Penarth to Barry – Cliffs, dinosaurs, wireless and coal.

The guidebook for the Wales Coast Path claims the total length is 896 miles. Quite a distance in anyone’s book, and probably one we won’t manage in it’s entirety, but Aunty and I are plugging away with determination. Early September is always a good time for a walk, especially if it’s not raining. This stretch of our undertaking was a fairly long walk from Penarth to Barry, a total of 12.6 miles (20.3km), and for once we were organised and took the train from home to Penarth. After passing through Cardiff it was all new train territory for us, passing through the litany of stations I’d heard over the station announcer’s tannoy for years: Grange Town, Coban, Dingle Road and finally Penarth. From the station is was down hill all the way to see the pier. And who can’t resist a walk to the end of a pier in the sunshine.

Apple Photos Document
Looking towards Cardiff Docks from Penarth Pier
This gentle seaside town was created the rich who had made their money from coal, where they built large houses overlooking the Bristol Channel, clinging to the steep hill side plunging down to the shore. It feels different to Cardiff, and is far enough by road and train to be different, but when you stand on the promenade you can almost touch Cardiff Bay and the Barrage just around the corner. A short walk under the cliffs at low tide and within 5 minutes you can be standing on the Barrage.

Old Penarth Photo
Penarth Pier cica 1900
Like many aspiring Victorian seaside towns Penarth has a pier. But unlike many other towns today, this pier is in good nick. Standing proud from the shore out into the Bristol Channel, it makes a fine spectacle in the sun. So much so that in 2014 it was voted Pier of the Year by the National Piers Society (it never ceases to amaze me that these sort of organisations exist). The pier was opened in 1898 after an earlier failed attempt when the contractors were bankrupted. It was intended as a landing stage for regular ferry boats to accommodate increasing number of visitors from Cardiff. Up until then the ferry boats were hauled up onto the beach. Originally it was primarily a wooden pier for the pleasure cruise ships, but in 1907 a small wooden concert hall was built on the end. During World War One, it was used as a base for mine sweepers, which over the years damaged the landing stage. The insurance payment form the MoD didn’t cover the cost of repair and eventually after a period of decline the pier was sold to Penarth Borough Council in 1929. Just after this the Art Deco pavilion was completed – in concrete so it wouldn’t burn down!

Penarth Pier
Penarth Pier – It was early and the pier was empty.
Even though the Pier looks in good condition today, there has been excitement in it’s history. In 1931 the wooden theatre caught fire, eventually burning itself out after three days. £3157 later the pier was rebuilt. Then in 1947 the SS Port Royal Park hit the pier during a gale cause a fair amount of damage, which took 3 years to repair. It was hit again in 1966 by the pleasure steamer PS Bristol Queen causing £25000 of damage. The last pleasure cruise from the pier was in 1982. A serious restoration project started in 1994, and the pier was opened again to the public in 1998. Through grants by the National Lottery we can again walk out over the sea – a job well done I think.

Penarth Pier from beach
Penarth Pier today.
The sea was mill pond smooth, a sight not often encountered on the Severn Estuary. From the pier it was a pleasant walk along the seafront up the hill and along the cliff tops towards Lavernock point. As soon as we left Penarth proper there were few people abroad and we had the path to ourselves. The sun was shining, it was warm and a fantastic walk. The hedgerows this year are full of fruit, and present a real picture against the blue skies.

Flatholm & Steepholm
Flatholm and Steepholm seen from Penarth.
A surprise along the way included stumbling across St Lawrence Church at Lavernock. The early history of the church is a little uncertain, but it’s thought to be a 12th century parish church. Like many small churches St Lawrence didn’t escape ‘improvement’ during by the Victorians. Little used today, except for a small number of services throughout the year, it appears to be isolated today with only a couple of houses nearby.

