Ynys Llanddwyn… the most romantic place in Wales

The most romantic ruins in Wales
The most romantic ruins in Wales

Romantic candlelit dinners, red roses and chocolate have become rather clichéd over the years.

Harri clearly thinks so because our eighth Valentine’s Day passed without the whisper of even a heart-shaped malteser.

Instead, he announced, he would be taking me to Ynys Llanddwyn, the most romantic place in Wales.

A few weeks later, I found myself crossing the Britannia Bridge, high above the narrow but extremely hazardous Menai Strait, to visit Anglesey for the first time in my life. (There is some excellent footage of the devastating 1970s fire on YouTube, including interviews with the fire chief and the accidental arsonist).

I think it’s fair to say I know little about Wales’ largest island, other than it’s mainly flat and if you walk this 130-mile stretch of the Wales Coast Path you end up back where you started. Harri came here on camping holidays as a child and summarised the place as having a beautiful coastline but far less interesting interior (from the little I saw of the Anglesey countryside, I tend to agree).
Wild ponies help to maintain the dunes
Wild ponies help to maintain the dunes

Joking aside, the powers that be on the island were way ahead of the rest of Wales when it came to the concept of creating a long-distance coastal path. The Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path was officially opened on June 9 2006, and it was at the official launch event that Rhodri Morgan, then Wales’s First Minister, announced the Welsh Assembly Government’s intention to create a path around the entire coast of Wales by 2012.

They delivered and now we have the Wales Coast Path – 870 miles of splendid coastal walking, much of which might have remained inaccessible to hikers had it not been for the vision and determination of a small team in Anglesey. If you’re reading, thank you guys (and gals) from this keen coast path walker.

Back to Ynys Llanddwyn. Knowing I’m a bit of a romantic, Harri had built up our nine-mile walk just a teeny bit so I was full of excitement and expectation as we set off from Llyn Rhos-ddu car park. It was one of those cloudy March days when the weather hasn’t quite decided whether to embrace spring or retreat back into winter, but there were plenty of dog walkers around from the outset.

It’s a phenomenon that never fails to amaze us. In some places, we’ll walk for miles and not see another person all day; conversely, other spots seem to act as human magnets, pulling in hoards of locals and tourists alike. The presence (or not) of a large, free car park seems to be determining factor.

 

The marram grass sculpture
The marram grass sculpture

The car park at Llyn Rhos Ddu is not vast (but is free) and is dominated by a large steel sculpture depicting marram grass, which once provided nearby Newborough with a major source of income from mat, basket and rope making.

We followed the edge of the forest for a mile or so until we reached the ‘dogs are allowed’ end of Traeth Penrhos. It’s a wonderful stretch of coast, with simply stunning views back across the Llyn Peninsula. From this angle, the peninsula’s so-called ‘spine’ is clearly visible.

The number of people on the beach on this cold March morning surprised us, until we realised that there is a large, free car park immediately behind the dunes. We decided to investigate and were pleasantly surprised to find clean, modern public toilets which were actually open.

 

Boardwalks... one of my passions in life
Inexplicably, boardwalks are one of my passions in life

Having indulged my love of boardwalks (what is it about them?), we headed back for the beach where the tide was retreating nicely, meaning that we’d have no problem in crossing to Ynys Llanddwyn (which isn’t actually an island at all but a headland which becomes inaccessible when the tide is very high).

Ynys Llanddwyn has become associated with romance because it was once home of Saint Dwynwen, who lived here in the fifth century. Dwynwen rejected love for herself, choosing to live the life of a hermit on Llanddwyn, however she prayed for all true lovers to find happiness (more details of the story). Saint Dwynwen’s Day on January 25 is celebrated in Wales in much the same way as Valentine’s Day.

 

The mouth of the Menai with the Llyn Peninsula beyond
The mouth of the Menai with the Llyn Peninsula beyond

If I’d been concerned that matters of the heart would cloud Harri’s brain and divert him off-track, I needn’t have worried. While I soaked up the romance of the location, admiring a striking stone cross and exploring the ruins of the sixteenth century church dedicated to Saint Dwynwen, he checked his map and strode off to take a closer look at the 1819 beacon (this is now used as an automatic beacon).

This was officially the Most Romantic Place in Wales and my beloved’s mind was (as usual) entirely taken up with navigational matters. Sometimes, you just have to know when to give up!

I followed him, delighting in the idea that the beacon stands on a tiny island off another island (Llanddwyn) off another island (Anglesey).

We were drawn towards a wonderfully quaint row of tiny stone cottages. These are the old pilots’ cottages where the men who manned the old lighthouse and guided ships safely through the treacherous waters of the Menai Strait lived with their families. The cottages have been renovated and two are often open to the public (though unfortunately not on the day we visited). The small cannon in front of them was used during the nineteenth century to summon the lifeboat and its voluntary crew (made up of the nearby pilots). I couldn’t resist a peep through the window of one of the cottages and was amazed how cramped the living conditions were.

 

The tiny homes of very dedicated men
The tiny homes of very dedicated men with the lighthouse beyond

Finally, we walked around the lighthouse, admiring the views towards the Llyn and along the western coast of Anglesey, flat except for the distant Holy Island, where Holyhead is located.

Ynys Llanddwyn had definitely worked its magic on one of us, but we still had a walk to finish so, with a heavy heart, we bode farewell to Saint Dwynwen’s island retreat and headed back to the mainland.

 

Postscript: Anyone interested in learning more about Anglesey’s history might like to visit a dedicated website by Warren Kovach, which is teeming with fascinating information about the island as well as lots of fantastic photographs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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