coastline, with its main urban centres focused upon the port town of Holyhead, for Ireland connections, in the North West, Amlwch on the North coast, and Llangefni in the mid-South. Beaumaris, in the far South East could also be judged a small town, but, elsewhere, the pattern of settlement is rural and dispersed, often with just hamlets, farmsteads and occasional lakes featuring across rolling countryside.
Anglesey is known in folklore as the ‘Mother of Wales’ by dint of its fertile, productive soils and relatively benign climate – an area that could take-up-the-slack and supply foodstuffs to many other parts of Wales. It represented a bread-basket and had a reputation as a form of ‘Celtic insurance policy’ that underwrote any deficiencies in Welsh farming experienced elsewhere. It was once a stronghold of Welsh culture and centre of Druid influence, which the Romans found very challenging to overcome. Today however, native Welsh speakers are not as prominent here as in many other parts of the Principality, such as Gwynnedd.
There’s little doubt that this part of North Wales can offer an excellent holiday experience. Whilst it does not have the rugged grandeur and sheer elevation of the peaks of Snowdonia National Park to the South East, (which is nevertheless, within easy reach if you so choose), there’s a great dealof outdoor interest in the form of excellent walking routes, spectacular sea-cliffs, superb sandy bays, freshwater lakes and a diverse landscape.
All this, when combined with a mild climate and a rather strategic geographical location, makes Anglesey a Nature Conservation ‘hot-spot’, with an exceptional diversity of habitats - both on land and under the sea. The island has no fewer than sixty Sites of Special Scientific Interest, four National Nature Reserves, an extensive, largely coastal Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and six ‘Blue Flag Beaches’ (as of 2006/7). It contains over one hundred and twenty scheduled ancient monuments and “more shipwrecks than anywhere else in Europe” (more by repute than verifiable audit!). Busy yet dangerous waters, which in 1675 claimed the very first Royal Yacht ‘Mary’.
A full range of outdoor activities are on offer in Anglesey: Visitors can sample horse riding, long or short-distance self-guided walking routes, canoeing, kayaking and a selection of local sailing centres, whilst some centres provide for those wishing to have a go at abseiling, wind-surfing, archery, assault-courses and golf. Almwych, Beaumaris and other smaller harbours offer a range of vessels for charter sea angling excursions whilst beaches and lakes highly suitable for fishing are in good supply.
Llanddwyn Island on the southern tip is a magical place. Located at the far end of a pleasant beach near Newborough Warren, its rolling dunes, large rock outcrops and mixture of historic buildings makes it an ideal place for an afternoon of exploration. Llanddwyn is not quite an island, it remains attached to the mainland at all but the highest tides. It provides excellent views of Snowdonia and the Lleyn Peninsula and is part of the Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve. The name Llanddwyn means 'The church of St. Dwynwen'. She is the Welsh patron saint of lovers, making her the Welsh equivalent of St. Valentine. The ruins of her chapel can still be seen on the island today.
There are parts of the coast, such as Dulas Bay and Penmon Point on the East coast that afford regular sightings of porpoises, seals and dolphins, especially during summer, whilst under the Menai Strait itself, rare species of sea-anemone and temperate corals, not found anywhere else in UK waters, live under the protection provided by a specially designated Marine Area of Conservation. As a ‘staging-post’ for bird migration, there are a number of places of special interest from an ornithological perspective, with national and even international rarities regularly being spotted.
There are many heritage sites worthy of note; the distinctive old lighthouses or the one remaining working windmill on the island, one can mention South Stack Beacon with its ‘disconcerting’ bridge access, and Llynnon Mill in the North West. In Holyhead, the Maritime Museum at Newry Beach with the adjacent restored World War II Air-Raid Shelter display are well worth a look. Plas Newydd the National Trust’s island showpiece overlooking the Menai Strait, has Humphrey Repton landscape gardens on the outside and a notable Whistler Art collection on the inside. There’s also Cadw’s flagship site at Beaumaris Castle, a very extensive (yet unfinished!) fortification.
As a measure of its tourism appeal and popularity, the island plays host to a great number of Holiday and Leisure Parks, ranging from the large and ‘sophisticated’ to smaller, privately-run sites with more rural and informal facilities. All such sites are within easy day-trip reach of all the attractions and facilities that Anglesey has to offer, as well as principal tourism centres on the mainland of North Wales, such as Mount Snowdon, the ‘Great Little Railways’, the Slate Museums, Llyn Peninsula, Portmeirion, Conwy and Llandudno.