Lavernock Church
St Lawrence Church, Lavernock.
But Lavernock has other surprises in store. Least of which is it’s part in the history of wireless communication. Marconi and his assistants from the Post Office used Lavernock to transmit the first wireless communication transmission across water. On 13 May 1897 the first “Hello. Hello.” Was sent over the airways from Lavernock Point to Flatholm Island.  Kemp, a Cardiff man and a Post Office engineer who assisted Marconi, recorded the following in his diary.

Flatholm Island – the site of the first wireless transmission over water.
Mr Marconi’s apparatus was set up on the cliff at Lavernock Point, which is about twenty yards above sea-level. Here we erected a pole, 30 yards (27 m) high, on the top of which was a cylindrical cap of zinc, 2 yards (1.8 m) long and 1-yard (0.91 m) diameter.

Connected with this cap was an insulated copper wire leading to one side of the detector, the other side of which was connected to a wire led down the cliff and dipping into the sea. At Flat Holm Mr Preece’s apparatus was arranged, the Ruhmkorff coil also giving 20-inch (510 mm) sparks from an eight-cell battery.

On the 10th May experiments on Mr Preece’s electro-magnetic transmission method were repeated, and with perfect success.

The next few days were eventful ones in the history of Mr Marconi. On the 11th and 12th his experiments were unsatisfactory — worse still, they were failures — and the fate of his new system trembled in the balance.

An inspiration saved it. On the 13th May the apparatus was carried down to the beach at the foot of the cliff, and connected by another 20 yards (18 m) of wire to the pole above, thus making an aerial height of 50 yards (46 m) in all. Result, The instruments which for two days failed to record anything intelligible, now rang out the signals clear and unmistakable, and all by the addition of a few yards of wire!”

Sully Island
Sully Island peaking around the headland. This is a tidal island and currently has the highest number of Lifeboat call outs to rescue people caught out by the tide.
But this small piece of land butting out into the Severn Estuary has another secrets up it’s sleeve. In 1870 a gun battery was positioned here to protect the approach to the docks at Bristol and Cardiff. There is little to see today, but the remains of the coastal defences from the Second World War are still clearly visible along the edge of the Nature Reserve that now occupies the site. It would be too easy spend the day here, but we still had a long way to go. But not before I’d spent a few minutes watching a local game of cricket played next to the path.

Cricket Match Sully
The young bowler here took a catch directly from the batsman from this ball.
Aunty wanted to make a small detour to revisit one of our other Welsh 100 sites – the dinosaur footprints at The Bendricks ( The last time we came here the weather was cold and overcast. Then we had a challenge to find them, and it wasn’t much easier this time either. But they’re still there, despite someone having dug up a few and sold them in the USA. These are the footprints of some of the earliest dinosaurs in the world. At this time, 220 million years ago, dinosaurs had not long evolved from other crocodile-like reptiles and these ancestral animals were still present. They were soon to become extinct and leave the dinosaurs to dominate the land during the following Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. Some of the footprints exposed here probably belong to some of these dinosaur ancestors.

Dinosaur Footprint
Guess which one is the dinosaur.
The next stage of the walk was a little unpleasant, and involved a 3 mile walk along a bury main road around the large chemical plant on the edge of Barry. One puzzling area caught my eye. There is a nature reserve on part of the old chemical works, but apparently there are dangerous things in there. So much so it warrants a keep out sign.

Chemical plant nature reserve
A chemical plant, a nature reserve and a “hazardous area” sign. I’ve seen those films where dangerous animals are breed from chemical experiments.
Eventually we arrived at Barry Docks. In 1871 Barry was just an ordinary village on the coast with a population of just 100 people. But how things change. By 1909 about 8,000 women and 10,000 men were employed in the docks alone. By 1913, Barry had out grown Cardiff as the premier coal exporting docks, and are even claimed to have been the busiest coal port in the world, exporting 11.05 million long tons (11,230,000 t; 12,380,000 short tons) at it’s peak.

Barry Dock Offices
Barry Docks Office stands on a prominent position overlooking the docks.
The docks were conceived by a group of local mine owners determined to break the hedgemony of Cardiff on coal exports and boy did they succeed. Today all that industry has vanished, leaving only empty pier and mooring points. The warehouses have been replaced by flats and housing developments. I’ll have to leave Barry a little short on words are there is so much to say. But perhaps we’ll return and have a wonder around here in the future.

