A fresh angle on Anglesey
As Prince William and Kate Middleton prepare to walk down the aisle, Simon Calder assesses the appeal of the far-flung corner of Wales that the couple calls home
Wednesday 27 April 2011
What's the attraction?
Amid all the speculation about the possible honeymoon destination for Prince William and Kate Middleton, the fact that they live quietly in one of the most beautiful British islands may be overlooked. Since the heir presumptive was stationed at RAF Valley, near Holyhead, they have lived in a remote (and easily secured) farmhouse close to the western shore of Anglesey.
The island, the most far-flung corner of Wales, is packed with beauty and intrigue. Its ancient name is Mam Cymru, "Mother of Wales". In the 21st century, some regard the island county as somewhere to get through as fast as possible on the A55 to and from the ferry port at Holyhead. But turn off the main road and you soon discover an island enticingly out of step from the rest of the UK.
The pace of life dwindles, and wandering the country lanes – ideally by bike – takes you through landscapes steeped in history. You're never far from the sea, which usually means deserted beaches – and all kinds of activity options. Holy Island, at the north-western tip, offers much more than the boat to Ireland: it is one of the best locations in Britain for birdwatching.
The attractions do not stop at the shore. While Anglesey is undulating rather than mountainous, the south-east of the island offers sublime views of the the ranges on the North Wales mainland: "Far to the eastward, over there/Snowdon rises in pearl-grey air," wrote John Betjeman. You can share his appreciation in the harbour town (and Unesco world heritage site) of Beaumaris, which also offers boutique accommodation and excellent dining.
The civilised way to travel to Anglesey is by rail: the main line to Holyhead, which crosses the Menai Strait on the Britannia Bridge, runs through the middle of the island. Chester, just across the Welsh border in England, is the main gateway, but there are some direct trains from Cardiff and London Euston. Fares are temptingly low if you book early: typical advance fares are £40 return from Manchester, £34 from Cardiff and £68 from London. National rail enquiries: 08457 48 49 50; www.nationalrail.co.uk.
By road, the highlight is one of the finest examples of early 19th-century engineering, the 579ft-long Menai Bridge, which connects Anglesey with the mainland. It was built by Thomas Telford, and when it opened in 1826 was the world's first large iron suspension bridge. At 2pm on Sundays and Wednesdays, you can take part in a guided walk (£5) that reveals the bridge's history and significance: 01248 715046 or www.prosiectmenai.co.uk for more details.
The only commercial flight to Anglesey is currently from Cardiff on Manx2 ( www.manx2.com), twice a day from Monday to Friday in both directions, with fares from £49 each way. It lands at RAF Valley, the base where Prince William is assigned as a search and rescue pilot. From 1 June, there will also be flights to and from the Isle of Man, also on Manx2.
In Beaumaris, the five-star Townhouse adjoins a traditional inn: Ye Olde Bulls Head (01248 810329; www.bulls headinn.co.uk). Yet it is an imaginatively created boutique hotel with bedrooms as stylish as they are hi-tech (plasma screens and wi-fi as standard). A special offer costing £155 for two includes a double room with Welsh breakfast and £25 a head to spend in the Brasserie.
Nearby, a novel alternative is The Windmill, which is 270 years old and recently converted into a property with two double bedrooms (01248 490011; www.whitebeachholiday.co.uk; nightly rate £143, with discounts for full weeks). At present it is fully booked until October, but most of next summer is up for grabs. For a traditional seaside retreat, overlooking a Blue Flag beach, the Trearddur Bay Hotel (01407 860 301; www.trearddurbayhotel.co.uk) delivers. A standard double with breakfast costs £155.
Trearddur Bay happens to be on the Anglesey Coastal Path, which takes in 125 miles of the island's coast, and offers a fascinating week or two of walking. Anglesey Walking Holidays (01243 713611; www.angleseywalkingholidays.com) has a range of itineraries, typically costing around £120 per person per day, which includes accommodation and luggage transport.
