Bridging the Gap: Secrets of the Beddmanach Bay Area

Part One: Ideas

Full of Eastern Promise…

In my earlier blog about the Inland Sea, I said I’d cover the other side of the Cymyran Strait another time – so, that’s what I’m doing now! However, if you want to remind yourself of the channel’s additional delights, click on the link above. Today though, we’re going to look in more detail at the northern end – known to most as the Beddmanarch Bay (Bae Beddmanarch) and Traeth y Gribin tract; including its woodland walks, foreshore, beaches & banks, handsome headlands, and enchanting estuary!

But, because there’s so much to say about the territory in question, I’m going to split the blog in two – with PART ONE (this one) concentrating on ideas of what to do in the area, and Part TWO (coming soon) looking more at the background, traditions, and local history associated with the site.

Go West…

Although maps differ in detail, and people’s opinions do too – with some calling the area (specifically the ‘mouth’) ‘Holyhead Bay’, and regarding the Beddmanrch Bay section as only making up the lower quarter of this top part of the creek – whatever it’s called, or whatever you know it as – we’re talking about the bit that makes up the northern ‘entrance/exit’ to the Cymyran Strait, as well as it’s engaging edges!

Incidentally, the Treath y Gribin chunk refers to the Bay’s eastern sweep of coastal dune, beach, and heath (i.e. part of the western shores of ‘mainland’ Anglesey) – as well as the sandbanks and mud-flats there – that magically appear and disappear – depending on the tide. However, this is slightly complicated by the fact that part of the foreshore here (near Valley) is also known as Treath Gorad/Goradd Beach!

Observing Anglesey…

In essence, this end of the Strait encompasses the foreshore and tidal areas between Holyhead (on Holy Island), right around to the Penrhyn Promontory (close to Llanfwrog) on ‘mainland’ Anglesey! However, I’ll leave its outermost reaches (i.e. Penrhos Beach – as well as Holyhead itself – and Traeth Penrhyn) for another day – concentrating instead on:

  1. The Penrhos Coastal Park (on the western banks of Beddmanarch Bay) – including, its headland area, woodland, and beaches.
  2. The Stanley Embankment that links the Coastal Park (on Holy Island, near Holyhead) to Valley (on ‘mainland’ Anglesey).
  3. Traeth y Gribin (on the eastern banks of the Bay) – including Traeth Gorad (near Valley), as well as the area’s sandbanks, mudflats, heathland, and dunes.
  4. The southern shores of the Afon Alaw Estuary – all the way up to, and including, the footbridge near Llanfachraeth.

A Foot in Both Camps…

As you can see from the map below, the Stanley Embankment  – linking Valley to Holyhead  – splits the Cymyran Strait in two. Not only is the Beddmanarch segment the widest expanse of the whole watery conduit, but the causeway that separates it from the rest of the inter-tidal inlet has helped make it into an entity in its own right. Being that much broader than its opposite number on the southern side means, on the whole, this portion of the channel is less dangerous on tide-changes too. It’s also part of the ‘Beddmanarch and Cymyran Site of Special Scientific Interest’, a Marine Protected area, and forms part of The Islands’ Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty!

‘Strait’ Down the Line…

For anyone living or holidaying anywhere on Anglesey – let alone those closeby (i.e. Four-mile-Bridge, Rhoscolyn, Trearddur Bay, South Stack, and Church Bay) – Beddmaarch presents a great day out, and a different sort of seaside experience. Although lovely throughout the year, we tend to visit more in the colder months – when the ‘usual’ beach activities of swimming and sand-castle-making aren’t quite so appealing!  Often more sheltered than the Islands’ clifftop clambers – and other exposed expanses – it offers a number of amusements to keep the kids distracted; especially on the Penrhos side! So, for some Anglesey half-term diversion, or woeful weather walking-ideas – look no further!  

 

Bedmanarch Must-Knows & Half-Term Hints!

  • Access to (and parking at) the Coastal Park is free!
  • The main (signposted) car park lies directly off the A5, at the western end of the Stanley Embankment, just east of Holyhead.
  • The Postcode for the Park’s main parking area is: LL65 2UX, and it’s OS reference is: 53.297034, -4.592863
  • There are loos in the Coastal Park’s main parking area!
  • Although owned by ‘Land & Lakes’, Kehoe Countryside look after the day to day running of the park, as well as the rest of the estate  – which comprises of 200 ha of farmland, grassland, and woodland.
  • To contact Kehoe’s warden service call: 01407 761 338 or 07758 855 118
  • Head to the headland areas for more grass – and for perfect panoramic ‘Port’ side views!

