across the straits
Wednesday was not a good day to meet up with friends at Porth Aethwy (Menai Bridge on Anglesey) to explore Llantysilio church and the Belgian Promenade. We parked in the car park just down from Waitrose (yes, in North Wales - said to be a result of the 'Wills and Kate' effect of Prince William being stationed at RAF Valley on Anglesey a few years ago). We assembled under the dripping leaves and took a short path through Coed Cyrnol down to the water's edge - the Afon Menai in Welsh. Afon - river - is a misnomer of course though here this quiet tree-fringed stretch of the Menai Straits looked more like a river.
We crossed a low stone causeway to visit St Tysilio's church on its ancient island site. Groundsmen were strimming the graveyard. The early 15th century church (on a seventh century Christian site) was locked. From outside we admired its stone walls and the wooden door fitted into a huge oak frame which has split and twisted over the years like a David Nash sculpture.
On the highest point of the island is the war memorial. It was moving to read the names of those who had died in two world wars listed carefully against the names of the places where they had died, hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away from this little island, this quiet memorial. Sometimes place names were replaced with 'lost at sea', a poignant reminder of the tradition of men from Welsh coastal communities serving in the navy. Despite the steady drizzling rain the view opened out along the Straits and we were able to see the rocky islets nearby.
Back across the causeway and onto the Belgian Promenade. Forget candy floss and fish and chips, this promenade is a peaceful surfaced route alongside the edge of the water. It was built during the first world war by some of the sixty three refugees who fled from the town of Mechelen in 1914 and were given a warm welcome and refuge in Menai Bridge.
How peaceful the path looks with a photogenic boathouse jutting into the water and the valley framed by the elegant Telford suspension bridge. But the water itself had a swirling oily-looking surface, indicative of the powerful currents at this, the most narrow part (the Swellies) of the Straits where competing tides from opposite ends battle it out and shift large amounts of sediment in the process. The constant changes in the sea bed make it a most hazardous passage for boats.
We walked through the modern bardic stone circle built for the national eisteddfod on Anglesey in 1965. A few yards further on was an abstract sculpture - a large curved boulder engraved with lines like contour lines on a map. We had to touch it, run our fingers along the grooves and wonder why there was no indication of the name of the sculptor. After a bit of googling I discovered that this attractive sculpure was created by Peter Randall-Page in 2013.
Then we were at the foot of the arches supporting the approach to the suspension bridge and were able to appreciate Telford's magnificent combination of engineering and elegance. Hungry and damp we sheltered in a bowling green pavilion to eat our soggy sandwiches before heading home.
niwl trwy'r dydd
yn y blaendir
mist all day
in the foreground
Poems at the beginning and end of this post from John Rowland's cylymau tywod/knots of sand (Alba Publishing 2017).
More about Peter Randall-Page's sculpture