The Mother of Wales

Ynys Môn. The Isle of Anglesey. Known for Kate Middleton shopping and living there, and oh yeah, its ancient heritage dating back before the days of invading Romans. It’s just across the Menai Strait from Bangor, so this field trip was by no means my first time on the island (last month I went sea kayaking along the coast of Anglesey), but it was my first chance to really tour all the historic sites.

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The isle was once known as the “Mother of Wales” (Mam Cymru) because so much of the country’s production came from this fertile land. Invading Roman soldiers reported fear at the wild sight of fierce druids lined threateningly along the isle’s coast. Today, there are many villages on the isle, much farmland, and plenty of places to enjoy outdoor sports.

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Crossing over the Menai suspension bridge or Britannia bridge (I don’t recommend the former if you’re driving a larger vehicle, trust me on this!), the unsuspecting tourist could be lured in by the novelty of the longest place name in Europe: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch… Or, as the locals (and for the sake of my clumsy tongue, myself) call it, LlanfairPG. Meaning “The church of St. Mary in a hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and near St. Tysilio’s church by the red cave”, the name was created a couple centuries ago to bring in tourism (it worked).

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A short ride along narrow, often one-lane roads, and we hit Penmon Priory. As an American, I was most fascinated by the layers of history sandwiched together: A 12th-century church containing 10th-century Celtic crosses, built on the site of a 6th-century monastery, with 16th-century, Victorian, and modern additions. Whew. And next door is a rare surviving Elizabethan dovecote. All with a stunning view of the Menai Strait.

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Next up was Bryn Celli Ddu, a 3,000-year-old burial chamber built by the same folks as that old circle, Stonehenge. On the midsummer solstice, the sun aligns perfectly with the entrance. It looks like a hobbit hole!

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Beaumaris Castle, my first castle with a real, honest-to-goodness moat (and live attack swans!), was one of the cooler castles I’ve been privileged to visit. Its coolness factor is born out of the number of battlements and narrow stone passages I could explore.

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Because I’m an ocean girl at heart, my favorite part of visiting Anglesey was walking up to “the church in the sea”. When it was built, this simple, whitewashed church was land-bound, but erosion over time has caused it to rest on its own tiny island, accessible only during low tide. Approaching it means walking over sand and shells and climbing up a set of stone stairs. The sky was blue and the grass was green, and that’s as good a way to end a day (or a post) as I’ve ever seen.

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