Barry 170902




Newport Docks

Last weekend we completed another short section along the coastal path. This did not include the sweeping views of the last section we completed in Cardigan, but involved marshland  and the industrial dock are of Newport. I should perhaps explain to those of you who do not know Wales, and add a word of caution, please don’t mistake our walks along the coast as an end to end endeavour. Aunty and I are completing it as and when we can, and wherever we happen to be.

Crossing one of the many ditches draining the fields on the Gwent Levels.

We started this time where we left off a few weeks back, at Newport Wetlands. The ironic part of this stage of the walk, as in other areas where we need to cross or rather navigate ourselves around wide estuaries, was that we could see clearly from where we started where we would end up – less than a mile from where we stood. In fact we ended up walking 9 miles to get there. This involved walking over areas of the Gwent Levels, up along the banks of the Usk River, right through the docks and some of the more deprived areas for Newport before picking up the West Bank of the Usk back to the Severn Estuary and our eventual destination – West Usk Lighthouse.

Newport Docks 170421

The contrast between the green fields of the wetlands and the industrial landscape of the docks can be difficult to process. The two landscapes lie so close together, yet seem to be direct contrasts. This contrast must have been even greater a few years ago. Newport docks are no longer the force they once were. the decline of the coal and steel industries have left many of the quays derelict along the Use River.

Newport Docks 170421

Despite the sometimes depressing nature of industry it is always possible too appreciate the beauty that nature confronts us with. Although the spring has been cold this year, the Dandelions are flowering already setting seed. We see Danelions everyday, and as kids I was always fascinated by the symmetry of the seed heads. It is always worth taking a few seconds to appreciate these common sights.

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Continuing up river we came to the Newport Transporter Bridge, which is now open to both cars and pedestrians. I’ve posted before on this iconic construction (Newport Transporter Bridge), and it’s great to see it open again and in use. Without this we would have had to made a further detour up river to cross. So we duly paid our £2 and crossed the river.

Newport Transporter Bridge 170421

Before we got back to the country we still had some urban walking to do, and as we passed through some of more deprived areas of Newport there were still surprises waiting for us. Among dumps of rubbish, broken TVs and general detritus of life beauty still continues to survive. Orange Tip butterflies are difficult to miss, but in my experience difficult to photograph. They never stay still for very long, but I finally nailed a photo today.

Orange Tip 170421

We finally left the urban sprawl of Newport behind and rejoined the banks of the Use River as it meets the Severn Estuary. Though Newport and the docks still maintain a brooding presence in the background.

West Usk Lighthouse 170421

We were now approaching the end of the walk as we neared West Usk Lighthouse. Built in 1821 as a partner to the East Uk Lighthouse to guide shipping into Newport Docks until it was finally decommissioned in 1922. It is now a Bed and Breakfast, a great use for an iconic building.

West Usk Lighthouse 170421
East Use Lighthouse, with the Power Station on the opposite back of the Usk, where we started.

This may not have been the most picturesque stretch of Coastal Path, but it was an interesting one. The contrasts between the Newport Wetlands, the docks and the arrival at the East Usk Lighthouse shouldn’t be missed. It’s all part of Wales, it’s history and the people to made that history and continue to make it. We finished less than a mile from where we started as the crow flies, but had to walk over 9 miles to get there. Don’t miss out this part of the walk, it’s important.



Confusing Geology – Sand and Cliffs

The weather during Easter Weekend in the UK can be pretty unpredictable and variable. It is not unusual to snow during this time, but this is more likely when Easter is early. This year it’s late, and so it’s reasonable to hope that it wold be warm and sunny. Well sunny it was. Warm it was not. Aunty and I spent the weekend just outside Cardigan on the west coast. Here the coast is rugged and isolated with heavy seas from the Atlantic crashing into the hard cliffs. Over a couple of days we managed to walk from Newport Sands up to St Dogmaels, just short of 20 miles.

