Across the Menai Strait from Caernarfon, the island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn) welcomes visitors to “Mam Cymru”, the Mother of Wales, attesting to the island’s former importance as the national breadbasket. The land remains predominantly pastoral, with small fields, stone walls and white houses reminiscent of parts of Ireland or England. Linguistically and politically, though, Anglesey is intensely Welsh, with seventy percent of the islanders being first-language Welsh-speakers. Many people head straight to Holyhead and the Irish ferries, but this would be to miss out on Anglesey’s many charms, among them the ancient town of Beaumaris, with its fine castle, the Whistler mural at Plas Newydd and some superb coastal scenery. The island was the crucible of pre-Roman druidic activity in Britain, and there are still numerous Neolithic remains redolent of the atmosphere of a pagan past.
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The original inhabitants of BEAUMARIS (Biwmares) were evicted by Edward I to make way for the construction of his new castle and bastide town, dubbed “beautiful marsh” in an attempt to attract English settlers. Today the place can still seem like the small English outpost Edward intended, with its elegant Georgian terrace along the front (designed by Joseph Hansom, of cab fame) and more plummy English accents than you’ll have heard for a while.
Beaumaris Castle might never have been built had Madog ap Llywelyn not captured Caernarfon in 1294. When asked to build the new castle, James of St George abandoned the Caernarfon design in favour of a concentric plan, developing it into a highly evolved symmetrical octagon. Sited on flat land at the edge of town, the castle is denied the domineering majesty of Caernarfon or Harlech, its low outer walls appearing almost welcoming until you begin to appreciate the concentric layout of the defences protected by massive towers, a moat linked to the sea and the Arab-influenced staggered entries through the two gatehouses. Despite more than thirty years’ work, the project was never quite finished, leaving the inner ward empty. You can explore a number of inner and outer wall walks, and wander through miles of internal passages in the walls.