If I could have stretched my daily budget, I would gladly have stayed at The Bulkeley Hotel for the rest of the summer. Judging by the number of elderly ladies looking settled at breakfast, many had clearly decided to do just that. However, I needed to slow my spending down considerably, effective immediately. My starting point was to explore the Anglesey lighthouses from Bangor, where I had managed to book three nights’ bed and breakfast in the university’s halls for a total of £50.
Right now, though, I was keen to savour the last hour or so of splendour in Beaumaris. However convenient the university would be, my bet was that the refectory would not serve up a breakfast like the one at The Bulkeley.
There’s a lighthouse just off the east coast of Anglesey, beyond the village of Penmon, which has been photographed a thousand times for calendars, posters, place mats and jigsaw puzzles. You might well have seen it. It’s painted in black and white stripes, looks a bit like the rook in a set of chess pieces, with the words ‘NO PASSAGE LANDWARD’ painted in large black letters on the side pointing to the shore.
Although often referred to as Penmon lighthouse, it’s real name is Trwyn Du, and it’s a gentle, four-mile cycle from Beaumaris alongside the Menai Straits, with dramatic views of Snowdonia on the other side of the water.
There’s not a lot to Penmon village itself, but what there is, is very attractive. There is an ancient well, whose water is said to have healing powers. The stone walls nearby are reputed to have formed part of Seiriol’s church in the sixth century, which would make it the oldest remaining Christian building in Wales. A dovecote near the church, largely intact, dates from the sixteenth century. The highlight for me, however, was The Pilot House Cafe at Penmon Point where, on learning that my cycle was raising funds for an MS charity, its owner filled my saddle bags with homemade cakes and biscuits for my onward journey.
Walking down to the shingle beach, the tide was out, and I could have reached the lighthouse by clambering over a stretch of rocks covered in seaweed. But I was more than happy to sit cross-legged on the shingle and just take in the view. The water was as calm as any pond, although there are many accounts online of waves high enough to crash over the lantern at the top of the tower. The most beautiful thing about this lighthouse, however, is its fog signal, which comes from an electronic mechanism that strikes a large bell every thirty seconds. It’s a beautiful, though haunting sound, like a church bell at sea. Today, with the water barely showing a ripple, it was the only sound in an otherwise silent landscape. I was lucky to have no particular goal or destination in mind for the day, and so was glad to remain by the shore, gazing at Trwyn Du for a couple of hours.
The eastern Anglesey coast had proved dangerous to shipping entering the Menai Strait from the north for many years before a lighthouse was built here. The most catastrophic disaster was in 1831, when the steamer Rothsay Castle struck a sandbank off Penmon, with the loss of the lives of 130 of the 150 passengers on board. After this, Trinity House identified a reef between the mainland and Puffin Island as the optimum site for a new lighthouse.
It was designed by James Walker, later responsible for a series of successful rock lighthouses such as Smalls, The Needles and Wolf Rock. First lit in 1838, it comprises a ninety-six-foot circular and stepped stone tower, with castellated gallery, and a lantern with a conical roof and weathervane. The tower is painted in broad black and white bands. These days, the gallery is decked with solar panels, and a halogen lamp that emits a flashing white light, every five seconds, which is visible for twelve miles.
Originally requiring two keepers, the lighthouse was the first Trinity House light to be automated when it was converted to acetylene operation in 1922. Renovations were carried out in 1996, when it was converted to solar power.
I've wanted to see this light for years! This is Trwyn Du, at Penmon, Anglessey. Haunting bell inside like a church! pic.twitter.com/6CD8OZjUry
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) July 7, 2015
Half a mile offshore, behind the lighthouse, Puffin Island is clearly visible. It is not open to the public, but regular birdwatching boat trips from Beaumaris circle the island. It’s a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is renowned for a range of species including razorbills, shag, guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars, herring gulls, lesser black-backed gulls, and great black-backed gulls. The area is of European importance for its breeding population of cormorant, and is also an important roosting area for oystercatchers. Puffins were once common on the island, although they are much scarcer here today.
Between Trwyn Du and Puffin Island is a smaller rocky outcrop known as Perch Rock, on which is mounted a cone-shaped stone beacon, its top half painted red, with a small white lantern mounted on top. It’s quite small, but I could see it clearly and managed to take a handful of decent pictures, albeit with a long lens.
With very little notice, the calm sea and skies turned black, and it started to pour with rain. Fearing that Bangor University’s Halls of Residence would not provide comparable lengths of Victorian pipework to dry clothes as The Bulkeley Hotel, I decided to pack up quickly and get moving.
I reached Bangor University by three, where I was assigned a room that was tiny, but cosy, comfortable and spotlessly clean. I engaged in a brief row with a porter about security arrangements for my bike; he eventually admitted that the safest place for it would be my room. It involved carrying it up six flights of stairs and, once inside, it wasn’t possible to open either the cupboard or bathroom doors. But with signs warning of bicycle theft dotted around the campus, it was a worthwhile sacrifice.