Moylegrove 170415
Our chariot to Newport Sands from Moylgrove

Saturday the sun was glorious, blazing down all day. But there was a bitterly cold wind and I doubt that the temperature got above 9C, but it felt much colder. But it didn’t matter too much the spectacular views made up for it. This time were were organised and parked in Moylegrove, and caught the Poppit Rocket bus down to Newport Sands. This meant that we were able to complete a full stretch of the coastal path in one direction only as we walked back to Moylegrove.

Dinas Head 170415
Looking South towards Dinas Head

This is a wild and remote coastline with sea cliffs over 100m high and some spectacular geology. The temperature was a challenge until we had warmed up, but with hats, gloves and coats it was a great days walking. Starting at Newport Sands we quickly climbed up from the beach to the cliff tops and were greeted with sweeping views south towards Dinas Head and northwards to Cardiganshire.

Newport Sands - Ceibwr Bay

The geology is confusing on this stretch, and with the inaccessibility of the shore coupled with a paucity of fossil records, it has taken the geologists to fully understand what has happened here in the past. But recent work has solved this mystery, and it seems that this stretch of rocks were deposited during a relatively short period 444-446 million years ago. It appears that during the Upper Ordovician this small section of coast was sinking quickly in relation to the surrounding areas, creating a trough into which deep marine deposits were laid. This may have been helped by faults to the south, and possible volcanic activity. The forces involved can be creaky seen in the rock formations along the cliffs at Ceibwr Bay and Cemaes Head.

Pen yr Arf - Cemaes Head  170416
Patterns in the rock at Pen yr Arg, near Cemaes Head

The weather on Sunday was a bit of a disappointment, no sun, heavy clouds and a strong wind that at times took your breath away as we rounded the headlands. Like yesterday, we hardly met anyone along the length of the walk.

Sunday, cold, windy and dark didn’t give a very good view over Cardigan Island

One surprise that we came across was a deserted chapel in the middle of nowhere. The only access is via a green lane. A little research identifies this as Capel Bryn Salem. Built in 1850, it was a daughter chapel of Bethel Congregational Chapel, Moylegrove. With a falling congregation by the late 1970s and early 1980s it closed it’s doors to worship and was offered for sale. Although it was bought, the neighbouring farmers refused access over their land for roads and cesspit and it was never developed. By 2002 the building was delapidated, and continues its decline today.

Walk around Cemaes Head on a windy and pretty cold Easter Sunday.

Redwick to Newport Wetlands: Welsh Coastal Path

A couple of weekends ago the sun gave a brilliant display all day, and coupled with a light South easterly breeze it made a fantastic day for a walk. This expedition was along the Coastal Path between Redwick to the Newport Wetlands. This time we had bribed Number One Daughter to pick us up and take us back to Redwick to pick up our car. That way we were able to walk 10 miles in one direction, instead of our usual 5 miles there and 5 miles back.

Severn Bridge from Redwick Coast  170402
Severn Bridge from the shore at Redwick

It has to be said that walking along this section of the path is not the most exciting in providing breathtaking views, but with Spring now firmly ailing a hold there was plenty of interest to distract me and increase Aunties’s exasperation as I would stop and stare before taking a photograph of something. After walking about a kilometre down a muddy lane we arrived at the sea wall with a great view of the Severn Crossing to the east. But it was westward we were heading today. The church in Redwick has a reminder of a major flood on the 30th January, 1607, a mark is scratched on the porch wall. The flood affected the whole of the Severn Estuary and large areas of Devon, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Soth Wales were flooded. South Wales was particularly badly affected, from Laugharne to Chepstow. It is estimated more than 2000 people were drowned, badly affecting the local economy.

