The world always seems a better place after a good night’s sleep. When we unzipped our tent just before 7am it was to look out onto a scene so enchanting I had the urge to compose another verse to Louis Armstrong’s classic song, ‘Wonderful World’. I’m no lyricist, but I imagine it would go something along the lines of:
I see sparkling waves
And sea birds fly
The distant peaks
Against blue sky
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.
Everything – the lighthouse, Puffin Island, the North Wales coast, the mountains – was bathed in that crisp, bright, morning light that tends to wane as the day matures. It’s no wonder many keen photographers are out and about at dawn.
‘I love camping,’ I sighed, ignoring Harri’s look of bemusement. ‘I really do love it’.
We hadn’t been walking long before we reached Penmon (the name comes from the Welsh pen – meaning end, head or promontory – and Môn, for Anglesey). This small village, three miles from Beaumaris, is steeped in history and is popular with tourists. Fortunately, at this early hour the lanes were all but deserted and we had the historic monuments all to ourselves.
The existing buildings at Penmon date back to the 12th century; however, a wooden church existed on the site even earlier (it was destroyed by Viking raids in 971). What remains today is Penmon Priory’s huge (but roofless) refectory, the stone church, a dovecot and a well. We wandered into the dovecote, built @1600 by the Bulkeley family of nearby Beaumaris (it was they who converted Penmon Priory into a residence after the dissolution in 1537). In the dim light, we found ourselves staring up at 930 nesting holes (young doves were considered a delicacy at one time) and a plastic bottle which had either flown, or been hurled, up to its lofty resting place.
Moving on, we stopped at St Seiriol’s Well, situated just past the monastery’s fish pond and most likely the oldest structure at Penmon. There’s not really a lot to see. The ‘holy’ well is a spring whose source is a cliff behind the church; the spring is surrounded by a slab floor and stone benches either side.
While we were browsing around Penmon and admiring what remained of the Priory, the tidal waters of the Menai Strait were retreating.
Harri pointed out the university city of Bangor on the distant bank, which surprised me as I’d never thought of the little university city as being located on the coast (my [lack of] geographical knowledge never fails to amaze Harri). Interestingly, Bangor is one of the smallest cities in the UK, with a population of just 17,575 (Census, 2011) if you exclude its 10,000 students; it’s also one of only six cities in Wales (the others are Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, St Asaph and St David’s).
All morning, I’d been looking forward to seeing that great unfinished castle of Wales – Beaumaris Castle. The aerial shots always look amazing, but from the relatively low vantage point of the Anglesey Coast Path we could detect little of its magnificence and concluded that the castle’s sense of grandeur was entirely marred by the continuous traffic passing in front of it.
Beaumaris itself felt very well-heeled and not particularly Welsh despite the dazzling views of Snowdonia (maybe the ghost of Edward I still lingers; afterall, he did build his castle to subdue the Welsh).
We walked along the wide seafront promenade towards the pier, which was recently refurbished, then crossed into the narrow streets tucked behind the main thoroughfare, where Harri made use of the post office (he was sending two OS maps home to lighten the load).
Leaving Beaumaris, I was less than impressed to spot the coast path sign directing us straight up a horrendously steep lane, while the traffic continued on the nice, flat coastal road (I think I may have ranted for quite a while about the injustice of this).
Later, from the other side of the estuary, we could see the coastal road itself eventually climbed to pass behind large, seafront properties so I suppose that explains our inland detour. I still wonder, however, why it always seems to be pedestrians who have to be inconvenienced/diverted whenever a conflict of interest about road usage arises. What would have been wrong with claiming the lower route for the Anglesey and Wales Coast Path (allowing access only to vehicles) and sending the traffic up Baron Hill?
Anyway, after a long, hard slog uphill and some hopscotching around the wooded sections (the estate once owned by the Bulkeley family), we finally reached the elongated but very beguiling Llandegfan, a commuter village for many of those working in nearby Bangor and the childhood home of the television presenter, Aled Jones.
We lunched at the foot of the Menai Suspension Bridge. Just to clarify, there are now two road bridges over the Menai Strait. ‘Ours’ was the 1826 suspension bridge designed by Thomas Telford (there is no pedestrian footway on the Britannia Bridge, designed by Robert Stephenson and originally designed as a railway bridge).
We crossed the bridge slowly, stopping frequently to look down at the infamous Swellies (one of the most treacherous sections of the 16-mile [22 km] Menai Strait). Theoretically, it’s possible to ford the Swellies at the lowest of spring tides when the water depth falls to less than 0.5 metres; however, the strong current makes it difficult (and dangerous). Personally, I think I’d prefer to take the high (and dry) road!
By a strange coincidence, by middle daughter was in Bangor today (for an interview) and it would have been nice to meet up briefly, but unfortunately, by the time we rolled into town, she was already on a train bound for Cardiff.
Bangor was a pleasant surprise. Having managed to remain ignorant of its coastal location for my entire life, I had no idea it was home to Garth Pier, at 460 metres (1,500 feet) the second longest pier in Wales after Llandudno. It’s a lovely spot to while away a sunny afternoon and it’s hard to believe that this magnificent Victorian structure was threatened with demolition back in the 1970s. The district council had ‘inherited’ the closed pier in 1974 and immediately decided it must go. Fortunately, Bangor city councillors would have none of it; they obtained listed building consent and purchased the dilapidated pier for just 1p in 1975; it wasn’t reopened until 13 years later in 1988 (after full renovation).
I’d have been happy to while away an hour or so on the pier, but Harri wanted to seize the opportunity to catch up with his notes, so after a quick shopping trip (great excitement from me when I realised there was an Aldi nearby) and a drink in a beer garden with a (sort of) sea view, it was back to our hotel for the night, the Eryl Mor.
After five days, we’d left Anglesey behind and we about to embark on the next stage of our journey.. a hike that would take us across Wales’s highest mountains… the peaks of Snowdonia.
‘Never too old to backpack: O Fôn i Fynwy: a 364-mile walk through Wales’ by Tracy Burton is available from Amazon’s Kindle Store and other online bookstores priced at £2.99.
There is also a comprehensive site about Penmon’s history at www.penmon.org