Head for heights….

  • The wooded part of the park is a super place to head when the weather ‘sets in’, with its leafy canvas granting refuge from both wind and rain!
  • Most of the reserve’s paths are suitable for both wheelchairs and buggies. Look out for the signs! Although they can get wet and muddy, not to mention festooned with woodland detritus, they’re usually well maintained and easy to navigate.
  • For those who enjoy more of a rugged experience, look out for the twig strewn, tangled trails – but try not to make new ones!
  • Whilst in the woods – why not climb a tree or make a den!

Cover Story…

  • There are various illustrated information boards dotted around the Coastal Park  – advising you of what you can see and where, as well as the times of year to look out for certain flora, fauna, and birdlife.
  • There are a number of interesting memorials to various important people connected to the area in the Park too, including a seat dedicated to Anglesey based artist, Charles Tunnicliffe, and lots more besides.
  • Need some time alone? Go walk the dog! Both sides of the bay are beautiful! There are also specific bins for doggy business around the Coastal Park, and bags available too.
  • Need to entertain the family? Go walk the kids! Both sides of the Bay are beguiling – however, I think most children will prefer the nature trails through the woods that border the beach! But Traeth Gorad can be fun too!

As Easy as Falling off a Log…

  • Go Tree spotting! The oldest areas of woodland (including over 15,000 broad-leaved trees) were planted in 1816, when the land formed part of the Stanley family’s Estate (which I’ll tell you more about in Part Two). Today they consist of a wide range of both deciduous and coniferous varieties, including: Alder, Ash, Beech, Birch, Cypress, Grand Fir, Holly, Horse-chestnut, Oak, Sitka Spruce, and Sycamore. See if you can spot them all!

That Old Chestnut…

  • The Woodland Trust has devised a downloadable App for help in identifying trees – click on the link to find out more! They also give tips and guidelines for foraging – again, click the link!
  • Go in search of the Red Squirrels! If you keep an eye out for their feeding areas in the woods, and scan the treetops, you might just be lucky! NB Munched up fir-cone kernels are a good sign – as are the feeding boxes put out by the Park’s wardens! Please inform them if you find a dead one though, as it may mean there’s been contamination from non-native grays!

Squirreling Away…

  • Other creatures to look out for in the woods and headland areas include:  badgers, Daubenton and Pipistrelle Bats, hares, rabbits – and (amongst MANY other birds) pheasants!
  • See how many fascinating Grade II ‘follies’ you can find hidden in the forest-like foliage and surrounding area, including: The Bailiffs Tower (with boundary wall & gates), The Betting Stand (AKA The Rotten Tower – built as a point to view horse racing on a private racecourse), The Bathing House, The Candle Tower & Walls, The Water Tower, The Battery, and the Tower/Walls & Courtyard Buildings. Plus – try to guess which building the names refer to!

Ideal for Wicked Stepmothers…

  • Feed the ducks! The Coastal Park is dotted with freshwater habitats, including the ‘Lily Pond’ near the car park, and the ‘Scouts Pond’ deeper in the woods – as well as various, streams, boggy ditches – and the all-important reed beds. NB No bread please; take proper wild-bird food instead, and try to check with one of the wardens first!

Dip your Toe in the Water…

  • These freshwater areas attract both native and migrant bird species – so there are feathered-friends aplenty! For example, the ponds are regularly visited by: Mallard, Moorhen, Coot – and geese too, including the Greylag and Barnacle varieties – with lots of other wildfowl (and even sea-birds) besides. Look out for frogs and toads as well – plus the infinite mix of insect-life and invertebrates in the area!

Going Quackers…

  • Take the family to one of the Coastal Park’s many picnic and/or viewing areas – the perfect place which to enjoy the sights and sounds of this lovely bay, as well as to admire the gently undulating Anglesey countryside beyond! If it’s chilly pack a thermos of hot soup/chocolate, pop into the cafe, or get something tasty at the Burger Van; details for which I go into in later. You can picnic on Traeth Gorad too, but check the tide, and be prepared to rough-it seat-wise- and there are no nearby loos!