Redwick Church 170402
Redwick Church

The first 5 miles of the walk is along the sea wall, and so is easy going. We saw very few people along this section before reaching Goldcliff, and those we did see were 3 fishermen. With the tide in they were able to fish from the sea wall without venturing out onto the mud flats. All along the shore there are parallel lines of posts sticking up out of the mud still visible above the water as they point out into the estuary. These are the remains of an ancient fishing method called putcher fishing. This technique used the baskets called the “putcher” traditionally made from hazel rods and with (willow) plait, set out against the tides in huge wooden “ranks”. Salmon were trapped in the baskets as the tide receded.

Walk from Redwick to Newport Wetlands. 10 miles, great sunny day.
Remains of an old pulcher fishing setup on the shore.

If you want confirmation of Spring we came across one very soon. At one point along the walk just before Goldcliff we followed a pair of Wheatears, who stay just ahead of as we walked along. They would wait until we came within a few meters, then fly ahead and watch us approach. This process was repeated for more than 400m.

Wheatear 170402
Wheatear – not sure who was keeping pace with who.


As the tide was fully in there was no foreshore or mud exposure to speak of. Consequently there were few shore birds around – a situation that did not upset Karen too much as it meant I didn’t keep on stopping to have a look. But there was a flock of Turnstones among the rocks and seaweed almost underfoot before I saw them. And they were following their job description perfectly. Turning over small stones and seaweed, before scampering forward hunting for the next titbit under a near by stone.

Along the entire 10 miles I counted 14 separate singing Chiffchaff males. I can’t say that I saw them all, but their song is unmistakable. But I did manage to get a few reasonable photos.

Chiffchaff 170402
A half decent photograph of a Chiffchaff at last

We stopped for lunch at the Goldcliff Lagoons. A set of man made lagoons as a tradeoff for the local wildlife due to the habitat loss when the Cardiff Bay Barrage was built. I still have mixed feelings about the barrage. On one side saddened by the loss of mudflats and habitat for wading birds. However, it is now a fantastic leisure resource, and so much more attractive than it was as a set of derelict docks and smelly mud. Because the tide was in the lagoons were full, include a large flock of flighty Black-tailed Godwits. Lunch over we pushed on towards RSPB Newport Wetlands Reserve. I’m glad we did as we discovered a few more bird hides along the way hidden in the fields that I didn’t know about. These were empty, and didn’t appear to be used anywhere near as much as those at Goldcliff. Hidden gems and I’ll have to go back.

Black-tailed Godwit  170402
Black-tailed Godwit at Goldcliff

So now we walked all the way from Chepstow to Newport. Next will be the Newport to Cardiff section, then we’ll be able to join up with those sections we’ve already completed in an almost continuous progression all the way to Llanelli. Slowly we’re completing the path – a bit disorganised in our approach, but it’s being done.

Time does make a difference: Llanelli to Burry Port.

The day after our walk along the Lloughar Estuary to Llanelli we pushed on for another 5 miles to Burry Port – but don’t forget the 5 miles back!. It wasn’t until we got home and I had a chance to really look at what this part of the coast once was, that I realised the extraordinary difference between now and 50 years previously. At Ione time Llanelli was nicknamed Tinopolis as a reflection of the steel and tin industry once upon a time. Little is evident of the that now. Llanelli now still has industry and Tata still has a large plant here, but who knows how lang it will remain to provide meaningful skilled employment? Llanelli is still known in Wales as the home of the Scarlets Rugby team, though for a crusty old man it is still a challenge to remember them as anything other than Llanelli RFC.

But just to emphasise the difference look at the first two photographs below. We started our walk at North Dock, Llanelli. This was once the site of the first floating dock in the UK, and was built to accommodate the increasing coal and steel trade that Llanelli is based upon.

Llanelli North Dock

Now look at how it appears now – the transformation is nothing short of miraculous. The industry has been replaced with high grade housing, wildlife ponds, and fantastic walking country.

Loughor Estuary 170326

The weather was perfect for a walk along the beach, and Burry Port looked great in the sunshine. Just like Llanelli, Burry Port, or North Tywyn in Welsh is based upon coal and mines. Though none of these exist any longer, and it in now a small marina and leisure port.

