Camping Inspiration: Anglesey and the north Wales coast
There’s something romantic and quite magical about escaping to an island.
Crossing the water to get there makes it feel quite exotic – even if it’s just a quick trip across a bridge. And once you’ve arrived it’s so much easier to switch off, thanks to fact that you’re literally separated from the mainland.
It’s a bit like taking a holiday abroad, without all the inconvenience of learning a foreign language, changing money and worrying about passports.
Another plus of island camping is that you’re never too far from the coast... but islands can also have a surprising amount of diversity of scenery.
The one thing they all have in common is a pace of life that is a several notches lower than on the mainland. Time seems to slow down, which is perfect for campers who want to recharge their batteries.
Anglesey, off the northwest coast of Wales within sight of the awesome summits of the Snowdonia National Park, is a popular destination for family camping trips.
It’s an absolute charm – winding back lanes combined with modern fast roads, hidden coves and sandy bays and great coastal hiking combined with a bit of easy hill walking.
Anglesey’s many attractions include castles like Beaumaris, boat trips to Puffin Island, an abundance of stately homes and National Trust properties such as Plas Newydd near the southeast coast and a wealth of Bronze Age and Neolithic remains.
A coastal path of around 125 miles circles the shoreline so there are plenty of walking opportunities, too. Add in Anglesey Sea Zoo, South Stack Lighthouse and RSPB reserve, Newborough Beach and the delightful Ynys Llanddwyn island and it all comes together to make visiting the island a delight.
On the mainland, Snowdonia is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and especially those who enjoy the more active pursuits. But there’s another side to this part of north Wales that is often overlooked. From Conwy in the north to Barmouth in the south, the area boasts 200 miles of glorious coastline. You’ll find secluded bays, sheltered harbours and vast open beaches. Both on the coast and inland there are pretty villages and lively resorts. Places to enjoy peace and quiet and places for action-packed days.
EXPLORING THE ISLAND
Anglesey is connected to the Welsh mainland by two bridges, the Menai Suspension Bridge, designed by Thomas Telford in 1826, and the Britannia Bridge, both of which bring you in to the village of Menai Bridge in the south of the island.
Around 20 minutes from Menai Bridge, White Lodge camspite at Newborough is well-maintained, friendly and enjoys stunning views over the Strait towards Snowdonia. It’s also a perfect location to explore the island and the mainland.
The area around the village of Newborough is one of the most beautiful parts of Angelsey, with countless walking opportunities, including a network of sand dunes and Newborough Forest.
In fact, much of Anglesey’s coastline, and around 220 square miles of countryside overall, has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the opportunities for breathtaking sightseeing are amazing.
South Stack is a fantastic RSPB nature reserve, made up of heathland and farmland on sea cliffs on the dramatic northwestern edge of Anglesey, near Holyhead. We took the clifftop path towards the castellated Ellin’s Tower – originally used as a summer house, today it serves as an RSPB information centre with a shop and café.
On a clear sunny day you can see right across the sea to Ireland, and it’s also a superb spot to watch puffins, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills and peregrine falcons swoop around the cliffs. Further along the coast, sitting on a small island, is the 19th century lighthouse.
You reach it by descending 400 steps down the steep mainland cliffs then crossing a short suspension bridge over turbulent sea water. After touring the engine room and exhibition you can climb the spiral staircase to the top of the tower and take in the spectacular views.
HIT THE BEACH
North Wales gets more than its fair share of rain so when the sun does show you need to make the most of it – especially when there are so many great beaches to enjoy.
Renowned as one of the finest in Britain, Llanddwyn Beach is large enough that it never feels crowded even in the middle of summer and the gentle slope of the sand makes it perfect for children to play in the sea. From here you can access Ynys Llanddwyn, a mile-long rocky island featuring the remains of a 16th century church, said to have been home to Santes Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers.
After a few hours on the sands, take some time to explore the 2,000-acre woodland next to the beach. It is home to a thriving community of red squirrels as well as being packed full of other wildlife, including wild ponies.
TRIP BACK IN TIME
Tempting as it would be to spend all your stay exploring Anglesey’s natural wonders, no visit to the island should ignore its rich history. Four Welsh castles have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Beaumaris on Anglesey. The 13th century stronghold, in the pretty town of the same name, was built by Edward I and consists of symmetrical concentric “walls within walls” that were state of the art for its time and are still pretty impressive today.
Described as the most technically perfect castle in the UK, it is partially surrounded by a water-filled moat but sadly the castle was never completed – work stopped before it could reach its full height. After a lovely couple of hours touring the ruins, have a cone from the Red Boat ice cream parlour then take a gentle wander around the town. Look out for dolphins swimming in the Menai Strait as you walk along the seafront.
ON THE MAINLAND
Rich in Welsh culture, the Llŷn Peninsula’s coastline has been a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for almost 60 years and its quiet roads are a joy to drive on. Abersoch has great beaches and has become a fashionable spot for of all kinds of visitors.
The sailing school in the village is based on the main beach and offers a range of activities, including sailing, powerboating, paddleboarding, kayaking and yachting. For the complete sailing novice, dip your toe in the water with a one or two-and-a-half hour introductory lesson. Further along the peninsula is the coastal village of Aberdaron, where we arrived just in time for Sunday lunch!
