- Trearddur has a special feel about it, with lots of little rocky islands, many of which conceal moorings for all manner of small boats.
- The seas around Anglesey are littered with shipwrecks, and this area is no exception.
- Rounding North Stack is a real treat.
- The cliffs here in Gogarth Bay provide a magical experience saved only for the lucky few who are able to visit this area by boat.
South Stack & Back
PBR reader and avid boater, Jonathan Peers shares his passion for Anglesey and presents some useful tips to enable PBR readers to make the most of their visit, and explains the thinking behind his view that, in this case, small is definitely better…
Speak to anyone who is a regular visitor to Anglesey, or better still, anyone who cruises around Anglesey, and you will see their face light up as they then go on to describe in great detail, and in an enthusiastic manner, just how picturesque and magical this Welsh island really is. Naturally, being an island there is no getting away from its coastline, but then again, why would you want to when it offers so much – everything from long, sandy beaches to rocky shores and even sheer cliffs?
All of this, of course, makes for some truly amazing cruising for all types of boat. My own opinion is that, unusually, when cruising around this coastline you actually have an advantage by being in a smaller boat. This allows you to get into all the little rocky coves where you simply wouldn’t dare take a large cruiser or sailing boat. It is for this reason that I am writing this with the small-boat owner in mind.
Even though RIBs as small as 4m are capable of taking on long passages, the majority of us will only ever go out for a few hours at a time. This may be simply for a high-speed thrill ride to blow away the cobwebs, to bob about lazily with a fishing rod over the side, or to do some local exploring while never being too far from safety.
For us, being based at Holyhead on the west coast of Anglesey means we are right in the middle of what I consider to be the best part of the island, as far as cruising goes at least. From here a run round to Trearddur Bay is a nice, relatively easy passage that yields huge rewards with its stunning scenery and mix of wildlife, not to mention the ice cream waiting at the other end! This passage can, of course, be tackled from either end (with ice cream readily available at each point) depending on your preferred launch site.
Holyhead does have a public slipway leading into the harbour, but parking can be somewhat limited. The marina has launching facilities, though you are best calling in advance to make arrangements. If you choose to camp, then Penrhyn Bay Caravan Park boasts its own private slip (as well as fantastic facilities), which is usable around three and a half hours either side of HW and is situated just over the water from the harbour. For those wanting hassle-free launching, I suggest you make Trearddur Bay your starting point, and use the services of Malc at the boatyard, opposite the lifeboat station – for £35 he will launch, recover and store your trailer while you are out at sea. On the face of it, this may seem a little steep, but when you take into account that this includes the council’s £16 launching fee, plus £6 to store your trailer, then the remainder represents excellent value when you consider the convenience offered.
At this point, it is worth noting that in order to launch your boat on Anglesey, you will need to be registered with the council. For this it is best to check out the Anglesey.gov.uk website and search ‘boat launching’, where you will find the relevant form that needs filling in. Yes, this may seem like another round of red tape, but it serves to provide proof that every craft around the coast has a valid insurance policy against it.
As this guide is starting from Holyhead, we are heading around the island in an anticlockwise direction. It is also worth noting that this is only a guide, based on my own experiences, and as such you are strongly advised to plan carefully and study local charts in detail.
Leaving from Holyhead, the first thing you encounter is the formidable mile-and-a-half-long breakwater, which was completed in 1873 to provide deep-water shelter for ships, and today, as a result, the harbour is designated as a port of refuge. Positioned on the end of the breakwater is a black and white lighthouse, which, when exiting the harbour, has an amber strobe on the side that flashes to warn of imminent ferry movements. It is, however, worth noting that all vessels in and around the harbour and outer fairway are required to monitor Channel 14 on VHF, which is the working channel for the informative and friendly port control.
Rounding the end of the breakwater you are likely to be met by some large waves, but don’t be put off as you soon leave these behind. At this point you are also met with the sight of Holyhead Mountain, or Mynydd Twr to give it its Welsh name, with North Stack sticking out at its base. Don’t be in a rush and give in to the temptation to head straight for this headland – remember to take advantage of having a small boat and get in close to the shore to really appreciate all of the features of what is known as the Rocky Coast.
North stack is the point at which you may end up turning back if you haven’t planned properly. Putting it bluntly, this place is affectionately known locally as ‘the washing machine’ due to the tidal overfalls that rage here. An ebbing spring tide in full flow will produce strong vertical waves that will literally pick your boat up, turn it and drop it again, sometimes into a hole that has just opened up in front of you. Even a highly experienced local commercial skipper once told me that he has had some of his ‘better’ scares here, so whatever you do, don’t be afraid to turn back! Good planning, i.e. neap tides or slack water, will mean you have no problem; however, if you do decide to proceed when things are a little lively, then take the easiest, shortest route and stay as close in to the rocks as you dare – these are sheer and there are no underwater obstacles to worry about.
Rounding North Stack is a real treat. As you enter Gogarth Bay you are confronted by what feels like an amphitheatre of sheer cliffs, which in places tower over 100 metres high, and lead to the iconic lighthouse that stands proud, and sits almost defiantly, as if standing up to the hostilities of Mother Nature, on top of South Stack.
The cliffs here in Gogarth Bay provide a magical experience saved only for the lucky few who are able to visit this area by boat. Even the countless climbers who descend onto these cliffs are unable to take a step back to marvel at the way the sunlight reflects off the rock face, and hear the sound of the sea echo back as they sit for a moment taking in this sight.
Nudging close in to the base of the cliffs, you are able to see the various sea caves, including the mighty Parliament House Cave. This is a popular stop-off point for kayaks, but too rocky, I’m afraid, to be able to get a boat in to land there. Further along, other caves are permanently flooded just waiting to be explored, but so far, I confess, I have not got around to doing this.
