Slow Journey County: Anglesey
Slow Journey Destination: Llanddwyn Island, Newborough
Slow Journey Distance Travelled: 3 ½ miles
The love of lore may have been unrequited here in the past, but on Anglesey’s Llanddwyn Island the passion many visitors now have for this ancient land is boundless. We meet one such visitor who was so smitten, he decided to stay …
Love on the Rocks
by Simon Whaley
Stop what you are doing. Now close your eyes. Let your mind wander in search of somewhere truly magical. Let it imagine large sweeps of unspoilt beaches with spectacular views across the sea. Let your nose capture the freshness of the unpolluted air, and your taste buds savour the tang of the salt. Take a deep breath, fill your lungs, and as you breathe out, relax and open your eyes once more. Welcome to an exquisite place. Welcome to Llanddwyn Island.
“To me it encapsulates the whole of Anglesey on a smaller satellite island,” says Warren Kovach. “I’m an American who has been living in Britain for 18 years now, 14 of them on Anglesey. I came over to work as a researcher and wound up staying. I now run a computer software company.”
Tiptoeing out into Caernarfon Bay, this outstanding strip of land roughly one kilometre long and half as wide, is an island off an island. Well almost. It takes the roughest of seas and the highest of tides to truly cut Llanddwyn Island off from Anglesey, but the narrow sand bar that connects it to its bigger sister is thin enough, yet long enough to make it feel detached.
Anglesey (Ynys Môn) on the other hand, is connected to mainland Wales by two bridges. The first was Telford’s Menai Suspension bridge, built in 1826. It was the world’s first large suspension bridge to be constructed of iron, with its huge 579 feet span between the piers, hanging 100 feet in the air. Twenty four years later, Robert Stephenson built Britannia Bridge, using a tubular design, encasing the train lines in two wrought iron tubes. Today’s Britannia Bridge is the modern replacement following a fire in 1970 which destroyed Stephenson’s bridge. Despite being man-made they certainly add beauty to the Menai Straits.
“The Menai Strait is my favourite place,” says Warren. “I love bridges and enjoy walking around Church Island and the Belgian Promenade, which goes under the Menai Bridge and around to the town.”
The Britannia Bridge carries the main A55 and the railway to the port of Holyhead in the north-west of Anglesey, within minutes. Yet as far back as the Tudor period, people were crossing this dangerous racing tidal flow of water by boat, to reach the tranquillity of Llanddwyn Island.
It takes its name from ‘The Church of St Dwynwen’, the remains of which can be seen on the island. Dwynwen was one of 24 children of the 5th Century King of Wales, Brychan Brycheiniog of Brecon, and during an evening of feasting and dancing, Dwynwen captured the heart of Maelon Dafodrill, who wanted to marry her. It’s not clear whether Dwynwen couldn’t marry him because of her wish to become a nun, or whether her father disliked Maelon, or wanted her to marry another man. Whatever the reason, Dwynwen found the situation unbearable and prayed for her pain to be taken away. In a dream she was given a potion, which when she drank it, turned Maelon to ice.
Distraught, Dwynwen began a journey to the remote Llanddwyn Island, to live out her days in solitude. Whilst watching some eels swimming in a well there, she saw an apparition which granted her three wishes. Dwynwen wished:
• Never to have the desire to marry again,
• That all true lovers should find happiness and,
• That Maelon should be freed from his icy grave.
Over the centuries, the Welsh adopted Dwynwen as their own patron saint of lovers. Many crossed the Menai Straits to travel to the small shrine on the island and make an offering. So much money came forth that a chapel was built in the 16th Century, the remains of which can still be seen today.
Wander around the island which today acts as a National Nature Reserve, and its maritime importance is obvious. Two small beacon lighthouses were constructed to aid shipping in Caernarfon Bay, and the cottages that now house displays detailing the wildlife on the island, were once home to the men who used to guide boats in and out of the Menai Straits. The views from here are astounding, stretching from the Snowdonian Mountains in the south-east to the Lleyn Peninsula in the south-west and the rugged Anglesey coastline in the north-west.
It’s picture postcard material, something that has caught Warren’s eye. He’s a keen photographer and even created a pictorial calendar for 2006. “I enjoy showing my photographs of Anglesey and a calendar is an ideal way of allowing someone to regularly enjoy them and the beauty of Anglesey.” Selling them as far a field as America, Warren’s been busy taking pictures for his 2007 calendar which he hopes will be ready by the late summer. His website, www.warrenkovach.co.uk, has further details as well as examples of his excellent photography.
Both Llanddwyn Island, and its neighbouring Newborough Forest and Warren are an important natural habitat. The sand dunes around here are one of the finest and largest to be found anywhere in Britain. As well as being home to numerous rabbits (hence the term ‘Warren’), it also supports Red Squirrels and a range of birds including Goldcrests and Warblers. The rocky outcrops, remnants of undersea volcanic eruptions that pierce the sea’s surface around here, provide a perfect habitat for sea birds such as Cormorants and Oystercatchers.
Llanddwyn may not be a true island, but stepping onto its shores transports you into another world, providing proof that there is much more to Anglesey than the Menai crossings, and a fast road to Holyhead.
Warren had some other suggestions on where visitors new to Anglesey should visit. “First, stop at the Oriel Ynys Môn. This is a council-run gallery and museum in Llangefni. It has an excellent exhibit about the history of the island and the renowned local wildlife artist, Charles Tunnicliffe, which was completely revamped last year. In the spring, head out to South Stack near Holyhead, to see the masses of nesting seabirds on the cliffs. You can also walk down to the lighthouse, where you can take a tour up to the top of the beacon. Finally, head to the town of Menai Bridge and take a walk down to Church Island, along the Belgian Promenade and under the bridge and then up to the town, where you can have a nice meal in one of the pubs or restaurants.”
(c) Simon Whaley