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Llanddwyn Island (Anglesey)

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Llanddwyn Island comprises part of the National Nature Reserve of Newborough Warren, known for its floristically rich sand dune system. Llanddwyn Island is not techincally an island; in low tides the attachment to the mainland can be seen.

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      19.12.2010 12:59
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      A wonderful place to explore on a nice summer's day.

      At the south western corner of the Isle of Anglesey, there is a vast area of sand dunes and conifer forest known as Newborough Warren. Covering over 1,500 acres, this huge mosaic of trees, marsh, and shore has been designated a National Nature Reserve due to its important rare flora and fauna. Perhaps the most spectacular part of this wonderful landscape is Llanddwyn Island: a fitting crown for one of Anglesey's most visited natural wonders. The area is easy to find. Follow the A4080 from Menai into the village of Newborough. At the 'Premier Stores', take a left following the brown tourist sign for 'Llys Rhosyr'. The straight road soon has signs for the beach, and at the end of the road, after a couple of miles is a huge Forestry Commission car park. Parking is not cheap (£3.50), but there are at least decent facilities for visitors here. Toilets and disabled toilets are on site, and there are plenty of bins for rubbish. There are picnic tables here, too, but I would advise avoiding these are there are much better places to eat on the beach and the island. The car park is on the edge of the forest, surrounded by huge conifers on all sides. This is one of the few places in Wales where red squirrels can be found, as they have recently been reintroduced to Anglesey. This is also the site of an enormous raven roost. About 1,000 of the largest crows in the world choose the forest to spend the night. If you are here at dusk, you may see the air fill with large black birds; their cronking calls disturbing the quiet of evening, until they finally settle down for the night. From the car park, there is a sandy path leading to the beach. After only a few hundred yards or so, the path leads to a crest; from being able to see only dunes and trees, now a beautiful vista opens up before the eyes. It is worth stopping here to enjoy the view. Straight ahead is the shore. This award winning beach forms a curved bay, with miles of clean pale golden sand that invites one to take their shoes off and let it tickle the toes. The water here is a clear, deep blue; on a sunny day, reflecting the azure colour of a cloudless sky. The sheltered waters of the bay offer safe swimming, so much nicer than a public pool. To the left across the Menai Straits loom the mountains of Snowdonia. These huge peaks, some over 3,000 feet high, dominate the skyline and may be snow capped for much of the year. Mighty Snowdon itself lies at the extreme left of the range, its 3,580 foot bulk the highest point in England and Wales. To the right is Llanddwyn Island. In contrast to the golden sands of the beach, the island is a striking mix of green and white, with marram grass covered dunes lying over the white rock that rises above the sea. Several buildings, including a lighthouse can be seen on the island, but the overall impression is one of isolated beauty. To get to the island is a pleasant half mile walk along that wonderful beach. Following the curve of the bay, a small spit of sand is soon reached; beyond this is the island proper. The island is usually accessible, being cut off at the spit by only the highest tides, so visitors can be assured that they won't be stranded for any length of time. Crossing the spit, visitors can now explore the island. The first unusual sight is several huge, smooth, lumps of rock. These are 'pillow lava' formed when ancient volcanoes erupted under the ocean. As you stand next to them, reflect that these rocks have stood here for over 600 million years! Llanddwyn Island is one of the best places in Britain to see evidence of Earth's ancient history, literally set in stone before one's eyes. A steep climb gets one to the top of the island. Here, the rocks give way to grass covered sand dunes which show clear evidence of grazing. The 'culprits' will soon be found: Welsh Mountain Ponies. These are an ancient, hardy breed, introduced to keep the grass under control and are genuinely wild. They will not allow themselves to be touched, moving slowly away if approached, but are happy to pose prettily for photographs from only a few yards away. They are gorgeous. The landscape of the island is simply stunning. Rolling dunes contrast with jagged limestone outcrops. Steep cliffs frame sheltered bays, some of which can be reached by careful scrambling. The up and down nature of the island means that there is always another corner to explore, and visitors will be out of sight for much of the time doing so. This small island has a wide range of features, seemingly out of proportion to its small size. To the north of the island is the lighthouse of Tŵr Mawr. Built in 1850, this has recently been reintroduced to service, standing mute guard over the southern tip of the Menai Straits. Visitors cannot access the lighthouse interior, but can get to and around it to get close views. From the lighthouse, the highest part of the island, the views are expansive with many miles of Anglesey coast, as well as the Lleyn Peninsular visible across the sea. Wildlife is abundant here, with several small islands hosting breeding sea birds in the summer; the appropriate named 'Bird Rock' houses one percent of Britain's breeding cormorants. Other birds to be seen include the noisy oystercatchers, their distinctive calls, black and white bodies, and bright orange bill seeming to shout 'look at me!' Other, quieter birds include turnstones and sandpipers, and terns can be seen fishing in the bay during the summer. Grey seals may be seen in the water, or hauled out on the rocks for a rest. There is plenty more to explore on the island as this place has been inhabited since the 5th Century when St. Dwynwen lived here. Her sad story of unrequited love and betrayal led to her living as a hermit on Llanddwyn. The ruins of a chapel still stand, a place of pilgrimage during the 16th Century. Other old buildings remain, too. Cottages for pilots were built in the 19th Century. Two of these have been restored, with one housing an exhibition of local wildlife. There was a lifeboat crew stationed here, too, in the 19th Century. Bizarrely, a cannon was used to summon the crews to service. This can still be seen near the cottages. There are plenty of quiet places to have a picnic on the island. I recommend the bench by the stunning Celtic cross near the chapel. The views here are superb, much better than the car park tables (once on this wonderful island, those tables will seem a world away), and the sound of the sea on the rocks, the calling of the sea birds, and the sight of those lovely ponies will make even the simplest meal, seem a real treat. After having a meal, exploring the island fully, and saying goodbye to the ponies, it will be time to head back to the mainland. The Isle of Llanddwyn will leave visitors with memories that last much longer than the few hours spent there; I know I will be returning to this magical place.

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