When you cross the Britannia Bridge from mainland Wales to Anglesey, the first village you meet boasts the longest name in Europe. Welcome to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllandysiliogogogoch,” gargles a lady in traditional costume to all new arrivals. And if you didn’t need the toilet before she started, you will by the time she’s finished.”
Usually abbreviated to Llanfair PG, the impossible title literally means ‘St Mary’s Church in the hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St Tysilio near the red cave’. In the 1880s, a committee got together to brainstorm ways to boost local tourism. Strangely, adding to the village’s five-syllabled name seemed to work, and coaches of school trips, backpackers and silver tops have been rolling up ever since.
A guide to Llanfair PG reads: The big name made the village famous. Now its attractions are bigger still.” But when a Volvo garage and shop specialising in traditional love spoons are the sum total of these attractions, it’s perhaps time the writer had another look at the Trade Descriptions Act.
“I get film crews from all over the world turning up and asking to see the town hall, but there isn’t one,” says Ronnie, who works at the Tourist Information Centre. “People ask me what else there is to see here, but in truth, although it’s a wonderful location, there’s not a lot to do unless you go further afield.” So further afield it is, then, and once you’ve got over the sneaking suspicion that long-dead committee members are having a good laugh at your expense, you’ll find a lot more to see than an ostentatious place name.
Two miles from the column, on the banks of the Menai Strait, lies the First Marquess’ Gothic mansion built by James Wyatt. Although now run by the National Trust, the elegant house is still the home of the Marquesses of Anglesey, as it has been since the 18th century. The British painter and designer Rex Whistler stayed here for two years in the 1930s and, as well as painting a portrait of the Sixth Marquess, covered a 58ft-long wall (of the Rex Whistler Room, as it’s now known) with a huge fantasy seascape. Further down the hall, the Calvary Room houses the world’s first articulated leg, designed for the unfortunate First Marquess.
Holy Island & South Stack
Just off Anglesey’s western shore lies the jagged spine of Holy Island. Its town, Holyhead, is a drab settlement based around the ferry crossing to Dublin, but the rest of the island is a stunning mixture of sandy beaches, jagged cliffs and farmland. Inhabited since the Stone Age, there are remnants of this long past scattered around the island, including Neolithic burial chambers, standing stones and Bronze Age hut circles. At the foot of Holy Island’s 60m-high cliffs lies South Stack, an area famed for its lighthouse. The station’s oil lamps were first lit in 1809, and though the lighthouse is now automated (since 1984), its 10-second flashes continue to save vessels crossing the Irish Sea from a rocky encounter. You can survey the perilous shoreline from the top of the lighthouse (a 400-step ascent) while looking out for puffins, peregrine falcons and the many other species of bird that visit the stack.
The Marquess of Anglesey’s column
The tower that rises above the trees at the foot of Britannia Bridge has been welcoming visitors to Anglesey since 1817. The column was built to commemorate the heroics of Henry William Paget, the first Marquess of Anglesey who, as second in command to Wellington, led the calvary during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Although he famously lost his leg to almost the last shot fired at Waterloo, he lived until he was 85 and was twice Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. When he died in 1860, the statue of the Marquess was added to the column. Today, via an internal staircase, you can have a close look at the bronze figure while admiring the Menai Strait and peaks of Snowdonia that roll far behind him.
Described as the most technically perfect medieval castle, Beaumaris formed part of the ‘iron ring’ defence system built by Edward I in an effort to stamp his authority on the Welsh. Unfortunately money and supplies ran out before the job could be completed and the castle remains an unfinished masterpiece, or a finger up to the English, depending on how you’re looking at it. Today, the white elephant is a fascinating visit purely on the grounds of its fortifications. To penetrate the fortress, an enemy would have had to cross a moat, scale four successive walls and dodge ‘murder holes’, all the while avoiding an onslaught of ammo from strategically placed arrow slits.