Loughor Estuary 170326

Although it was a long day, the weather made up for it. Lest’s hope for more weekend like this over the coming months.

Loughor Estuary 170326

We’ve been to Burry Port only once before a couple of years ago, and we had a fish and chips dinner on the jetty watching the sun set over the lighthouse. So I’ll leave you with this last photo here.

Bury Port 2015-10-25

Peacocks on the Beach.

The caravan had it’s first outing of the year, though we didn’t travel far, but then we didn’t need to. The forecast was for wall to wall sunshine and we stopped at Llengennech just outside Llanelli for a walk along the Loughor Estuary. Not many words this time – thank goodness for that say some. Just some pictures which I hope conveys the beauty of estuaries and the life giving force of Spring.

Loughor Estuary 170325

We started the walk on the east bank of the estuary near the road bridge crossing over from Loughor. We knew we had joined the walk as we crossed over a wooden bridge to the path that follows the bank of the estuary flanked on both sides with sea marsh. Though the northerly wind was strong, and didn’t let up, the sunshine signalled spring has arrived. The hedgerows was sparkling with the pure white small flowers of the Backthorn.


The marshlands, though not pretty are beautiful in their own way. the flat expanse provide a wide horizon, emphasising that although this are is close to Llanelli and the industrial might of the old tinworks, nature can quickly reclaim control. As along much of South Wales, and in common with any estuary the tide range is impressive. When the tide goes out, it goes out a long way!

Loughor Estuary 170325

Almost everywhere we looked we came across Greylag Geese feeding on the grass just above the high water mark.

Greylag Goose 170325

The warmth of the sun had also brought out the Bumble Bees. We saw a queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, searching out potential nesting sites. And a Tree Bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum foraging among the Salix flowers now emerging. This is relatively new immigrant and is spreading northwards throughout the UK. But one of my favourites remains the Common Carder Bee, Bombus pascuorum, which come sin a variety of browns and ginger colours. You are likely to find this in your garden.

Common Carder Bee

As we continued along the path towards Llanelli the landscape began to change and we left behind the Marsha and mudbanks and the estuary opened up before up exposing a wide expanse of sand. Somewhere out there, beyond the Whiteford Point Lighthouse, is the sea!

Loughor Estuary 170325

Almost every step we made reconfirmed that Spring had arrived. Growing through the shingle just above the strand line was a large colony of Colt’s Foot, Tussilago farfara. This is easy to recognise as they dazzle with their bright yellow Dandelion like flowers before the leaves emerge.

Colt's Foot 170325

Even the seemingly empty tidal shore seemed to want to get into the act. The small, tower like casts of Ragworm (Hediste diversicolor) had created a temporary city scape while the tide was out. This will be wiped out by the next tide, only to be rebuilt time and time again.


While we were happily munching our way through our lunch on the beach a flash of colour caught my eye and there was a Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io) basking on the sand next to us. Yet another confirmation of spring.


Ok so we didn’t cover too much of the path at 5 miles, but to be fair as we walked 5 miles there and 5 miles back it wasn’t too bad. And then to cap it all after seeing Little Egrets in the distance throughput the day, all too far to photograph, the rising tide was pushing all the waders up the shore and I got a reasonable photograph.


All in all a good day out, and culminated in an ice cream. What better way way is there to finish a walk?


Hitting the Surf at Whitesands: Welsh 100 – No 50

August Bank Holiday seems so long ago now, but only two months have passed. We have a tradition in the UK that the weather on a bank holiday can always be guaranteed to be worse than the day before, and certainly colder and wetter than the day you go back to work! This August was not so bad, and the long weekend found the intrepid duo in the far west of Wales at Whitesands. The Saturday was fantastic, the sun was shining and we had the perfect walk along the sea cliffs.Sunday though was a little different with a thick fog and no visibility. Walking didn’t hold much appeal, but we had come to Whitesands to poke our toes in the water as a recci. One of the Welsh 100 challenges is to surf at Whitesands. The beach is a great place for messing about in the sand and water, with a broad sandy bay, and the place was packed even though the weather wasn’t prefect. Not only that but the architecture was also a cut above the usual sand castles with a mini replica of Stone Henge. Fitting really considering that the Bluestones in the original henge came from down the road.

