Across the bridge to Anglesey
The imposing Menai and Britannia Bridges lead visitors over the fast-moving waters of the Menai Straits and the infamous ‘swellies’ whirlpools, which invite watersports fanatics to test their mettle.
Families looking for a more traditional getaway will also find plenty to entertain on this small, pretty island, where exploring castles and beaches, scoffing freshly-caught seafood and getting up-close to a stunning range of wildlife make for a memorable Summer holiday.
For those with a hankering to be on or under the water, the opportunities are impressive – diving among shipwrecks, kayaking a rugged coastline in the shadow of the Snowdonia Mountains or an afternoon out on an exhilarating RIB boat ride are all on the cards.
Laura Rainbow visited Beaumaris and also asked crew from the island’s four lifeboat stations for their Anglesey highlights.
Things to do
The water around Anglesey is notoriously changeable, with strong tides and offshore winds in many locations. It also hosts a rich and flamboyantly varied range of ecosystems and shipwrecks. Shore dives can offer some protection from currents and rips, and many can be simply walked in and out of from the shore – Porth Dafarch Beach is particularly popular.
Caroline and Martin Sampson own Anglesey Divers, a 5 Star PADI Dive Centre that offers a workshop and compressors with air to 300 bars. Martin is also crew and navigator with the Holyhead lifeboat.
‘We’ve got such variety in a relatively small area here on Anglesey,' says Martin. ‘For example, within 10 minutes from Trearddur Bay launch site, you’ve got access to about six wrecks shallower than 18m, so even relatively inexperienced divers can find something amazing.
‘The wreck of the SS Missouri is great – even though it sank in the late 1800s, a huge amount of the boat’s structure is still recognisable and it’s only about 13m down. It’s pretty much the only feature on the surrounding sandy seabed so it’s a teeming haven for lobsters, pollock and wrasse.’
Adds Marine Biologist and Beaumaris Lifeboat Crew Member Steve Barnard: ‘In the Summer months, the diving around Anglesey is world class – you may be lucky enough to swim with seals, dolphins, porpoises and even the odd small shark. Go with a local group and you’ll be shown the best locations that are appropriate for your level.’
Notebooks at the ready? Anglesey boasts no less than six Blue Flag beaches, 14 Green Coast Awards, 26 Keep Britain Tidy Seaside Beach Awards and 125 miles of coastal path, much of it an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
As a result, you’ll find a beach to suit all tastes, whether yours run to windsurfing, horseriding or simply peering into rock pools to see what’s peering back at you. A good choice for families seeking regular doses of ice cream and some old fashioned bucket-and-spade fun is the clean, sandy beach at Benllech.
A word to the wise from Moelfre Lifeboat Operations Manager Rod Pace: ‘The tides on the north side of the island are particularly strong, but you should be very careful letting children use inflatables on any beach – we spend a lot of time playing catch the dinghy over Summer holidays.’
We advise that inflatables are really for swimming pools. If you must use them at the beach, choose a lifeguarded beach, stay between the red and yellow flags, never use when the orange windsock is flying (indicating an offshore wind), stay close to the shore and supervise closely.
RIB boat rides
It’s great fun to charter a RIB ride if you’ve a destination in mind, or are happy to take a recommendation based on your interests – birdwatching, diving or just admiring the coastline.
SBS Rib Charters are run by Aubrey Diggle, Lifeboat Operations Manager at Trearddur Bay Lifeboat Station, who will take you to diving sites, scenic Southstack Lighthouse or wherever tickles your fancy. Spider-munching TV wild man Bear Grylls also lends his name to a company specialising in high-speed RIB rides based out of Porth Daniel.
Places to visit
Although I had to pop to ‘the Parish of St Mary in the hollow of the white hazel township near the rapid whirlpool and the Parish of St Tysilio with a red cave’ for a top photo opportunity, I’ll confess there’s not a lot else there apart from the visitors’ centre and adjoining James Pringle Weavers shop.
The latter sells a fine array of Welsh souvenirs (Anglesey toffee liqueur, anyone?) and thoughtfully provides a postmark stamp for the many cards you’ll want to send from the place with the planet’s second longest one-word name.
Once you’ve spent a happy half hour, head onwards to Church Island and the atmospheric Church of St Tysilio, arguably founded in the 7th century but more likely the 15th. To get there, it’s a pleasant walk from Menai Bridge along the Belgian Promenade, a walkway that was constructed by Flemish refugees during the First World War.