Making a Meal of It…

  • Go shell collecting along the shores. With so many feeding birds about, and being a tidal area to boot, you’ll find a fascinating batch! My favourites? The tiny cowries of course! Difficult to spot, but delightful when you do – and one of the best places for finding them on Anglesey! It’s also a great place for collecting mussels and the like!

Come Out of Your Shell…

  • Go otter spotting up the Estuary! A friend of mine who lives in Llanfachraeth says she’s seen them there! Although shy, your best bet is at dawn and dusk. NB After the UK’s dramatic, population crash in the second half of the twentieth century, otters were all but absent from Anglesey; but now they’re back! Found on many of the island’s estuaries, their revival is down to a number of things, including an improvement in British water quality generally, and the banning of particular pesticides.  

Otterly Perfect…

  • Go in search of the footbridge across the Alaw Arfon (River Arfon). It was funded by the Welsh Government, the European Regional Development Fund, and Anglesey County Council. It depicts various elements relevant to the area on it’s pretty railings – including: birds, boats and the Bay’s botanical bounty! You can, of course, start form the Coastal Park side (and walk along the Embankment first) – but I usually begin this walk on the Anglesey side, from the foreshore near Valley.
  • The footbridge is a relatively new element to the Coastal Path, and therefore not mentioned in older walking guides. Before it was built there was a gap in main route here – meaning you had to skip this part of the coast, and get onto the A5025 (that passes through the nearby village of  Llanfachraeth) before dropping back on to the Coastal Path further on – which wasn’t great! So, even though the other side of the footbridge often floods at high-tide, it’s a massive improvement!

  • Go birdwatching! Anywhere around the Bay is brilliant – but even better at low tide! With mudflats aplenty, and much of the Bay’s fringes containing large swathes of seagrass and saltmarsh – plus a seaweed-strewn foreshore awash with boulders and rock pools, as well as the excellent Estuary conditions – it’s particularly perfect at providing valuable food sources (e.g. molluscs, arthropods, worms and crustaceans) for waders, and diving birds!

Spot the Odd one Out…

  • Depending on the time of year, look out for: Oystercatchers (the Penrhos emblem), Ringed Plovers, Cormorants, Shags, Black-Headed Gulls, Terns, Curlews, Whimbrel, Greenshanks, Goldeneyes, Red Necked Grebes, Shelducks, Red-Breasted Mergansers, Egrets, Black-Tailed Godwits, Great Northern Divers, and Grey Herons. Swans are common sight on the Estuary too, and Brent ducks are all over the place during the winter months; often seen in large flocks along all its shores! NB Did you know – a Penrhos Arctic Tern set a world record for bird migration when it was captured, 14000 miles away, in New South Wales!?

Free as a Bird…

  • As the tide drops away, good-sized expanses of sand are exposed all around the Bay. Not only does this mean there’s more space to run and play, but it also provides plenty of opportunities for rockpooling and beachcombing!

Wet Weekend…

  • Go birding In the woods! Look out for: Long Tailed Tits, Wrens, Chaffinches, Robins, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Wood-pigeons, Goldcrests, Chiffchaff, Tawny Owls – and Treecreepers too!
  • Look out for the unusual gate by the Toll House! Apparently, it was found during the original clean-up in the early 70’s – when the area was being readied for becoming a reserve – and is thought to be an authentic ‘Telford Toll Gate’; more about this and the nearby Toll House in Part TWO!

An Open & Shut Case…

  • Jog on! Through the woods is wonderful, but another workout worth trying is the route from Beach Road (in Valley), along Gorad Beach –  and up the Estuary. To link the two you can even run the length of the Embankment!
  • On that note – remember to check out the water gushing through the large culvert (basically a drainage hole) under the Embankment on tide-changes!
  • Go for a Bike-ride! The Coastal Path Network, as well as National Cycle Track Routes 5 & 8, criss-cross the Park! Watch-out for walkers though!
  • Photograph and list the flowers and plants you come across. Depending on the time of year, whilst in the woods, keep an eye out for: Wild Garlic, Dog Mercury, Wild Cyclamen, Lesser Celandine – and pretty Wild Primroses too! Also, look out for various types of moss, fern, and fungi! NB Although colourful, the woodland Rhododendron is actually an invasive species- with steps being taken to remove most of it.

