Thursday, 17 April 2014


Hell's Mouth, otherwise known as Porth Neigwl, is a suitably scary name for this bay on the south coast of the Llyn Peninsula.  Facing south-west, and therefore right in the firing line of the prevailing winds in this part of the world, the bay has struck fear into the hearts of many a seaman passing by.  Together with dangerous offshore currents, the gales blowing in from the south-west have claimed many lives over the years. Around 30 vessels have come to grief off this coast due to this perilous combination.  Occasionally the locals would benefit from the cargo let loose from the ships.  In 1877 the 'Idea' came ashore at Hell's Mouth together with its cargo of potatoes from Ireland.  The local people gathered the potatoes and planted them in their gardens, leading to a record crop for that year.  When the 'Faith' ran aground in 1896 with a cargo of flour an auction was held on the beach to sell off the flour to local families.  However, in its more benign moods the bay is a perfect sandy crescent which is very popular with surfers keen to make the most of the swell.  In fact, Hell's Mouth is widely regarded as the best beach in Wales for surfing.  Ordinary swimmers should take care; only the strongest should brave the water here.  The nearby village of Llanengan has a 15th century church and a pub. The churchyard has a memorial to mark the graves of the many bodies that came ashore at Hell's Mouth from stricken ships, in particular during the First World War. 

Webcam showing surfing conditions.

Map of the area.

File:Aberdaron - Porth Neigwl - - 1612799.jpg
Photo by Ken Bagnall, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 14 April 2014


The winter of 2013/2014 will be remembered by a lot of people for all the wrong reasons.  The British coast, particularly the western fringes, was subjected to a seemingly endless succession of violent storms, causing millions of pounds of damage and tragic loss of life.  During one of the storms, which took place on 12 February and was dubbed "wild Wednesday", Aberdaron made the national news for recording gusts of wind of 112 miles an hour.  I once spent a long weekend in Aberdaron, and while the village was delightful, it certainly felt like it was at the edge of nowhere, positioned as it is almost at the end of the Llyn Peninsula, and it is easy to see why it got such a battering given the direction of the winds that day.  Aberdaron is a fishing village with a cluster of whitewashed cottages and two excellent 'gwestys' (inns) facing each other, one of which has a delightful terrace with views of the beach and across the sea to Bardsey Island.  The Church of St Hywyn has a sea wall around it for protection, which is needed as coastal erosion has caused its location to edge closer to the shore.  Keen walkers can take the pilgrim path from Aberdaron to Mynydd Mawr, the southwestern tip of the peninsula, which reaches a height of 160m.  During the Second World War there was a lookout station here with hundreds of military personnel keeping watch for German ships and planes.  It was an appropriate spot for such an outfit, offering stunning views in all directions.

Two miles off the mainland, Bardsey Island is a National Nature Reserve, and can be visited on boat trips from Aberdaron.  After the Romans left Britain, the island was used as a refuge by early Christians, and it later became a pilgrimage site, leading to it being known as the "Isle of 20,000 Saints" for the number of pilgrims buried there.  Farmhouses on the island have been converted into holiday accommodation for those wanting to make the most of their visit.  There is a variety of birdlife on the island, but it is most closely associated with the Manx Shearwater, with a breeding colony of 10-16,000 birds.  Other species to watch out for are marine creatuers such as seals, harbour porpoises and dolphins, and there are rare flowering plants among the island's flora.  

Map of the area. 

File:Aberdaron from the coast path - - 1005093.jpg
Photo by Gordon Hatton, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 12 April 2014


Who can resist a beach with the nickname "Whistling Sands"? This is the intriguing name which has been bestowed upon Porth Oer, due to the fact that if you walk over the sand on this beautiful beach you will hear a 'whistling' or 'squeaking' sound as the dry white grains of quartz rub against each other.  The grains are a peculiar shape, which contributes to the effect. The beach is one of only two beaches in Europe where such a phenomenon can be witnessed.  This natural wonder takes place in a small cove towards the western end of the Llyn Peninsula which is hemmed in by rocky headlands.  The clifftops leading away from Porth Oer are a joy to walk along, following the easy coastal paths.  Adjacent to Porth Oer is Porth Iago, a small cresent shaped bay which is popular for surfing and diving.  Just inland from these coastal delights is the Bronze Age hillfort of Castell Odo, one of the most important archaeological sites in Wales.  The fort was probably built by Celts coming across the Irish Sea around 400BC.  

File:The beach at Porth Oer (Whistling Sands) - - 1288854.jpg
Photo by Eirian Evans, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


The town of Nefyn lies on a sandy bay on the north coast of the Llyn Peninsula, with the fishing hamlet of Porth Nefyn at one end nestling under the Penrhyn Nefyn headland.  The town was the venue for a tournament held by Edward I of England in 1284 in celebration of his victory over the Welsh.  There is an ancient Iron Age Hill Fort called Garn Boduan overlooking the town which has been dated back to 300BC.  In the next bay along, the smaller Morfa Nefyn and the tiny harbour village of Porthdinllaen share a curved sandy beach.  A golf course overlooking the bay has been built on the site of another Iron Age Hill Fort, Trwyn Dinllaen, which dates from around 100BC.   

