On the trail of a Welsh Asterix

Monday 09 May 2011
zoocha-admin

Holyhead, isn't the first place to spring to mind, when thinking of a day out in Anglesey (Welsh: Ynys Mon). I'm fairly sure that some of you reading this post will have spent time at the port, either waiting for a ferry to Ireland or a train towards London. However, you'd be wrong to write this part of of the island off. Holy Island gets its name due to the numerous ancient holy sites that are scattered across this corner of Anglesey. Though not very big, it has a long history and its beauty awaits those prepared to venture beyond the railway station. If you'd like a full day's hike, then start at Holyhead and follow the Anglesey Coastal Path around Holy Island via Holyhead Mountain, South Stack, Trearddur to finish at Rhoscolyn, for a 24.3 km (15.1 mile) walk with a total ascent / descent: 751m /749 m. This post will cover the area around South Stack and Holyhead mountain. At 220 metres elevation, Holyhead Mountain seems too low to earn its mountain title, but there is no way the Welsh are going to call it a hill. Especially as it is a massive rock rising out of the Irish Sea, rubble strewn in parts, making the walk suitable only for moderate ability hikers and above. Make sure you have good strong footwear and check the weather forecast before leaving. If you get injured it could be very serious, with the only consolation being that if you do need to be rescued from here, it could well be Prince William at the controls of the rescue helicopter. Starting at the car park by the Ty Mawr hut circles, my preference is to start walking towards the sea and follow the paths along the top of the cliffs, to take in the waves breaking white over ancient rocks. You can admire the wild flowers that only grow in these areas. On a calm, sunny day, the blues of sea and sky merge, obscuring the horizon. From the path, the views of South Stack with the cliffs and mountain behind reward the walkers venturing this way. South Stack Lighthouse and EllinsTowerRSPB Bird Sanctaury and South Stack Lighthouse Take the path to the North West and the white Ellins Tower comes into view. This is the visitor centre of the RSPB Bird Sanctuary at South Stack. On my visits, I enjoyed reading up about the birds that nest on the nearby cliffs, then trying to find them using the centre's binoculars. If you have any questions regarding the bird colonies, the keen volunteers at the centre should be able to answer them. It is also possible to walk down and visit the South Stack Lighthouse from here. It now operates automatically, but you can pay to visit the lighthouse, that is, if you feel up to descending over 400 steps and then climbing back up afterwards. South Stack LighthouseHolyhead Mountain Personally, I don't like losing height, only to have to regain it, so on my visits, I ignored the lighthouse and carried on upwards towards Holyhead Mountain (Welsh: Mynydd Twr). Many of the paths are easy to follow as they were built to service the Coast guard station and the Second World War defences that were installed here. Approaching the mountain itself, the paths get smaller and steeper as they near the summit. The terrain becomes more rocky and the rocks very abrasive. Once the oldest known rocks were classified as Cambrian, but somebody had the audacity to find even older ones, but Wales can hold its own when it come to geology, as these Pre Cambrian schist cliffs, popular with climbers, testify. Climbers on Holyhead mountainCaer y twr fort and Holyhead Mountain Just before the summit, you will come upon the stone ramparts of Caer y Twr Iron Age fort. These must have been a formidable defence, built as they are, on cliffs and the steep mountain sides. Upon reaching the summit, along with the Trig point, there are the remains of a Roman Watchtower / Signal Tower, that would have been linked to the Roman Fort (Caer Gybi), at present day Holyhead. The views from up here are superb, as would be expected from the highest point in Anglesey. The views of Holyhead and Anglesey with the backdrop of the Snowdonia Mountains, make it tempting to stay a while. It is a superb location to watch the departing or arriving Irish Ferries, or the local fishermen collecting lobster pots, while you yourself are observed by the many sea birds. Caer Twr Iron Age rampartsTy Mawr hut circles Returning to the South Stacks car parks, it is possible stop off for afternoon tea at the South Stack Kitchen Café, which is now operated by the RSPB. It is also well worth looking up the Ty Mawr huts circles. If the old fort in the town and the Signal Tower are Roman, then these hut circles are just like the ones you will find in Asterix. In fact the settlement was here long before the Romans, but a thriving community lived alongside the Roman Fort settlement at Caer Gybi, where the church was built within the Roman Fort. All that remains of the circular habitations are stone walls. These would have been topped off by a conical timber and thatched roof. Some circles have stone shelves within, while some have very basic stone furniture and basins. A short drive to the South East, the work of a Welsh Obelix is on display at Penrhos Feilw witnessed by a pair of 3 metre high standing stones. Have a look at the explanatory boards for more information. Shame they don't mention Asterix though. :( Ty Mawr hut circleUseful information Nearest train station: Holyhead Bus 22 runs from Holyhead to South Stack 3 times daily Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 262 Google map highlighting locations mentioned in post. By John Williams

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