Wood for the Trees…

  • NB If you want to catch stunning swathes of Snowdrops and/or Bluebells you’ll need to visit the woods in late winter and/or early spring.
  • On the headland areas – look out for meadow flora, including: Birds Foot Trefoil, Common Restharrow, Thrift, Common Mallow, Viper’s Bugloss, and Vetch. Blackberry picking along the Estuary, and in the woods, is awesome in the autumn!

Out Now…

  • See if you can spot the Pet Cemetery in the woods; weird but wonderful too! NB There used to be an animal hospital in the nearby ‘Beddmanarch House’, which helps explain it!

At Rest…

  • Have a day out at the beach! When the weather’s right there are lots of places to relax, soak up the sun – and even do a bit of paddling and/or swimming! Those bordering the woods are easy to get to after parking up, and almost tropical looking in the sunshine. Gorad Beach, on the Valley side, can be delightful too – but all are better for beach activities (except swimming) at low-tide!

The Coast is Clear…

Turning Over a New Leaf…

These Routes Were Made for Walking!

For detailed walking routes in the area – click on the following useful link: Path/maps – but here are a few pointers and ideas of my own!

  • Starting at the Penrhos Coastal Park’s main car park – you can choose to traipse through the trees, meander along the shore, or both! It’d be boring to give you an exact route – so just go where the wind takes you! With miles of signposted pathways, rougher trails available –  and something interesting to investigate in every direction – just follow your heart! NB I don’t think I’ve ever done exactly the same circuit twice – and still find new tracks every time I go! It also depends on wind and tide; with parts of the foreshore becoming inaccessible at high-water, and the shelter of the woods appealing more on wet and blustery days! As mentioned earlier, cyclists can enjoy this special environment too!

As Luck Wood Have it…

  • From the main car park, you can also make your way up onto the Penrhos Headland. Just follow the path that skirts behind the shore – then head upwards! You get super views of Holyhead Port to the west, Anglesey to the north/northeast, and Snowdonia (on clear days) in the East!

Port Side…

  • There’s a second, smaller car park on the other side of the woods too (also free) – close to Traeth Penrhos.  Personally, this beach isn’t one of my Anglesey favourites – so, if you don’t fancy it either, bear left from the little parking area and follow the footpath along the coast, passing through a gap in a stone wall, and past ‘The Battery’. From there, follow the path around the headland – looking out for interesting old buildings and little bays along the way (most of which you can cut down onto). When you get to a junction (with a surfaced road), turn left, and at the end of it (opposite ‘The Bathing House’) turn right for Gorsedd y Penrhyn (AKA Penrhos Headland) – or left for the woods.

Batteries Included…

  • Waking across the Embankment is certainly an experience! Noisy, but with nice views to one side!  From the Coastal Park’s main car park – walk past the loos, along the drive, past the Toll House, where – just before joining the main road – turn left, and go through the gate to the footpath along it! You can do the same from the other end – but the parking there is terrible!

Bridge the Gap…

  • Enter the secret world of the ‘hinterland’! Directly across the road from Derwyn Garage (on the Valley side of the Embankment) there’s a doorway leading you through the Embankment’s wall! Follow the signposted footpath far enough and you get to Four-mile-Bridge; witnessing lots of pretty sights along the way. However, before getting to that part, you’ll have to cross the A5 to get to the doorway, cross a railway line once though it, and walk under the A55 expressway!
  • Although quite ugly, these first few meters are interesting nonetheless; a good way of getting to see both causeways at the same time, as well as the railway line – and to experience how close they all are! Also, it gets pretty real quick – and the birdlife viewing on this side can be amazing –  especially on low tides! Oh, and you might get to see some crazy kayakers between the two causeways too!

Reading Between the Lines…

  • The Footpath that skirts the edge of Gorad Beach and the Estuary is low-lying, with panoramic views back towards the Embankment and Holyhead Port. Yes, there are ‘prettier’ sights to be had on Anglesey – but it’s really interesting – I promise you!
  • The Coastal Path from Valley carries on right around Anglesey…so I usually only walk as far as the Llanfachraeth footbridge! NB As mentioned earlier, some of the literature states you have to come off the Anglesey coastal path near here – but there’s now a route across the Alaw Estuary! But – beware – near the footbridge it can get flooded at high tide, so check tide tables! Unless you’re wearing waders (or a swimming cozzy), I promise you – you won’t get through!

