One of United Kingdom’s greatest natural features is its coastline. There are over 7,000 miles of it if you include the larger islands which is enough walking and exploring to keep most people busy for a lifetime. The Isle of Anglesey has some of the best walking, and its coastal pathway allows for breath-taking coastal walking experiences.
I have been coming to North Wales for as long as I can remember and each time, I come I am taken back to my early childhood holidays. There is something evocative about the scents of the sea, the sand, fish and chips, and those seaside sounds that are such powerful memory triggers for anyone that has spent holidays on the coast. Eau de chippy, sand, and salt is a time travel fragrance like no other; instantly transporting me back to happy times on coastal sojourns.
I have visited Anglesey twice recently on two very different coast walking experiences. Once this summer where we enjoyed some beautifully warm and sunny days. The sea was clear and lovely shades of light blue, and we enjoyed warm sunshine on our backs as we walked open toed across the beaches. We also visited last winter where we were wrapped in waterproofs and battered by the elements, including a Saharan-style sandstorm on Rhosneiger beach, but still managed to enjoy some cliff top walks and soul warming sunsets.
The Anglesey coast is deservedly designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but for anyone visiting this island of North Wales the attractiveness of its coastline is obvious. Rugged cliffs, fine sandy beaches, and crystal-clear waters form a beautiful landscape which are best explored on foot. The good news for walkers is that almost all of it is accessible via the Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path.
130 miles of pathway cover the coastal region and it is possible to break this up into segments and walk the entire island in 12 days or so. If you are planning to walk the whole island then the Visit Anglesey is a great resource with downloadable maps and information on each of the 12 suggested legs of the walk. However, walking the whole island is an ambitious undertaking and there are many alternatives for more casual strolls and circular routes from some of the picture postcard beachside resorts. If you are lucky enough to stay by the coast then you can wake up to early morning sea-mist rolling in, and stroll along the coast watching the sun set into the ocean.
My recent trips allowed me to explore sections of the path between Rhosneiger and the South Stack lighthouse at the top of Holy Island. There is some first class walking to be had and plenty of route options to either do great lengths of the coastal path, or just some simple circular routes passing through pristine beaches and pretty seaside villages.
Rhoscolyn is a great base for staying and walking from. It is a lovely little village with some fabulous houses, a couple of beaches and inlets to explore, and a pub that pulls in people from far and wide for its food which has been given a Royal seal of approval. On sunny summer days many would find little reason to leave the beach with thoughts of exploration limited to a crab hunt in the rock pools. However, there is much to take in and enjoy for those heading out onto the cliff top paths.
As you climb uphill from the village past prickly gorse bushes and the rabbits that make their home there, you reach the NCI Rhoscolyn lookout station. The National Coastalwatch Institution (NCI) is a voluntary organisation who have stations such as this one, which are manned by volunteers who keep a watch on the coast for people and vessels that fall into trouble. The view from the lookout is fabulous. The mountains of Snowdonia sit just across the Menai Strait from Anglesey so those with a keen eye and good mountain knowledge will be able to pick out Snowdon from Moel Hebog on a clear day. If the cloud is then the eye will be drawn to the Rhoscolyn Beacon on the islands a few hundred metres from the cliffs, and the cormorants and seals that can be seen swimming nearby.
Further down the path is St Gwenfaen’s Well, a medieval well and Grade II listed building, before the path winds into a familiar pattern that typifies this stretch of Anglesey. Coastal erosion has created a series of bays and headlands that the path snakes around and walkers are treated to some amazing scenery and dramatic drops as they stroll around each new corner. Care needs to be taken not to venture close to the edges, especially if walking with children, but this section of the path is quite beautiful. Rock climbers can be spotted on the cliffs on this section of coast and kayaking is also popular here.
The sea has also carved two natural arches here: Bwa Gwyn – the white arch – and Bwa Du – the black arch. On calm summer days you will see kayaking tours paddling through the Bwa Gwyn arch and enjoying a seal’s eye view or the white cliffs. On my first visit here, I could not find Bwa Gwyn. I was stood on a precariously steep sided shoulder of land, checking, and rechecking my map until I realised, I was standing right on top of the archway. I would not recommend that particular spot but it can be viewed safely from land just south of it – if you are edging close too close to a drop and you cannot see it then you are in the wrong place. It is a great place to take in the sunset and watch the changing colours of the cliff walls.
There are circular routes back to Rhoscolyn from the area near the arches, or alternatively you can carry on to Trearddur Bay and its fabulously wide beach. On summer days the beach is a big draw for families and strolling across the beach in any weather and watching the tide roll in and out is time well spent. Even more so if you combine your visit this with an ice cream from one of the nearby ice cream parlours.
Heading north out from the Trearddur Bay the path takes you four miles to South Stack Lighthouse and the Holyhead Mountain (at 220 metres I think that we are surely stretching the definition of the word mountain here). I covered this section of the coastal path at the end of March when walking had to be taken in-between bouts of inhospitable weather. The experience is different at this time of year but being exposed to the elements and the raw power of the sea makes the walk much more dramatic. After a storm sea foam can fill some of the smaller bays, and when the waves are rolling in at full tilt you can see how the sea stacks, that stand in isolation one the middle of the bays, are created by the land around them washing away.
At the end of this stretch, below huge cliffs that are home to large colonies of seabirds, sits South Stack island and its famous lighthouse. South Stack Lighthouse was built in 1809 and has been warning passing ships from this western most point of Anglesey about the treacherous rocks off its shore. It is possible to visit the lighthouse and take a tour which includes climbing the stairs to the top of the lighthouse for a great viewpoint.
The path heads through the RSPB South Stack Cliffs nature reserve where you can see some of the rich bird life there. Guillemots, razorbills, and puffins come to the cliffs to nest and I saw a falcon when I was here. Climbing up to the Holyhead mountains allows you to get the best view of the island and the coastal path back from where you have come or where you are headed to next. There are lots of more sections of the coastal path to explore and plenty of sights to see along the way such as Beaumaris Castle or the tidal island of Ynys Llanddwyn.
The whole coastal pathway is a reasonable challenge for those wanting to tackle it in one go, but for most a leisurely stroll on sections of the pathway is one of a number of reasons to visit and return to Anglesey. Either way, you are in for some quality walking on this spectacular coastline.