Posted on 29/03/2017 by David
Take our word for it, you won’t get far walking along the Menai Strait before venturing off to explore something of interest. This unique stretch of coastline is crammed with sites of historical or scientific interest.
And the icing on the cake? There's no need to visit busy tourist attractions with expensive entry fees to enjoy this iconic stretch of Anglesey coastline. Just by walking the Anglesey Coast Path you’ll come across some wonderful natural and historic attractions - most of which are absolutely free to explore.
The views from the Anglesey shore and both bridges are some of the best in the world. In the height of summer, we think the Strait could easily be mistaken for a Mediterranean riviera!
But while most of us drive past and admire the view, how well do you actually know this fascinating region? We’ve put together 10 lesser-known facts about the Menai Strait that will give a you a newfound appreciation for this picturesque maritime panorama!
1. The Menai Strait was carved by ice
The Strait was carved by glaciers flowing from Snowdonia and by the Irish Sea ice stream that covered Anglesey during the last Ice Age - around 20,000 years ago. It might come as a surprise to learn that the rocks that made Anglesey are unrelated to the rocks of North Wales. The Strait actually sits on a major fault line active 500 million years ago. It's still the most seismically active place in Wales.
2. The Swellies and the legend of Hugh Williams
The 'Swellies' are the famous tidal currents at the centre point of the Strait which can reach speeds of 4 metres per second during spring tides. These currents proved hazardous for sailors and those trying to cross the straits on foot at low tide before the bridges were built. A somewhat strange local legend (or coincidence) was that, on three separate occasions, when ships were wrecked in these waters, the only survivor was named Hugh Williams!
3. The Strait is home to unexpected marine life
As part of the Menai Strait and Conwy Special Area of Conservation, it is home to many rare and protected species of marine life. The Menai Strait is an unusual habitat, being sheltered from wave action yet with rapid tidal flows. It is also home to marine reefs, long sandy beaches and rocky limestone sea cliffs.
Occasionally, during the summer months you can find bioluminescent plankton in the waters around Penmon on Anglesey and along the Strait. It is one of the most magical sights you'll ever encounter, so be sure to take a late evening walk if you are visiting in June or July.
4. There are incredible botanic gardens
In the 1960s, the University of Bangor bought a patch of land beside the Strait to develop a collection of plants for the Department of Botany. Now known as Treborth Botanic Garden, it has been developed to grow a wide range of wild and cultivated plants from all over the world that flourish in the mild climate of North Wales. It is open to visitors and is an idyllic place to spend a few hours.
5. Menai Bridge was built with NO scaffoding!
Opened in 1826, The Menai Bridge was the first modern suspension bridge in the world. It is still considered one of the great industrial wonders of the 19th century. The construction of the bridge is quite astounding given that there was no scaffolding allowed as it would interfere with the free passing of shipping.
The bridge also needed to allow 100m of clearance for large sailing ships, including war ships and merchant vessels to pass beneath, which is why the arches are so high. Menai Bridge has only closed once in 200 years for resurfacing work. An impressive feat of engineering.
6. The lions of Britannia Bridge
Four magnificent limestone lions guard the entrances to Britannia Bridge. Each lion weighs around 8 tons and is 25ft long. These magnificent feline sculptures were created in 1848 by Victorian sculptor John Thomas, most famous for his work in Parliament and Buckingham Palace. They are difficult to spot unless you are crossing the bridge by train or are on a boat. Currently, there is a campaign underway to move the lions so everyone can enjoy them.
7. Mysterious St Tysilio’s Church
This beautiful medieval church has no electricity, so all the sermons are carried out by candlelight. Arguably one of the most idyllically positioned churches in the UK, St Tysilio's occupies a tiny island in the middle of the Menai Strait. It’s a bit of a mystery as there's no surviving record of who founded the church or why.
The island can be reached by causeway at low tide; it's the perfect place to sit and watch boats sailing by, beneath the shadow of the bridges.
8. The Romans were afraid to invade Anglesey
Anglesey was one of the last strongholds of the Celts and the spiritual homeland of their religious leaders, the druids. If the Romans were to conquer Wales, it was crucial they take the island, known as Mona in Latin.
Far from being peace-loving men of the gods, the druids had a fearsome reputation for being cannibalistic sorcerers and this terrified the legions. The Romans believed the druids would curse any invader who set foot on the shores of Anglesey. Visit Brynsiencyn and walk to the shore, it's hard to imagine one of the most bloody battles of the Roman invasion taking place here.
9. Bangor was once the only city in Wales
The city of Bangor, which sits on the mainland bank of the Menai Strait, has been a city since 1886. In fact, it was the only city in the whole of Wales until 1905 when Cardiff was established.
10. Bangor pier was bought for a penny
Bangor Pier opened in 1896, reaching out half way across the Strait towards the Isle of Anglesey. It has fallen into disrepair many times, but the local council refused for it to be demolished and eventually bought it for a penny in the 1970s.
It has since been restored it to it’s former glory and makes a lovely setting for a stroll in the sunshine with views across the bay of Conwy.
If Anglesey and the Menai Strait have woven a druidic spell on you, why not take a look at some of our holiday cottages in the area?