Starting mileage: 18460 km
Day started: 11:00
Day ended: 23:00
We’re still on Anglesey, still searching for relics of the past. But we finally left the prehistoric behind; our next stop is Beaumaris.
The town itself lies on a stormy and intriguing strip of Menai Straits coastline; the wind was strong when we arrived, raising dark billows and blowing balloons out of childrens’ hands.
It’s a very small town and hard to get to – the main road goes down a 25 degree slope; there are some remains of town walls near the harbour and a couple of old house fronts on the high street. Opposite the castle gates stands a little square, with 17th century inn and a historic court house, holding a museum which from what I managed to glimpse in the window looked quite interesting.
And then there’s the Beaumaris Castle (£4.50 pp). The last of Edward’s castles, never truly finished, is a curious sight. Due to lack of funding, the towers haven’t been built to their full size, leaving the castle looking like a stump. The defences are formidable in scope and concept, but without the towers finished, the castle is merely an expensive exercise in siege tactics.
There is a funny moment when you walk lonely around the walls and cross one of the inner gates: you suddenly find yourself inside the inner castle, the “proper” castle, where all the tourists and attractions are. Beaumaris is a simple labyrinth, but a labyrinth nonetheless; we actually got lost briefly in the walls.
One of Beaumaris’ chief attractions is the almost fully functioning moat, and remains of a dock which supplied the castle from the sea. This is unique in an Edwardian castle and adds an extra “fairy-tale” level to the visit. The other notable feature is the fine chapel in the inner ward; the other such chapel is in Conwy, and they were both intended for the royal use. The chapel is quite eery now, and beautiful in a quiet, subdued way. Rock Pigeons are nesting on the corridors’ floors and one must be very careful not to stomp on them.
You can take a boat to another of Britain’s several Puffin Islands from Beaumaris harbour; this one has only a few puffins, but a lot of cormorants and other usual sea birds, as well as an attractive black-and-white lighthouse, seen on many postcards throughout Menai region. There was a small monastery on the island, a branch of the larger abbey on the mainland, to the ruins of which we headed from Beaumaris. But at this day most of the trips were cancelled due to windy weather.
The ruined refectory of the Penmon priory alone would not probably warrant our visit, especially since it was getting rather late; what did bring us to Penmon was the monastic church, established by St Seiriol (friend of St Cybi, who had settled at Holyhead). It’s free to enter, but you have to pay £2 parking fee that included toll to the bridge we didn’t plan to cross. The church itself – the current version – was built in the 12th century, like the chapel we saw earlier, and was a properly imposing, ancient-looking structure from the outside (with a beautiful 16th century Dovecote), but the more important thing was hidden inside it: two stone crosses which once stood in front of the church. Celtic crosses are always a great sight, and these two are finely preserved and very richly decorated, including a true rarity – a scene with humans and humanoid creatures interpreted as St Anthony with demons.
Penmon was the last of our Anglesey stops; we drove south, along the winding and windy Menai coast, crossed Telford’s bridge again and headed straight towards the cloud-hidden peak of Snowdon.
As we left the island, I had an ambivalent reflection on all those ruined monuments and relics; the role of institutions like Cadw or English Heritage is of course vital to the nation’s legacy, and they’re all doing a great job, but I couldn’t help wondering whether at least some of the ruins could not be restored to their former glory – at least in part? It’s one thing to read that the walls of Caernarfon glistened white in the sun, the other to actually see it. Some burial chambers are restored, but others are left as the pile of stone they are. The dissolved monasteries remain a romantic jumble of pillars and arches which says nothing about how they really looked like in the past. I know I’m not the only one who thinks so; the idea that everything needs to be preserved the way it was found when the trusts took over is still a controversial one. Especially since a lot of those places were ruined simply as a result of historical vandalism, mostly by Cromwell or Henry VIII’s cronies. It can’t be about the money – I’m sure if there was a will, a way would have been found. Perhaps it’s just not how the English do things.
Great views and secluded campsites are all well and good most of the time, but once in a while you need to do some admin on a long trip such as hours, and then you need a big site, with lots of facilities.
Snowdon View is not as bad as these big parks go; it does have a splendid view at the heart of Snowdonia, and the facilities we needed were more than adequate. It is a bit on the crowded side, and you need to walk a lot to get from one place to another; it’s also rather expensive – £25, plus laundry costs. Luckily we don’t need to stay in places like this too often.