Aunty has never been body boarding let alone surfing, but I grew up 200m from the sea and much of my teenage years were spent on the beach. Maybe not exactly surfing, but messing about in the sea. In those days the water seemed to be so much warmer than it is now, and reaching the “Ooh zone” as you wade into the water didn’t seem to have the traumatic effect it does now. So It was agreed unanimously that wet suits were absolutely necessary. Renting a suit each didn’t appeal to either of us – personal hygiene and all that (but we’ll leave the description out). So we spent an hour squeezing into and peeling off suits of different sizes until we found a suit each that fitted in all the right places, and a few wrong ones as well.

We didn’t go the whole hog and buy a board, but we rented a body board for a couple of hours and hit the surf. Why we have never bought a wet suit before now I can’t imagine. Aunty went straight into the water without a single girly squeal and hit the first wave perfectly. It took a while to persuade her to let me have a go! I spent most of the time trying to look the cool surfer dude, but only managing the beached whale look. I’m anticipating a call any day now for the next remake of Moby Dick.

I’d like to think that my baldness gives me a certain streamline effect in the water, but I missed most of the waves. But that said it was great fun. The wet suits made all the difference, and there is even talk from some quarters that we need to buy our own body board. And I’m sure I heard Aunty singing Beach Boys songs recently.

St Seiriol’s Well

Penmon at the eastern end of the Menai Strait of Angelsy is small, compact but has a great deal of history. As well as the Trwyn Du Lighthouse there is an ancient well linked to one of Welsh Saints dating back to the 6th Century. St. Seiriol’s Well survives near the Penmon Priory and may have its origins going back to the monastery’s earliest period or even earlier. The Bronze and Iron Age peoples often revered water edges and places. The number of site that have revealed votive offerings in the form of gold, valuables and broken weaponry is a testimony to the fact that water was an important aspect of their lives. So it makes sense of the early church to build on this reverence and subsume it into their teachings and places of worship. The concept of “adopt and adapt” is always a powerful means of change. The well was built by the monks of Penmon and was believed to have healing powers by some people visiting it.  

The earliest churches in Wales were connected with the cells or abodes of hermits. The foundations of of a circular building next to the well may be St Seiriol’s, but it would be very difficult to prove this now. Attached to the cell on level ground in front of the well was a small primitive building in which the surrounding inhabitants assembled for the purpose of prayer, but again the original date is unknowable. If only we had a time machine! According to legend, Seiriol regularly used to meet St Cybi of Holyhead at Clorach Well near Llannerch-y-medd, 17 miles away. Seiriol travelling with his back to the sun in the morning and returning with his face to the east in the afternoon, became known as Seiriol the Pale, the other, Cybi the Tanned. Whether this is true is open to debate, but it could equally be a play on a parable between light and dark. St Seiriol was buried on nearby Puffin Island.

The entrance to the well.
The Holy Well is a spring emerging from a cliff behind the church. It is reached by a path on the left just beyond the car park, which skirts the monastic fish pond. The crystal clear spring is surrounded by a slab floor with stone benches around the sides. However, on the day that Aunty and I visited the well was dry, someone must have left the plug out. The waters were thought to have healing powers and were visited by the sick and infirm in the hope of a cure. Although it is the source of water for the monastery, the structures are relatively modern. The roofed inner chamber around the pool is of brick and dates from 1710. The lower courses and lower antechamber with seats on either side may be somewhat earlier, but no medieval finds were made during recent excavations. The so-called ‘cell’ beneath the cliff on the left is of uncertain date and purpose. It has been suggested that these may be the remains of the original cell or church. If so, this would make it the oldest remaining Christian building in Wales.
The remains of a circular structure are clearly vidible to the left of the well. Could this really be St Seiriol’s cell?
A lesser known legend concerns Seiriol’s brothers, kings of nearby Rhos and Llŷn. Apparently they decided that the monk’s humble cell was far too lowly for a royal, so they founded a monastery nearby and made Seiriol the first Abbot of Penmon Priory.
Inside the well, showing the water basin and the seating around the walls.

