One of Britain’s greatest natural features is the coast. There are more than 7,000 miles of this if you include the larger islands, which is enough to keep most people busy for a lifetime. The Isle of Anglesey has some of the best hiking trails and its coastal path offers breathtaking coastal hiking experiences.
I’ve been coming to North Wales for as long as I can remember and every time I come I’m brought back to my early childhood vacation. There is something impressive about the scents of the sea, the sand, the fish and chips and the sounds of the sea that are such powerful memory triggers for anyone who has vacationed on the coast. Eau de Chippy, sand and salt is a time travel fragrance like no other. Immediate return in happy times on coastal stays.
I recently visited Anglesey twice on two very different coastal hiking experiences. Once this summer we enjoyed some wonderfully warm and sunny days. The sea was clear and a beautiful light blue, and we enjoyed warm sunshine on our backs as we walked the beaches with open toes. We also visited last winter where we were wrapped in waterproof clothing and battered by the elements including a Sahara-style sandstorm on Rhosneiger Beach but still managed to enjoy some cliff walks and soulwarming sunsets.
The Anglesey coast is rightly designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but the appeal of its coastline is evident to anyone visiting this North Wales island. Rugged cliffs, fine sandy beaches and crystal clear water create a beautiful landscape that is best explored on foot. The good news for walkers is that almost everything is accessible via the Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path.
130 miles of trails cover the coastal region and it is possible to divide them into segments and explore the entire island in approximately 12 days. If your plan to explore the whole island then this is it Visit Anglesey is a great resource with downloadable maps and information on each of the 12 suggested stages of the walk. Strolling all over the island is an ambitious endeavor, however, and there are plenty of alternatives for more casual walks and loop trails from some of the beachfront resorts with picture postcards. If you are lucky enough to stay on the coast you can wake up until early morning and stroll along the coast as the sun sets in the sea.
My recent trips have allowed me to explore sections of the trail between Rhosneiger and the South Stack lighthouse on the tip of the Holy Island. There are some top notch hiking trails and plenty of route options to either cover long stretches of the coastal path or just a few easy loop trails that lead through pristine beaches and pretty coastal villages.
Rhoscolyn is an ideal starting point to linger and go for a walk. It’s a lovely little village with some fabulous houses, a few beaches and coves to explore, and a pub that draws people from near and far for its food that has been awarded a royal seal of approval. On sunny summer days, many would find little reason to leave the beach thinking about exploring other than crab hunting in the rock pools. However, there is much to experience and enjoy for those who hike the cliff paths.
If you climb up the hill from the village on prickly gorse bushes and the rabbits that make their home there, you will come to the NCI Rhoscolyn observation station. The National Coastalwatch Institution (NCI) is a voluntary organization with stations like this one manned by volunteers who look out the coast for people and ships in trouble. The view from the lookout is fabulous. The mountains of Snowdonia are just across the Menai Strait from Anglesey, so those with a keen eye and good mountain knowledge can spot Snowdon from Moel Hebog on a clear day. When the cloud is up, your gaze will be drawn to the Rhoscolyn beacon on the islands, which is a few hundred meters from the cliffs, and the cormorants and seals swimming nearby.
Further down the trail is St Gwenfaen’s Fountain, a medieval fountain and Grade II listed building, before the trail winds in a familiar pattern typical of this section of Anglesey. Coastal erosion has created a series of bays and headlands around which the path winds, and hikers are treated to breathtaking scenery and dramatic falls as they stroll around every new corner. Care must be taken not to venture near the edges, especially if walking with children, but this section of the trail is very beautiful. Climbers can be spotted on the cliffs of this stretch of coast and kayaking is popular here too.
The sea has also carved two natural arches here: Bwa Gwyn – the white arch – and Bwa Du – the black arch. On calm summer days, you can paddle kayaking through Bwa Gwyn Arch and enjoy the seal’s eye view or the white cliffs. On my first visit here, I couldn’t find Bwa Gwyn. I stood on a precariously steep stretch of land, checking and checking my map until I realized I was standing right on the archway. I wouldn’t recommend this particular location, but it can be safely viewed from the land south of it. If you get too close to a drop and can’t see it, you are in the wrong place. It’s a great place to enjoy the sunset and watch the changing colors of the cliff walls.
There are loop trails back to Rhoscolyn from the area near the arches, or alternatively you can continue to Trearddur Bay and its fabulous wide beach. The beach is a big draw for families on summer days. Strolling the beach in any weather and watching the tide come in and out is a good time. Even more so if you combine your visit with an ice cream from one of the nearby ice cream parlors.
If you walk north from Trearddur Bay the trail will take you four miles to the South Stack Lighthouse and Holyhead Mountain (at 220 meters, I think we’re certainly expanding the definition of the word mountain here). I covered this section of the coastal path in late March when I had to take walks between inhospitable weather conditions. The experience is different this time of year, but when exposed to the elements and the raw power of the sea, the walk becomes much more dramatic. After a storm, sea foam can fill some of the smaller bays, and when the waves roll in at full tilt you can see the piles of sea, isolated in the middle of the bays, emerge through the land around them and wash away.
At the end of this stretch, beneath huge cliffs where large colonies of sea birds live, is the island of South Stack and its famous lighthouse. The South Stack Lighthouse was built in 1809 and warns passing ships from this westernmost point of Anglesey of the treacherous rocks off its coast. It is possible to visit the lighthouse and take a tour where you climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse for a great lookout point.
The trail passes through RSPB South Stack Cliffs nature reserve, where you can see some of the rich bird species. Guillemots, razor blades, and puffins come to the cliffs to nest and I saw a hawk when I was here. Climbing the Holyhead Mountains gives you the best view of the island and the coastal path where you came from or where you are next going. There are many more stretches of the coastal path to explore and many sights to see along the way, such as Beaumaris Castle or the tidal island of Ynys Llanddwyn.
The entire coastal path is a reasonable challenge for those who want to tackle it at once, but for most, a leisurely stroll along sections of the trail is one of the reasons to visit and return to Anglesey. Either way, you can take a stroll along this spectacular coastline.
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