Candia Mckormack discovers the ‘red planet’ of Anglesey!
You bet there is, says Candia Mckormack, and it’s a lot closer to the Cotswolds than you’d think
I’ve just been to the red planet, and you can too. It takes just four hours – even factoring in a couple of comfort breaks – the natives are exceedingly friendly and, if you really need them to, they’ll even speak your language.
When I hit the A55 in North Wales bound for Anglesey (Ynys Môn to the locals), nothing had quite prepared me for some of the wonders I was going to experience. I had been to the island before, but that had been in my late teens, driving an MG Midget, with the stay mainly consisting of beaches and pubs… pubs and beaches. This time round, as a considerably older almostgrown-up, I’m arriving with husband Tony, my son Leon, and daughter Carmen in a much more practical (I did say ‘almost-grown-up’) Japanese eight-seater.
As we have to pick up Carmen from school before we leave for the weekend, it’s dark as we drive through the rugged terrain of North Wales, and eventually arrive at our home for the weekend, a cottage called ‘Trehafod’ (possibly named after the coal mining village in the Rhondda Valley, but far more likely its Welsh origins of ‘summer dwelling’ or ‘upland farm’). Owners Glyngwyn and Iona are there to greet us, though, with wood-burning stove roaring and Welsh food products waiting on the kitchen counter… Anglesey Bara Brith, Llaeth y Llan yogurt and local sausages and bacon from Edward’s just down the road. Nefoedd!
The cottage is a gloriously rural fourbedroom barn conversion, updated by Glyngwyn himself to an incredibly high standard, to include underfloor heating; three big, fat bottomless leather sofas arranged around a woodburner and 48” smart telly; range cooker; table for eight; four double bedrooms; three bathrooms; double rain shower (aah)… and – oh blimey – a swim spa in the private garden almost big enough to take along the pet orca (doesn’t everyone have one?).
The first evening consists mostly of spa surfing under an impossibly clear, starry sky; eating local sausages and poring over local maps in order to plan the next day’s activities. The rest of the evening was spent trying to coax Carmen out of the swim spa, who seemed to think that every minute not spent in it was a wasted one.
If you’ve never visited Anglesey, it really is a place of wonder, with golden beaches, hidden bays, prehistoric monuments and nature reserves. A veritable sweetie shop of delights for curious visitors. As we only had a weekend, though, we four deliberated over creating a short list of must-sees…
Top of our list was Parys Mountain and the astonishing copper mines, so we headed to Amlwch’s harbour to discover more at the Copper Kingdom Museum. Here you can learn how copper has been mined at Parys Mountain since the Bronze Age, and view interactive displays show how the industry grew exponentially following the ‘Great Discovery’ of copper in 1768, making this small island the world leader in copper mining. The discovery even led to Wales’s own equivalent of the Gold Rush – the ‘Welsh Copper Rush’ – where people travelled from as far afield as Cornwall to make their fortune.
A short walk harbourside from the copper museum is the Sail Loft Maritime museum which continues the story, telling how copper was exported by boat, with the harbour also being home to a ship-building yard, tobacco factory and mat-making industry. The
gentle incline of the timber floor of the museum is a reminder of the building’s previous life as the place where sails were made and repaired, the slope apparently making it easier to unfurl the large canvases. Time spent in these excellent museums only whets the appetite further to get out and experience the locations mentioned first-hand.
A short car drive finds us at Parys Mountain itself which, even after watching numerous videos and ooh-ing and aah-ing over photos on the internet, we’re still not quite prepared for what awaits. At the heart of the mountain was an active volcano which spewed out the treasures that were to be mined later on. The vivid landscape of red, orange, purple and green – akin to a geological marble cake – is one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever experienced, and the four of us spent several hours exploring, running ahead of each other, saying, “Quick, come and see this,” and “Wow, look what I’ve just found!” It’s no wonder the site was awarded World Heritage Site status in 2015, with its brimstone yard, precipitation ponds and great opencasts. Also worth visiting are its disused windmill and engine house… eerily standing as a reminder of the industrious nature of the landscape.
I, for one, didn’t want to leave, but we were determined to visit the burial chamber of Bryn Celli Ddu before sundown, so headed 20 miles south to the Neolithic site and closer to our weekend home. Believed to have been constructed around 5,000 years ago, the site has had a complex history, originally starting out as a ‘henge’ with its outer ring of stones, and later becoming a passage tomb. Today, it’s possible to enter through the passage into the polygonal stone chamber where human bones have been discovered and where, in modern day, visitors leave offerings of shells and other gifts in memory of the dead.
Just as the sun begins to set to the right of Bryn Celli Ddu, the Bara Brith and bacon – yes, yes, and swim spa, Carmen – beckon to us, so we make the short journey back to Trehafod and its welcoming woodburner and leather sofas that threaten to – wonderfully – swallow you whole.
Ynys Môn, we’ll be back over the Menai Strait to discover your other wonders very soon.
Hwyl fawr am nawr.
‘The vivid landscape of red, orange, purple and green – akin to a geological marble cake – is one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever experienced’