A pretty little town for lunch and an afternoon amble is Beaumaris, which has some lovely independent shops. I had a poke around M. Jones a’i Fab Antiques admiring characterful Welsh country pieces, and unusual ceramics at the Janet Bell Gallery, followed by a homemade ice cream at Red Boat Gelato.
Sea fishing trips and pleasure cruises around Puffin Island all go from Beaumaris Pier (where the lifeboat station is based) and booking isn’t usually required. Just rock up with some sun cream and a windproof jacket for an enjoyable couple of hours on the water with achingly gorgeous scenery on every side.
Says Val Parson, a volunteer at Beaumaris Lifeboat Shop: ‘Visitors of all ages will enjoy crabbing off the end of Beaumaris Pier on a sunny day and you can buy bait and lines in the RNLI shop. Please make sure you clear up after yourself to stop plastic packaging and fishing lines becoming a hazard to wildlife.’
Museums and heritage
Edward I (Longshanks) constructed a moated castle at Beaumaris in 1295, and in doing so evicted the entire surrounding village 12 miles up the road – talk about a lousy neighbour. However it’s a beaut, and a great place to let the kids off the leash for a run around. The small museum provides a basic history lesson and if they’re still not tired out, take a stunning walk among the vaguely Martian landscape and colourful slopes of Amlwch Copper Kingdom, about half an hour’s drive away.
Swtan Heritage Museum is a17th century stone cottage; lovingly restored in the late 1990s and now housing a folk museum that gives visitors a chance to see what life was like in rural Wales a century ago. Special events such as a Summer fête and artists’ workshops make it a real little gem, and incredibly atmospheric.
Meanwhile, anyone with a love of big vintage things that go ‘vroom’ (tractors, cars, military vehicles and more) will adore Tacla Taid, Anglesey’s Transport and Agriculture Museum – you can even stay on their adjoining caravan site.
Events this Summer
Chow-down on locally-sourced fish, shellfish and crustacea at the Menai Seafood Festival on 22 August.
Anglesey Marine Week (17–23 August) is designed to help visitors love, understand and protect the coast. This year, there will be themed walks, boat trips, watersports taster sessions, kids’ workshops and wildlife watching, with many activities for free or at discounted prices.
Copperfest is a three-day August bank holiday highlight, featuring Welsh and English language bands and musicians.
Eat, drink and sleep
If you’re looking for somewhere really memorable to lay your head, a Mongolian-style yurt will allow you to commune with nature like a camping pro. The added bonus is that they’re generally more spacious and less likely to blow away than your average tent.
Prefer four walls and a bar? ‘Grown-ups should head to the Valley Hotel for their new comedy club night and great food,’ recommends Andrew Hodgson, Lifeboat Press Officer at Trearddur Bay.
At the Pier House Café and Bistro in Beaumaris you’ll be able to enjoy a locally-sourced lunch or dinner with a truly splendid view of the pier and Snowdonia Mountains beyond – it also happens to be run by Beaumaris Lifeboat Crew Member Robert Charlton.
Sea salt from Anglesey can class itself in the same league as Champagne, Stilton cheese and Melton Mowbray pork pies, having been granted EU protected status in 2014. You can buy it ready-mixed with spices, vanilla and other yummy flavours that, combined with a dollop of local chilli sauce, will add pizazz to your fish and chips.
The RNLI in Anglesey
With four RNLI stations on this small island – Moelfre, Holyhead, Beaumaris and Trearddur Bay – it’s safe to say lifeboats have a high profile in Anglesey society, and have done for more than 150 years.
For ferry passengers travelling to and from Dublin each day, Holyhead station’s lifeboats are an eye-catching sight, and tourists enjoying the island’s beaches are in close contact with RNLI shop and crew volunteers.
Regular station open days and special events keep funds coming in from both tourists and the local communities, both on-and off-season.
A distinctive feature of the RNLI in Anglesey is our close working relationship with the RAF – specifically RAF Valley 22 Squadron, on which Prince William served between 2010 and 2013.
Says Simon Bunting, RNLI North Wales Divisional Operations Manager: ‘About 60% of the Squadron’s work is in the Snowdonia Mountains, but I’d say a fair amount of the rest of it is done on the coast.
‘We also cooperate closely with the local Coastguard – recently the Moelfre crew attended a shout to a woman injured on Llandonna Beach, involving cooperation between rescuers in the Coastguard’s new Bristow helicopter from Caernarfon, an ambulance and Moelfre station’s inshore lifeboat.’