Trwyn Du and Ynys Seriol

On the 17th August, 1831 the steamer Rothsay Castle left Liverpool at 11am on her regular journey to the Menai Straights. However, the rough weather made the sailing difficult and she made very little headway. The passengers became worried and asked the Captain to turn back, but he refused. By midnight he had still no made land, and an hour later the Rothsay Castle struck Dutchman Bank, then out of control struck a sand bank off Penmon. Of the 150 passengers on board, 130 lost their lives. This hastened the decision by Trinity House to build a lighthouse to guide ships on the Eastern tip of Angelsey. Work commenced in 1837 to build the black and white stone tower on a reef between Trwyn Du and Puffin Island. The light was lit in 1838.

Originally manned by two keepers, it was automated in 1922 and the keepers were withdrawn. In 1996 the light was converted to solar power. As we were walking around the shore we heard a bell being tolled on a regular basis. But I couldn’t see why or decide exactly where the ringing was coming from. The explanation comes from a further modification carried out in 1996 when a unique mechanism was installed to sound a 178 Kg bell every sixty seconds to act as a fog signal.
As well as the reef marked by the lighthouse, the small strait between Trwyn Du and Puffin Island has another rocky outcrop dangerous to shipping. This is marked by a large red beacon.

Puffin Island or Ynys Seiriol, refers to Saint Seriol. The son of Owain Ddantgwyn, a 5th-century ruler of the Kingdom of Gwynedd, and the brother of Saint Einion Frenin, a 5th- or 6th-century king in the Llŷn Peninsula, Seiriol founded and governed a clas (ecclesiastical settlement) at Penmon on the Anglesey. In later life, he abandoned his responsibilities there to establish a hermitage on the nearby island, where his remains are thought to rest.

King Cadwallon ap Cadfan of Gwynedd is said to have sheltered here in around 630 when fleeing an invasion from the Kingdom of Northumbria. A monastery existed on the island in the late 12th century and was mentioned by Gerald of Wales who visited the area in 1188. He claimed that, whenever there was strife within the community of monks, a plague of mice would devour all their food. The ecclesiastical emails still exist on the island. Puffin Island is now privately owned, and has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and it’s not possible to land unfortunately, so this will have to remain an unattainable island for now.

Twr Mawr Lighthouse – Ynys Llanddwyn

Ynys Llanddwyn has two lighthouses. Neither of which fit the classical design that we know today. Twr Mawr (Big Tower) is more characteristic of a windmill than a lighthouse, and much can also be said of the smaller tower which now carries the light. The lighthouses cover the westernmost approach to the Menai Strait the narrow but treacherous water between Anglesey and the main land of Wales. The history of the lighthouses on Llandwyn is uncertain, but by 1823 it is certain that the two towers were already built, probably as day markers, but not with lights. 

In 1845 alterations were recorded as being made to Twr Mawr, costing £250 7s 6d, and a light was installed in 1846 (1). Twr Mawr is 36 feet (10 m) high and 18 feet (5.5 m) in diameter. It incorporated living quarters, but uniquely the light was shone from a lamp room at ground floor. 

South from Twr Mawr is another conical tower, also painted white, known as Twr Fach (Small Tower). This was built between 1800 and 1818 of rubble stone with a domed roof (1). In 1975 the light was moved from Twr Mawr to Twr Fach. This is now a solar powered light, monitored and maintained by Trinity House. The light is visible for 7 miles.

Just across the small beach from Twr Fach is a group of small cottages. These housed pilots who would watch for boats approaching the western end of the Menai Strait. The pilots would then row out to guide them through the reefs and safely into harbour at Caernarvon and other ports along the coast. The cottages now act as offices for the nature reserve.