The carvery at Gwesty Tŷ Newydd comes with a sea view and like all the best eateries in this part of the world, the food is home-cooked, locally sourced and plentiful. After a brisk stroll on the sandy beach to walk off the effects of the roast beef, pop into the National Trust’s new interpretation centre, Porth y Swnt, which uses poetry and art installations to provide an insight into Llŷn’s special landscapes, seascapes and rich cultural heritage.
On the way back to Anglesey you can visit Plas yn Rhiw, a delightful small 16th century manor house with an ornamental garden and wonderful views over Cardigan Bay.
In the centre of Conwy stands Plas Mawr, perhaps the finest surviving town house of the Elizabethan era. This architectural gem is a symbol of a prosperous age, epitomised by the taste of Robert Wynn, a well-travelled trader and respected member of the Welsh gentry.
An audio tour describes the restoration of the house as wel as the life of the people who lived and worked in it – not just Wynn but the staff who worked for him.
History and heritage are all very well but by now you probably need something with a bit more oomph, and there’s nowhere in north Wales with more oomph than Zip World.
It is actually three separate outdoor adventure centres, all relatively close to each other in the Snowdonia area.
At Zip World Fforest at Betws-y-Coed, you can whiz along on a roller coaster-style course through the trees and negotiated a treetop adventure course with high wires. At this location there is also a ‘plummet from the summit’ drop, a toboggan run, a Zip Safari and Europe’s highest five-seater swing – Skyride.
Zip World Blaenau Ffestiniog has Titan, the largest zip wire zone in the world, in which you fly over disused slate miles at a terrifying rate of knots. The views over the village and the valley beyond are amazing, if you are brave enough to open your eyes!
There are also subterranean caverns with an underground zip line and an adventure course. And finally Zip World Penrhyn Quarry boasts Velocity 2 – the fastest zip line in the world at more than 100mph and the longest in Europe. You can also take an adrenalin-fuelled ride down the mountainside on a quarry cart or a slightly more sedate tour of the quarry in a truck.
Often described as the gateway to Snowdonia, Betws-y-Coed has something of an Alpine feel to it thanks to the surrounding Gwydyr Forest. It’s a popular place for day-trippers, some of whom come to enjoy the numerous trails that start off from here and wind into the surrounding countryside, either on two feet or on two wheels.
But if that all sounds too active, don’t panic. Most visitors simply spend a few hours browsing the craft and gift shops before enjoying a bite to eat at one of the numerous restaurants and cafés.
At the pretty village of Beddgelert you can vist Gelert’s Grave. It tells the sad story of Gelert, the faithful hound of medieval prince, Llywelyn the Great. According to legend, the prince killed the dog in the mistaken belief that it had killed his one-year-old son – in reality Gelert had saved the boy from a wolf.
In the evening treat yourself to a slap-up meal at the Marram Grass restaurant on the campsite. The restaurant is housed in an old breeze block shack with a tin roof but don’t let the unassuming building put you off. A meal here means beautifully prepared, locally produced food in cosy and inviting surroundings, just a couple of minutes’ walk from your tent. It’s rustic but welcoming, all delivered with a quirky sense of humour; wild flowers poke out of vintage bottles on every table, alongside pots of the local Halen Môn salt.
It began life as a greasy spoon café, dishing up frozen lasagnes and supermarket burgers but it was transformed by chef Ellis Barrie, and his brother, Liam, who got involved when their parents moved from their native Liverpool to Anglesey to run the caravan park in 2009. Since then it has won a string of culinary awards, made numerous TV appearances and has even been awarded a much sought-after place in the Good Food Guide. Not bad for a former cow shed! With his reputation burgeoning, Ellis was a finalist in the BBC’s Great British Menu in 2018 and as you’d expect, a meal here is unforgettable.
WHERE TO STAY
Penlon, Newborough, Anglesey, Gwynedd LL61 6RS
AWELFRYN CARAVAN PARK
Newborough, Anglesey, Gwynedd LL61 6SG
BLACKTHORN FARM CARAVAN PARK
Penrhos Feilw, Trearddur Bay, Anglesey, Gwynedd LL65 2LT
TYDDYN ISAF CAMPING AND CARAVAN PARK
Lligwy Bay, Dulas, Anglesey, Gwynedd
SHORESIDE CARAVAN AND CAMPING PARK
Station Road, Rhosneigr, Anglesey, Gwynedd LL64 5QX
WHERE TO VISIT
SOUTH STACK NATURE RESERVE
RSPB Visitor Centre, Holyhead, Anglesey LL65 1YH
Llanfairpwll, Anglesey LL61 6SG
Castle St, Beaumaris, Anglesey LL58 8AP
ABERSOCH SAILING SCHOOL
Abersoch, Pwllheli, Gwynedd LL53 7DP
PLAS YN RHIW
Rhiw, Pwllheli, Gwynedd LL53 8AB
ZIP WORLD FFOREST
Betws-y-Coed, Gwynedd LL24 0HX
01248 601 444