Once past these caves I would recommend heading out to sea again in order to avoid rocks that have fallen. This also gives you the chance once more to ‘step back’ and admire the view. As you close in on the lighthouse, you will see perched on top of the cliff an old lookout post, placed there to spot German U-boats during WW2. The seas around Anglesey are littered with shipwrecks, and this area is no exception.
Once again, nudging in close to the rocks before the lighthouse, you will see the footbridge that leads from the base of the cliffs onto South Stack itself. It is at this point that you see another of Anglesey’s little secrets – a big cave with a sheltered entrance tucked away underneath the grounds of the lighthouse. With a steady hand on the throttle, and a confident hand on the helm, you can take the entire boat right inside this awe-inspiring hole in the rock. Care must be taken, however, as underneath the footbridge there is a narrow rocky channel through which the sea races and hits you beam-on. Although this must be taken into account, it rarely causes a problem on a calm day. Once inside, you notice steps leading up to the lighthouse on the left, and iron mooring rings set into the rock on either side, where supply boats were brought during the construction of the lighthouse and its associated buildings. These features in themselves are reassuring, reminding you that much larger, older boats have been there before you.
I have often read comments that people make about the wild seas at South Stack, but for me, I believe this to be untrue for anyone in a small boat. Again, staying close in provides you with clear water with no overfalls. I’m not saying that these overfalls are not there – far from it. In fact, I often have a run over to look at the sea churning just a few hundred metres away. But when it is so easy to avoid them I feel there is no point exposing yourself and your boat to these dangers. Larger boats, especially sailing boats with deep draughts, may have no choice, however, but to take this route.
Heading around South Stack itself you are met by more sheer cliffs, this time marked by a zigzag line, which is the 400 or so knee-buckling, sweat-inducing steps that people (including myself) seem to think are a good idea to tackle! Needless to say, I have only done this once.
While heading in, once again you begin to see all manner of different seabirds, as you are now entering the RSPB reserve. Above you, at the top of the cliffs, you will see a white square building. This is Ellin’s Tower, a place where birdwatchers can not only get a close view of the resident guillemots, razorbills and puffins using binoculars and telescopes, but also see on television screens live footage of nesting birds from cliff-mounted cameras. We, however, get a front-row seat, as when you close in once again, you begin to get immersed in the almost deafening sound of these thousands of birds all echoing off the rock face itself.
Wildlife is, of course, one of the big attractions to being out at sea, and this passage is unlikely to leave you disappointed. As soon as you round the end of the breakwater, you are in with a very good chance of seeing not only seals but also dolphins and porpoise, so keep your eyes peeled!
Leaving South Stack behind, the scenery becomes much less dramatic as you enter Abraham’s Bosom. This bay may not have the imposing, towering cliffs, but it is still pretty uninviting with its rugged, rocky shoreline, which itself has a number of smaller sea caves. Although worth having a close look at, this area doesn’t have the same appeal to make you want to hang around.
Heading towards Trearddur, we now have to negotiate the second area of tidal overfalls, The Fangs. Just like at North Stack, you need to know when to turn back. I remember once turning back from here when I was suddenly aware that the kayaker I was watching was actually sat on top of a wave above my head. I figured he was having more fun in that mass of churning water than I was likely to have. Again good planning here is key, and although you are likely to experience turbulent water, it is unlikely to cause you any problems.
Once through The Fangs, you really feel things open up in front of you as the Snowdonia mountains and the Llyn Peninsula come into view. At this point I tend to open up the throttle for the last stretch leading into Trearddur Bay, though there is still much to admire should you choose to take the time to check out each of the rocky coves, many of which offer good fishing spots.
When you do reach the entrance to Trearddur, I would suggest staying to the southern part of the bay all the way in. This is because even though the bay looks wide and spacious, it is in fact strewn with rocks, meaning that there are only so many ways in and out. For this reason, you may want to kill your speed as everyone else will want to share this stretch of water.
Trearddur has a special feel about it, with lots of little rocky islands, many of which conceal moorings for all manner of small boats. Behind these also lie a number of smaller beaches that children love to explore. Just off one of these beaches, on Ravenspoint Road, is a diving shop. From here you will often see fully kitted-up scuba divers crossing the road and striding down the beach before entering the water in order to get up close with the underwater world awaiting them around the rocks – no need for a dive boat here, then!
Just as with the approach, if you choose to drop the hook in order to go ashore, or simply take a break, then do this at the southern end of the bay. Doing this will keep you out of the way of boats navigating through the rocks, but also any boats that may be launching from the beach – including the lifeboat.
Although it’s nice not to rush when out at sea, please do keep an eye on the wind and the tides to ensure that your return journey is as safe through both sets of tidal overfalls as your outbound journey.
If, when safely back in Holyhead Bay, you are hungry for more, why not consider a trip over to The Skerries lighthouse, which lies roughly 6.5 miles north of Holyhead? This in itself may not have the stunning scenery that South Stack has, but it more than makes up for it with its wildlife. You never know, details of this little gem may appear in a future issue of PBR!
Anglesey: Some Pointers
Malc at the boatyard, Trearddur LL65 2UA; tel: 07971 343603.
Holyhead Marina LL65 1YA; tel: 01407 764242.
Penrhyn Bay Caravan Park LL65 4YG; tel: 01407 730496.
Chandlery and boatyard in Holyhead marina; small chandlery and services including RYA training at the boatyard in Trearddur.
Fuel widely available in Holyhead town; call the marina for availability on the quayside/pontoon.
Photo credit: Ronnie Roberts