Cream Of The Country: Anglesey

Beaumaris has elegant seaside houses as well as magical, unspoilt beaches, discovers Joey Canessa
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The Independent Online

The journey to the island of Anglesey, or Ynys Mon, culminates 272 miles from London at Thomas Telford's Menai Bridge, the first suspension bridge in the world, which crosses the Menai Strait, the stretch of water separating the island from the mainland of North Wales. Across the bridge, the road reaches a junction; turn left and you will find yourself in the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch; turn right, and you arrive in Beaumaris, which is an awful lot easier to fit on a postcard.

The journey to the island of Anglesey, or Ynys Mon, culminates 272 miles from London at Thomas Telford's Menai Bridge, the first suspension bridge in the world, which crosses the Menai Strait, the stretch of water separating the island from the mainland of North Wales. Across the bridge, the road reaches a junction; turn left and you will find yourself in the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch; turn right, and you arrive in Beaumaris, which is an awful lot easier to fit on a postcard.

Sheltered by the mainland and facing south, Beaumaris is an elegant seaside town, popular as a sailing centre and renowned for its unparalleled views; from the east, the landscape extends from Puffin Island, the Great Orme at Llandudno, along the length of Snowdonia all the way to the Lleyn peninsula in the west. A hundred years ago, it was a popular destination for holiday-makers from Liverpool who would arrive by boat in their hundreds, but most of the visitors these days come from nearby Cheshire villages to enjoy the salty air.

Edward I put Beaumaris on the map, naming it "beautiful marsh" and building a castle, the last of the "iron ring" of fortifications that he built to defend his medieval kingdom. He drove out the locals, burnt their books, and sent them to live at nearby Newborough, filling Beaumaris with his own English people. The town remains curiously English to this day, unlike other typical Anglesey towns, and even now, Edward and his castle remain understandably unpopular with the Welsh people. Opposite the castle stands the courthouse, dating from 1614, and the town also still retains its Victorian jail, scene of many executions, and the pier.

Mainly built between 1850 and 1900, most of the houses are made from Welsh stone. The elegant seafront buildings and rows of cottages provide rich pickings for holidaymakers seeking to reserve themselves a permanent base on this tranquil island, and the majority of purchases are second homes. But recent plans for a new 400-berth marina have already had a staggering impact on property prices; during 2004, prices rose by 35-40 per cent, and Beaumaris is now officially listed as a "hotspot". Its other classification, as an area of outstanding natural beauty, prevents any new building in the town - another factor contributing to rising property prices.

Many of the smaller cottages in New Street, Rose Hill and Wexham Street were originally built for the servants of the Buckley estate at Red Hill, and their freeholds were sold off in vast numbers during the 1920s in order to pay off death duties. These little cottages can still be found on the market from £170,000, and a single-storey stone cottage with pretty little front garden in a more rural location at Llanfaes, one mile from Beaumaris, can be bought for £119,000.

The houses on the seafront are more opulent, where buildings such as Victoria Terrace look out across the green towards the mountains. A five-bedroom house within the terrace would set you back around £400,000. Local estate agent Joan Hopkin finds that most of her mailing list is made up of older people from Cheshire, Manchester and Liverpool seeking a holiday home or somewhere quiet to retire to.

Local celebrities have included William Pitt the Younger and astrologer Russell Grant, but the majority of the inhabitants of Beaumaris now are retired English, and local pastimes centre around luncheon clubs and charity events. Despite these sedate qualities, Beaumaris still has a certain gentle buzz. The town is noticeably lacking in entertainment for the younger generation, and around 80 per cent of school-leavers desert the island to find employment elsewhere.

Sailing events are key, with an annual regatta with the Royal Anglesey Yacht Club providing a distinguished venue for the revelries. The locals also enjoy the Beaumaris Festival that is held every year at the end of May and lasts for a fortnight, featuring open-air opera recitals complete with fireworks in the grounds of Plas Newydd, home of the Marquis of Anglesey. There is also sea-fishing at Penmon Point, and charter boats take anglers of all abilities out to sea. There is an abundance of wildlife, including puffins and seals.

The local area is filled with historic relics, including the 4th-century huts, or "Cytiau'r Gwyddelod", of the Irish settlers, and several Neolithic burial sites. The church at Penmon, originally a 6th-century priory, was destroyed by the Vikings, but later rebuilt, remaining one of the finest examples of Norman architecture, and housing several early Christian crosses from the 9th century.

Kate Headworth, who lives in London but whose grandparents live opposite the castle, has chosen to hold her wedding celebrations in Beaumaris this June. "I've spent my holidays here throughout my life," she says, "crabbing on the pier when I was little and taking boats to Puffin Island. It's the perfect place for having fun. The beaches are huge, sandy and quite unspoilt with magical little coves, and the mountains of Snowdonia make a great alternative.

"The town itself has a lovely cosy feel to it; the main street gives the impression of being small and intimate but actually the centre is quite substantial. Getting the wedding organised here has been such fun, and the locals can't seem to do enough to help - it's so unlike London. The castle is going to provide a fantastic backdrop for the photos."

Fact box

Cost of living: Two-bedroom terraced cottage from £150,000; three-bedroom town house from £350,000; five-bedroom sea-front house with views, up to £600,000.

Attractions: Sailing, golf, rich wildlife, including puffins and seals, equestrian sports, beautiful sandy beaches, historic buildings including a medieval castle, pretty Welsh stone cottages, Victorian pier, lovely pubs, magnificent walks, two great bridges and exquisite views.

How to get there: Three to four hours on the train to Bangor from Euston, via Crewe; two hours from Manchester; nearest airports, Manchester or Liverpool.

Anglesey's USP: The views from the town, across the straits to the peaks of Snowdonia, must be among the most dramatic in the UK.

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