While the heart of Celtic Wales is Snowdonia, the soul of the ancient country is undoubtedly Anglesey. It was here in AD60 that the Druids, described by the historian Tacitus as “a mob of fanatics”, gathered in a final, futile attempt to repel the Romans.
Over a millennium later, the Normans had their chance to subdue the Celtic fringe; a long and bitter struggle with the princes of Gwynedd eventually saw Edward I defeat the Welsh and impose foreign rule on the island. But the Celtic spirit survived, and time spent exploring Anglesey unlocks echoes of the past far stronger than in much of the mainland.
On to the island
Crossing Thomas Telford’s magnificent Menai Suspension Bridge is a memorable start.
Beyond the old town of Menai Bridge and its string of offshore islets, the coastal road barrels along the low cliff-line to reach the modest town of Beaumaris. Derived from the French beau marais, or fair marsh, its Norman provenance is apparent in the magnificent building designed by 13th-century architect Master James of St George.
Beaumaris Castle is a symphony in stone – widely recognised as the pinnacle of British medieval castle building. Its perfect symmetry, moats and concentric walls are still awe-inspiring, more than 700 years after it was built. And it wasn’t even finished; this final flourish of Edward I’s ring of stone, built to control and humiliate the conquered native Welsh, broke the bank as well as the proud spirit of the Celts.
Standing on the walls and looking across the sublime Menai Strait, you can spot the least known of Snowdonia’s mountains on the horizon. Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llywelyn, named after the defiant princes, reach over 900m (3,000ft).
Much ado about puffin
The town itself is now a pleasingly traditional seaside resort, with coastal strands and grassy downs. The recently revamped little pier is a reminder that this was once a ferry port.
Today, boats trips from here circle the nature reserve of Puffin Island, just off Anglesey’s eastern tip. Puffins are rather scarce, but countless other seabirds thrive and there’s every chance of seeing harbour seals, dolphin and porpoise on the excursion – even a shipwreck. There are also regular fishing outings if you fancy catching your own dinner.
Just north of Beaumaris is tiny Penmon, brimming over with history. Atmospheric monastic ruins, a 12th-century Romanesque church, Anglo-Irish or Viking crosses and a healing well all jostle for attention.
It’s an evocative place to explore on foot; from here the Anglesey Coastal Path meanders above the shoreline to Penmon Point, where the waters of the Irish Sea and Menai Strait meet and swirl around Puffin Island, marked by the hooped lighthouse of Trwyn Du.
HOW TO GET THERE
Beaumaris is five miles north-east of Menai Bridge along the A545; well-signed roads also link from the A5 off the Britannia Tubular Bridge at LlanfairPG. Arriva Cymru buses 53, 57, 58 from Bangor, Llangefni and Menai Bridge.
FIND OUT MORE
Beaumaris town information
Beaumaris LL58 8HU
Smart, contemporary restaurant with seasonal Welsh menus using island produce.
Bishopsgate House Hotel
54 Castle Street,
Beaumaris LL58 8BB
Relax in the comfy town centre retreat near the castle.
Oriel Ynys Môn
Llangefni LL77 7TQ