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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 65: More Anglesey Lighthouses

by | Jan 18, 2023

Llanddwyn Island

Dark clouds

I guess if I’d really wanted to, I could just about have circled the Anglesey coastline in a single day, and conquered another eight lighthouses. For the first time in nearly a month, however, I awoke without the fog of my dark mood and inner anxiety, and concluded that I was in no particular hurry. It’s possible that nature was taking its course or, more likely, the effect of my medication was starting to bite. I didn’t mind either way.

It made sense to break up the Anglesey lights across two days, getting to the four lights on the north and south coasts today, and leaving the four lights in and around Holyhead, the largest town on the island, until the next day.

I made for Amlwch on the north coast first, following National Cycle Route 5 inland, before turning off and heading towards the coast near Pen-y-sarn. My first impressions of the town were not especially promising, but once again I was quick to judge, and the closer I got to the harbour, the more attractive it became. It’s the most northerly town in Wales, and in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was a booming mining town that became the centre of a vast global trade in copper ore. Once copper production declined, the port developed a shipbuilding and ship repair trade, but this too declined early in the twentieth century.


Port Amlwich

Port Amlwich

When the port at Amlwch was developed in the mid-eighteenth century, two short piers were constructed, with an octagonal tower with small lantern on each. In 1816, an outer pier was added to provide additional protection to ships inside the harbour, with a single lighthouse that replaced the original pair.

This served until 1853, when further alterations to the harbour led to the construction of the current lighthouse, a square, slightly tapered stone tower with a brick lantern room, attached to a stone building.

It’s unusual in that its light was displayed through a window that is only visible from the seaward side, and so from the harbour wall itself it is not instantly recognisable as a lighthouse. The light was visible for six miles. It was decommissioned in 1972, when it was replaced by a fixed navigation light, mounted on a white metal column, positioned right at the harbour entrance.

From Amlwch, I headed for the lighthouse at Point Lynas, on a short promontory just a couple of miles east. For walkers, the coast path hugs the cliff edge all the way and on clear days offers breathtaking, uninterrupted views across the water to the Isle of Man. Cyclists have to take a brief detour inland, but the scenery was still stunning as I followed a single-track lane, lined with the low stone walls, bracken, heather and, inexplicably, a group of well-tended palm trees.

The final approach along the headland to the lighthouse was spectacular, and afforded me the views that the coast path walkers would have enjoyed all the way.

Point Lynas

Port Lynas

Port Lynas

Point Lynas lighthouse is at the highest point on the headland, and is an imposing landmark. Its tower and surrounding walls are castellated, and it has an imposing castellated gateway, giving the entire complex the feeling of a wealthy landowner’s castle. However, it was designed from the outset to serve as a lookout post for The Liverpool Pilotage Service.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, The Liverpool Pilotage Service chose Point Lynas as the ideal location from where ships making for Liverpool could pick up pilots. A tower was constructed in around 1780, with a pair of oil lamps showing lights in two directions. At the same time, a building to provide accommodation for the pilots was built, which also provided the location for the current lighthouse, built in 1835 after the original pair of lamps were declared inadequate.

The current, 1835, lighthouse was built as a two-storey extension to the seaward side of the accommodation building, with a ground floor semi-circular lamp room. Originally argon powered, its light was visible for sixteen miles. This was converted to oil in 1901, then to electricity in 1957. When electrified, the occulting light was uprated, making it visible for twenty miles.

Trinity House assumed responsibility for Point Lynas Lighthouse in 1973 and it was automated in 1989. The keepers’ accommodation buildings are now available as holiday lets.

Llanddwyn Island, where my next pair of lights were, was a relatively straight twenty-mile ride, almost exactly due south. The hills and cliff tops of the northern coast contrast markedly with Anglesey’s south coast, where broad sandy beaches meet the dense and silent forestry of the Llanddwyn Island National Nature Reserve.

