Llanddwyn Island is named after St Dwynwen, who retreated to the island in the early fifth century after an unhappy love affair. She had fallen in love with a youth named Maelon but her father, King Brychan, wanted her to marry someone else. According to legend, an angel visited her and gave her a potion that healed her loss and turned Maelon into ice.
Dwynwen was granted three wishes: firstly, that Maelon would be thawed; secondly, that true lovers would have their dreams fulfilled; finally, she would never marry. She then devoted her life to God and lived on the island until her death in AD465. She is remembered in Wales by the exchange of cards on 25 January – St Dwynwen’s Day – every year.
The car park nearest the beach is closed until Easter 2013, so this walk starts from Llyn Rhos Ddu and takes the path between Newborough Warren and the Corsican pine forest to the beach. The island can be cut off for an hour or two at very high tides.
From the back of the car park, take the path with the coastal path sign and you’ll soon have Newborough Warren on your left. Look out for the Welsh mountain ponies, which graze the dunes.
After another track joins from the right, walk ahead and take the left-hand path at the gate to Gallt-y-Rhedyn. The way is now sandy and bordered by mixed trees. Ignore paths and tracks leading off and go ahead through the pines to a track with coastal path signs indicating left and right. Bear left and follow the path as it swings right and over a sand dune to the beach.
Turn right, but not before taking note of your bearings as you’ll need to return the same way. Backed by sand dunes and forest, Traeth Llanddwyn is a stunning beach of sand and shingle with spectacular views across Caernarfon Bay to the mountains of Snowdonia. Keep an eye open for oystercatchers, sanderlings and ringed plovers at the water’s edge. As you approach the island, you’ll pass rock outcrops. These are pillow lavas, formed by molten rock erupting from the sea bed about 500 million years ago.
The spring of love
From a large information board, take the clear path through the island to the remains of the 16th-century church dedicated to St Dwynwen. North-west of the ruins, a spring emerges below a cleft rock. Pilgrims anxious to know if they’d met their true love used to place a handkerchief on its waters. If the sacred fish that lived at the bottom of the well rose up and moved it, their love was doomed.
Continue to the end of the island and go right on a path to the lighthouse. Now closed, it was built in 1845 in a style similar to Anglesey’s windmills. In 2004, it became a location for filming romantic thriller Half Light. The lighthouse, which featured in many dramatic scenes, had its lower half painted red for the film. From here you have fabulous views stretching to the misty hills and mountains of the Llyn Peninsula and Snowdonia.
Cross to the opposite side of the island, where you’ll see a smaller white tower. It functioned as a navigational beacon until 1972, when it was turned into an automatic lighthouse. The nearby cottages date from the 1800s when they housed pilots who guided vessels into Caernarfon harbour. The pilots also acted as lighthouse keepers and lifeboat men; the cannon in front of the cottages was used to alert members of the lifeboat crew in times of emergency.
From the cottages, take a path that hugs the eastern cliffs of the island. Look out for cormorants on the rocks offshore. After rejoining your outward route, retrace your steps to the car park.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the Britannia Bridge (A5), take the A4080 towards Newborough but leave it at the roundabout south-east of the village. Continue on the narrow road ahead to a car park near Llyn Rhos Ddu. Bus 42 from Bangor stops near the roundabout.
FIND OUT MORE
Subscribe to BBC Countryfile Magazine today and you can enjoy generous savings from the shop price plus, Free UK delivery and discounts off special editions and back issues.