End of the Road (for now)…

  • On REALLY high tides other bits of the Estuary’s footpath (especially as you get closer to the bridge on either side) can get covered too – and at one point you have to walk along the top of a wall to avoid getting your feet wet!

Staying on Track…

  • Starting on the Valley side of the Embankment, you can follow the signposted footpath down onto the shore, then hug the coast (with the Embankment directly behind you) as it traverses the eastern shore of Beddmanarch Bay (i.e the west coast of Anglesey). But, if you do start from here – be aware that the only nearby parking belongs to the Derwyn Garage – who close their barriers when not open for business! Also, I’d ask them if it’s OK first!  However, this route is very rocky for the first 15 minutes or so – and I often miss it out! If you do try it, look out for the ‘bones’ of an old boat near the beginning!

Rocky Road…

  • In fact, there’s another footpath sign leading you away from the Garage’s car park – heading behind (and slightly above) this first section, then past the ‘Newlands’ shore-side housing estate – which enables you to miss the rocky part of the route. There are steps down to the beach a little further on though.
  • However – instead of either of these – I tend to park on Beach Road (off Gorad Road, in Valley), and follow the footpath sign that leads along the side of a field, then down some steps to the foreshore – which means missing out the rocky bit further back, as well as the housing estate (shown below).

A Change of Scene…

  • Once past the awkward part of the Valley side shoreline – continue as far as you like along Gorad beach (which soon gets sandier as the tide falls) – or behind it – where the official Coastal Footpath leads you. Incidentally, if you do want to walk along the beach for as far as possible, you need to remember the following:

Banking on it…

  • On Traeth Gorad, near the start of the walk on the Valley side of the Embankment, you have to cross the beach right in front of someone’s house! Not only have they put signs up saying it’s private property (and worse besides!), they’ve placed huge boulders to denote what they think is their land – as well as to dissuade people from daring to cross! I’m pretty certain this is illegal (as I thought everything from the meantime tide-line – i.e the average seaweed line – belonged to ‘The Crown’) but, to be on the safe side, the ‘actual’ Coastal Path route passes behind it! Once past this property, you can always pop back down on the beach for a bit  – unless it’s there’s a high-tide of course!

Behind the Scenes…

  • Walking on the beach is entirely dependant on the tide, with high-water often covering the foreshore completely – as well as the banks of the estuary beyond – and even some parts of the official footpath! It can get EXTREMELY boggy if you persist beyond where the sand/gravel runs out (basically where the coastline REALLY becomes the Estuary); at some point, you’re going to have to join the ‘official’ Coastal Path again!

Time & Tide Wait For No Man…or Dog!

  • Indeed, as the foreshore begins to curve in-land – taking on the characteristics of an estuary, and becoming the banks of the Alaw Afon/River in the process – you need to remember, you only have a few chances to get back onto the ‘actual’ Coastal Path before you get ‘fenced’ out! Look out for the traditional rusty gate, or the sweet little stone steps just before, because…

Down to the Last…

…if you don’t leave the foreshore/banks at one of these 2 points, you’ll have missed your chance! If this happens it’d mean turning back when you finally realise it’s too boggy to continue, and grasp how difficult it’d be to get onto the official path again…because of the VERY secure fencing in the area!

Feeling Fenced in…

Food and Drink

Today the Toll House is a little cafe called Coffee Cups; nothing special as far as I’m concerned (which is a shame because it’s crying out to be) but fine for a cuppa (inside or out) – with friendly staff, good reviews, nice ice-cream; plus, it’s pet friendly –  and has its own parking too! It’s usually open all year-round, but make sure you check beforehand. And don’t forget about Pete’s Burger van! He’s almost always to be found in the main car park of the Penrhos Coastal Park (close to the Toll House.) Usually open between 10.30 – 4pm – he’s part of the Penrhos furniture! Another option is to take a ‘pack-up’ – and, if it’s too damp to sit on the grass or in one of the bays – the Nature Reserve has lots of picnic tables and benches situated on raised expanses around the site! Valley, on the Anglesey end of the Embankment, has a couple of pubs, various takeaways, the Catch 22 Brasserie, and Enochs Fish & Chips.