There are more than ten miles of footpaths and bridleways within the Nature Reserve, and I tried several before finding one heading for the seafront and island. Llanddwyn is a tidal island, a peninsula at all times other than at high tide, and it’s astonishingly beautiful. There is plenty of evidence of early settlements and habitation, including the remains of a medieval stone church, and a Celtic cross that served to point out my path to the south-eastern and south-western extremities of the peninsula, where the two lighthouses are located.

One thing that surprised me was the number of other walkers making the trek across the beach onto the island alongside me. I had cycled, then walked, along a series of deserted footpaths to reach the beach, and I had seen no signs of a road, or car park, within a radius of a couple of miles. Where had all these people come from? I wondered if I had somehow missed an obvious road leading to the beach, but a quick glance at my map suggested that I had taken the most direct route.

Wherever they had come from, we were all heading in the same direction. I wanted to believe that we were all fellow lighthouse enthusiasts, but I reluctantly conceded that the tranquillity and beauty were enough of a draw on their own.

Llanddwyn Island

Twr Mawr

Twr Mawr

It is not recorded exactly when the two towers on Llanddwyn Island were built, but Ordnance Survey maps from the early nineteenth century show them both, and suggest that they served as unlit day marks or beacons initially.

It is possible that the larger of the two towers, known as Twr Mawr, might originally have been used as a windmill. The proportions of the tower certainly lend weight to this theory. Records show that the building was altered in 1845, and at this time the building comprised a thirty-six-foot tall tower, with a conical slate roof. A lantern room was installed, which was built at ground level, with the keepers’ accommodation housed within the tower.

The current optic and Fresnel lens, which were lit by six Argand lamps with reflectors, date to 1861. Its light was visible for seven miles. The lighthouse was decommissioned in the mid 1970s, when a navigation light was fitted to the smaller tower close by.

Twr Bach

Twr Bach

The smaller tower, known as Twr Bach, was constructed from rubble stone in the early nineteenth century. It served as a day mark only until 1975, when Trinity House installed a solar-powered flashing navigation light to replace the Twr Mawr light. It shows a red or white light, depending on direction. The red light is visible for five miles, the white for seven miles.

I must have read one particular sentence about Llanddwyn, that it was a peninsula except at high tide, at least twenty times. Somehow, however, its significance hadn’t sunk in. I had sat cross-legged, with my back leaning against Twr Bach, for half an hour or so, soaking up the view out to sea. It was not a clear evening, but I could make out the Llyn Peninsula, where I had been a couple of days before, and I knew that on a clear day I stood a chance of seeing the Irish coast. By the time I emerged from my reverie it was early evening, and not only had my fellow walkers vanished but the tide was enveloping the island rapidly.

Below the Celtic cross, where the path meets the sandy beach, the sea was both to my left and right, but there was still a narrowing strip of sand back to the forest footpaths. What I hadn’t bargained for was that even though the tide still left me with safe passage, the sand itself was becoming saturated with water, making my feet sink a little with each step. It was fine for me, but not for the bike I was pushing. It was far too heavy, and the wheels were creating ever deeper ruts in the sand as I made precious little progress back to dry land. I berated myself for not noticing that all the other walkers had left earlier than me. It reminded me of a Devon holiday, when I considered scores of families foolish for abandoning the perfect, early evening sunshine on Blackpool Sands beach. Only when we returned to our car, trapped on the wrong side of a securely locked car park gate, did I understand why so many people were keen to leave the beach earlier.

Here, making for the safety of the trees through a rapidly narrowing strip of sand, the only option was to carry the bike. Thorn are rightly proud of their reputation for building traditional, hand-built heavy steel bikes, but for the first time I wished I could swap with just about any other bike on the market. I reached the shore ahead of the tide, but it was touch and go.

Like an idiot, I forgot that I had switched to the university halls of residence, and started to head back to Beaumaris. I felt a tingle of anticipation at the thought of a pint of Robinsons and a steak and ale pie at the George and Dragon, and it was only as I approached the Menai bridge that I remembered. I pushed on, stopping at the Spar on Caernarfon Road for a makeshift supper instead.


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