If you don't have that long to spare, then the Holyhead to Trearddur Bay segment is a challenging 12-mile day including a 700-foot ascent that takes you past an Iron Age fort before reaching South Stack's lighthouse and levelling out at sea level along Porth Dafarch beach.
Tal y Foel Riding Centre (01248 430977; www.tal-y-foel.co.uk), based near the southern tip of the island, offers a beach ride at low tide.
Water-borne activities include fishing: Starida Sea Services (01248 810251; www.starida.co.uk), based in Beaumaris, offers a range of day excursions from two hours (£25, with the prospect of herring and mackerel) to eight hours (£55, with the possibility of fishing a wreck).
If you prefer your fish swimming around in tanks, the Anglesey Sea Zoo at Brynsiencyn is Wales's largest aquarium (01248 430411; www.angleseysea zoo. co.uk; 10am-4pm daily; family ticket £29.99 for two adults and three children). It is home to more than 150 native species. Daily shark feeds and a shipwreck brimming with conger eels are among the highlights.
One of the most exciting water-based activities is kite-surfing. At Rhosneigr on the windy west coast, the FKS enterprise (01407 810598; www.fks.me.uk) offers a private one-day beginner course for £120 and a two-day group session for £175 including equipment.
Anglesey was the last part of Wales to fall to Rome, and is arguably home to Wales' greatest concentration of ancient sites: 20 in all, from prehistoric ruins to Roman buildings. Perhaps the most significant is Bryn Celli Ddu ("the mound in the dark grove"), a Neolithic burial mound two miles to the west of Llanfair PG ( www.cadw.wales.gov.uk). Anglesey Guides (01248 713177; www.visitanglesey.co.uk) comprise 25 trained guides who can offer bespoke tours from one hour to a full day.
Industrial archaeology is plentiful, notably on the north coast at Amlwch – at one time the biggest copper producer in the world. You can find out more – including the origin of the phrase "copper-bottomed" at the Sail Loft visitor centre (01407 832255; www.copperkingdom.co.uk; 10am-5pm daily, admission free).
Across in Holyhead, the Maritime Museum (01407 769 745; www.holyheadmaritimemuseum.co.uk; 10am-4pm daily except Mondays; £3.50) is based in the oldest lifeboat station in Wales and tells the story of the port in war and peace.
In the 21st century, the cultural hub of Anglesey is the museum and art gallery of Oriel Ynys Môn, near the administrative capital of Llangefni (01248 724 444; www.kyffinwilliams.info; 10.30am-5.30pm, admission free). It was created by the notable Welsh artist, Sir Kyffin Williams, and includes work by Charles Tunnicliffe, a leading wildlife artist.
The natural climax to many visits is South Stack on Holy Island, the spectacular cliff-top location for one of the RSPB's finest reserves (01407 764973; www.rspb.org.uk; 10am-5pm daily; free). Guillemots and choughs are among the appealing residents, but the puffin-breeding season is the ideal time to visit.
What Google will tell you ...
"The undisputed longest valid domain name in the world is llanfairpwllgwyn gyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysilio gogogochuchaf.org.uk", for the Anglesey village more concisely known as Llanfair PG.
What Google won't tell you... until now
The Friday afternoon flight from RAF Valley to Cardiff departs an hour earlier than on other days, at 4.40pm, to enable the airport to close early for the weekend.
Additional research by Alex Whiteman
Who said that?
"The sleepy sound of a tea-time tide / Slaps at the rocks the sun has dried / Too lazy, almost, to sink and lift / Round low peninsulas pink with thrift"
John Betjeman – A Bay in Anglesey
"In the eastern interior of Anglesey, the underlying limestone contributes to the maintenance of the second-most important calcareous fenland in Britain." Anglesey by Lindsey Porter
"The island of today is rooted in [the] old way of life, and is sustained by it as it grows new shoots. The Welsh language is spoken as a matter of course alongside English." The Guide to Anglesey, Philip Steele and Robert Williams
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