It Tolls for Thee…

Watersports

I mentioned earlier that the Bedmanarch Bay area is less dangerous than its southern sister – but I was only talking in terms of the entrances/exits to the Cymyran Strait in general! The strong currents (on tide-changes) caused as restricted water floods under both the bridge to the south – as well well as those created as it travels through the culverts below the Embankment’s thoroughfares – are both to be avoided unless you’re an expert watersports enthusiast!

Under the (Four-mile-) Bridge…

According to Andy Short from B-Active@Rhoscolyn (a professional sea-kayaking instructor) – although the embankment experience created by the culverts can certainly provide excellent ‘play waves’, it’s exceptionally powerful – and should “only be attempted by experienced, well-prepared kayakers!” He also suggests that if you do decide to make the endeavour, it should be as part of a group; preferably a well-renowned kayaking club – with an instructor there – and only then if you have years of experience!

Kayaking with a Cause(way)…

Apparently, the ‘wave’ formed is only worth trying on really high-tides; best when 8.5m or above. You need to arrive 2 hours before high tide at Holyhead, and only approach from the lagoon, or southern side i.e. NOT the Beddmanarch Bay side! As you can see from the shot above, there’s a pool on the other side of the Embankment – between it and the new A55 expressway’s own causeway – which is where people start from. When both water and power levels are perfect, the tunnel here forms a beautiful breaking v-wave; ideal for all manner of freestyle frollocks, and talented trickery…but only if you know what you’re doing! Not into extreme-kayaking? You can always go and do some extreme ‘spectator-ing’! Parking close enough, and getting your kit to the spot is a nightmare though, and even involves crossing both the A5 and a railway line…so, for goodness sake, take every precaution if you’re mad enough to try this!

Please note, It’s extremely dangerous to paddle through once the tide is ‘running’  because a large ‘stopper’, or barrier, forms in the culvert – which is VERY DANGEROUS, even life-threatening! Also, the second wave that forms is a potential killer – and should be avoided at all costs! The Liverpool Canoe Club information is reasonably good although, remember – being a professional outfit full of experts, their view of what’s safe is relative! PLEASE, don’t take my word for any of this, do your homework – and get some proper advice!

For the less experienced, the Four-mile-Bridge area (especially in the lagoon to the south of the Embankment) – whilst less dramatic – is usually the calmest bit of the Strait, and a much safer place to play; with fantastic river-like conditions almost every day! However, it can sometimes be a bit tricker on the other side of the bridge. The things you really need to avoid the southern side of the Strait are: (i) the conditions close to the bridge (on both sides) on tide-changes, (ii) REALLY high tides, and (iii) the area where the channel narrows as it runs parallel to Cymyran on its southern exit/entrance.

Above & Beyond…

However, on the northern (Beddmanarch) end – away from the Embankment and its culverts – the rest of the water is relatively safe.  Although usually too shallow for most craft, and even for swimming really, it’s a popular paddle-board and windsurfing spot. Certainly, it’s enclosed nature and interesting currents, along with its unique natural beauty, make both ends of the Strait a popular area for fishing, kayaking, paddle-boarding, boating, and canoeing too – but all sides of the Embankment and bridge need to respected every bit as much as open water!

A Fine Line…

A Rising Tide

Various websites give tidal predictions, including the Admiralty ‘EasyTide’ (for that day, and 6 days ahead too). However, a lot of people often prefer to carry the ‘pocket-sized’ Liverpool & Irish Sea Tide Table (published by Laver) – which is sold in lots of local newsagents etc., as well as Stermat Hardware store in Valley.

Based upon the times and heights of the tides at Liverpool, these tables also give time differences for High Water in ten locations around Anglesey – but remember – add one hour to the predictions for British Summer Time!  

Also, low atmospheric pressure and/or a prolonged southerly gale will raise all tide levels around Anglesey above the predictions shown – with a northerly gale and/or high pressure lowering them!

Breaking the Bank….

I hope this has given you a flavour of what’s in store on the Beddmanarch end of the Strait, and some inspiration for getting out there and experiencing it! For more information about the area’s fascinating History, as well as myth and legends associated with the site – go to Part Two of this blog!