Mysterious, romantic - yet accessible – Welsh island
The romantic magic of Llanddwyn Island (Ynys Llanddwyn) island floats on the sea winds, touches lightly on the purple heather, and joins with the echoing seal calls on the black, offshore rocks. It affects the humans who visit here – even leading to marriage proposals.
The island is the resting place of Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, and her Saint’s day is January 25. St Dwynwen, the Welsh saint of lovers, lived out her life here in the fifth century, following a sad romance. On the island, an apparition granted her three wishes – one of which ensured that all lovers coming to Llanddwyn would be happy for the rest of their lives. The ruined windows of a sixteenth century church, build on the remains on St. Dwynwen’s church, offer romantic frames for the island’s Celtic cross, the long stretch of Newborough beach and the mainland Snowdonia mountains to the east.
Moviemakers also appreciate the island’s mysterious attraction – films include Half Light with Demi Moore, and the first part of the fight scene between Perseus and Calibos (Clash of the Titans).
Llanddwyn becomes an island only at very high tides; it is generally accessible along a narrow stretch of sand and rock, at the far southern end of Newborough beach, on the south-west coast of Anglesey (Sir Fôn), in north Wales. From Menai Bridge on the A5, take the A4080 south west. There is a bus service from Bangor (on the Welsh mainland) to Newborough.
Newborough (Niwbwrch) is a typical Welsh coastal village, with grey slate roofs, some whitewashed cottages – and many former council houses. It is also home to a thriving Welsh community, centered on Eglwys Bach (small church) – renovated by local teenagers and adults – and busy most days with the local Women’s Institute, Welsh classes and celebrations of local events.
A narrow, twisting road (approximately 2 miles) leads down to Newborough forest (a 8 km² woodland), and to the beach, passing the archaeological site of a medieval Welsh princes’ court, Llys Rhosyr; it’s easy to miss, just past the first bend in the road after St Peter’s church. The site’s masonry is several feet high in places. An audio-visual show is available at the Prichard Jones Institute in the village.
To gain access to the forest, beach and island, visitors pay a toll at an electronic gate – set at £3 in 2011 – that includes parking. There is no time limit on the visit. The road beyond the toll is narrower still and has many speed bumps – it pays to travel slowly. Larger vehicles slow almost to a crawl to pass each other, although there are many generous passing places. (Local people tend to zip along in little cars well suited to twisting Welsh roads.)
A Forestry Commission car park, and basic facilities (toilets with disabled facilities, emergency phone, picnic tables) lie at the end of that road. Take your food, drinks with you, as the nearest café is White Lodge, just outside the village (Winter: open Thursday to Sunday 9.00 – 4.30; Summer: Thursday to Tuesday 9.00 – 4.30). Just before entering the car park, there is the first enticing glimpse of the glistening stretch of blue water, the Menai Straits, increasingly popular for kite surfing.
A short walk along a well-trodden path through the dunes leads to the sandy, Blue Flag beach. To the east, it’s a 20-minute walk (approximately 1 mile) to Llanddwyn, bordered by the sea-carved sand dunes and Newborough forest. The area behind the sand dunes (Newborough Warren or Tywyn Niwbwrch) is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a nature reserve. It is one of the larger areas of sand dunes found in the British Isles, and popular with bird watchers. In 1911, RSPB Cymru opened on Llanddwyn. Across the water are superb views of Snowdonia and the Lleyn (Llŷn) Peninsula.
On the island
Several well-kept paths meander across Llanddwyn island, and wild ponies graze the short, prickly grass, keeping a wary eye on visiting dogs – most of which are well behaved. (Although there are always one or two little – they’re always small, these yappy creatures – disobedient terriers that make swooping, bravaduro runs at creatures ten times their size.) Dogs are allowed on the beach and the island only between October and May.
The circular island walk (4 miles or 6.5 km) can be completed in about two hours, although a more leisurely pace allows enjoyment of the island’s beauty.
Many people enjoy packed lunches, while sitting on the short sea-brushed grass, warm rocks or sandy beaches. Even in January’s cool winds, there is shelter in the lee of the sun-warmed rocks, and eyes are dazzled by the brilliant, sparkling reflections off the Menai Straits, and the azure sky far above.
To the south are small, whitewashed cottages, looking out to the long curve of the Lleyn peninsula. During the 17th, 18th and early 19th century, slate was exported from the ports of Caernarfon, Bangor and Felinheli, and pilots steered the ships over dangerous sand bars into the Menai Straits. From 1826, the Caernarfon Harbour Trustees provided the pilots with cottages on Llanddwyn.
There are two towers on the island. The larger, tapered one (Tŵr Mawr) was originally manned by the pilots, and was used as the lighthouse that plays a key role in the Half Light film; the smaller one is a day-mark to the entrance to Pilot’s Cove and now displays the light.
Thirty years ago, a romantic local Welshman proposed marriage on the beach below the lighthouse – and the couple return to the same spot on each anniversary. St. Dwynwen’s influence is still in full force on this most romantic Welsh island.