Looking at the tiny port of Porthdinllaen, it is hard to believe that at one time it was an important shipping centre for the trade with Ireland, with over 700 ships making use of it at the height of these activities.  The village even had pretensions to become the main departure point for Ireland in the early 19th century, but Holyhead on Anglesey got the upper hand, leaving Porthdinllaen in its present tranquil state.  The main draw nowadays is the Ty Coch Inn right on the water's edge, probably one of the best known pubs in Wales.  Built from red brick in 1823, it was originally a vicarage, but after the vicar moved to another dwelling in 1942 the building was turned into an inn, catering for the men engaged in the local shipbuilding industry.  The inn was used in the film Half Light starring Demi Moore (see the entry for Malltraeth, 19 March 2014).  Adjacent to Porthdinllaen is Lifeboat Bay, home to the Porthdinllaen Lifeboat, which has a long history of saving lives at sea.  The whole area around Porthdinllaen and Lifeboat Bay is now owned by the National Trust. 

Map of the area.

Photo by Lesbardd, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 31 March 2014


I remember the first time I clapped eyes on the Llyn Peninsula from a distance, there was something about its romantic, mountainous shape shimmering on the horizon that made me want to go there.  When I finally did go a few years later it didn't disappoint, and it now occupies a place on my list of favourite parts of the British coast.  Clynnog Fawr is at the north-east end of the peninsula, and its main draw is one of  the best known churches in Wales.  Founded by St Beuno in the 7th century with the present building dating from the 16th century, the church was visited by pilgrims as they made their way to Bardsey Island just off the far end of the peninsula.  Local farmers used to make a split in the ears of their lambs or calves, a feature known as 'Beuno's Mark', and they paid money to the church.  The wooden trunk that held the money is still inside the church and is known as 'St Beuno's Chest'.  South of the village by a roadside is St Beuno's Well, yielding up water once thought to have healing properties.  After consuming the well's water, the hopeful sick used to complete the treatment by spending the night on the saint's tomb inside the church.  The beach at Clynnog Fawr, reached by paths from the village, is stony, but with sandy patches and rockpools when the tide is out.  Near the village is Dolmen Bachwen, a Neolithic burial chamber with a highly decorated capstone.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Eric Jones, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 26 March 2014


On 1st July 1969, in the grounds of Caernarfon Castle, a royal event took place with the Queen clad in pale yellow standing before her kneeling eldest son.  The event, which was beamed onto television screens all over the country, was the Investiture of the Prince of Wales, a long-held tradition in which the heir apparent receives the Insignia of his Principality, consisting of a sword, coronet, mantle, gold ring and gold rod.  The castle, built in 1283 as part of Edward I's 'ring of iron', was a fitting venue for the event, being the best preserved of the castles in the 'ring', with some of the most forbidding fortifications.  The castle incorporates the regimental museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, housed within the Queen's Tower.  

The Castle

The central part of the town of Caernarfon lies within the walls which were built during the years following the castle's construction.  In the narrow streets running out from the main square are a range of shops, pubs and restaurants.  There is a quayside area adjacent to the castle which is a departure point for pleasure boat trips and fishing trips.  Near this area is the railway station, which is the terminus of the magnificent Welsh HighlandRailway route which takes visitors through the mountains to Porthmadog.  On the outskirts of the town lie the remains of the Segontium Roman fort, run by the National Trust.  The foundations of the barracks which housed 1,000 troops can still be seen, while the museum has displays of coins and pottery found on the site.

Sunset over Anglesey, from Victoria Dock

Map of the area.

Sunday, 23 March 2014


Believe it or not, Llanfairpwllgwyngyll is the shortened version of the name of this large village on Anglesey near the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Strait.  The full version of the name, which describes the location of St Mary's Church, is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, making it the longest place name in Europe and one of the longest in the world (the longest, since you ask, is the 105-letter Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateahaumaitawhitiurehaea-
turipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu in New Zealand).  Most visitors to the village head for the railway station, where the full version of the name is stretched out on a sign just begging for its photo to be taken with whoever swings by.  Tourists can also pick up a novel souvenir of their visit by getting their passport stamped in a local shop.  The other big draw in the village is a 27-metre high column dedicated to the Marquess of Anglesey Henry Paget, who lost a leg at the Battle of Waterloo.  There are steps to the top from where there are stunning views of Snowdonia and Anglesey.  The Britannia Bridge was built by Robert Stephenson, who designed it for carrying rail traffic across to the island, as well as road traffic via the A55.  Near Llanfairpwllgwyngyll is the National Trust owned Plas Newydd, a country house and gardens which is home to the Marquess of Anglesey.  The 18th-century property is set on the Anglesey shore of the Menai Strait and offers wonderful views across to Snowdonia.  Attractions for visitors include gardens and an arboretum, as well as a military museum.

Map of the area.

Photo by Adriao, via Wikimedia Commons