Jan 302016
 

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On this date in 1826 the Menai Suspension Bridge (Welsh: Pont Grog y Borth), a suspension bridge to carry road traffic between the island of Anglesey and the mainland of Wales was opened to traffic. Before the bridge was completed all movements to and from Anglesey were by ferry across the fast flowing and dangerous waters of the Menai Strait. The main source of income on Anglesey was from the sale of cattle, and to move them to the markets on the mainland, including London, they had to be driven into the water and encouraged to swim across the Strait, a dangerous practice which often resulted in the loss of valuable animals. With Holyhead as the closest point to, and thus one of the principal ports for ferries to Dublin, Engineer Thomas Telford (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/thomas-telford/ ) was engaged to complete a survey of the route from London to Holyhead, and he proposed that a bridge should be built over the Menai Strait from a point near Bangor on the mainland to the village of Porthaethwy (which is now also known as Menai Bridge) on Anglesey.

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Because of the high banks and fast flowing waters of the Strait, it would have been difficult to build piers on the shifting sands of the sea-bed and, even if it could have been done, they would have obstructed navigation. Also, the bridge would have to be high enough to allow the passage of the tall ships of the day. In view of this, Telford proposed that a suspension bridge should be built and his recommendation was accepted by Parliament.

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Construction of the bridge, to Telford’s design, began in 1819 with the towers on either side of the strait. These were constructed from Penmon limestone and were hollow with internal cross-walls. Then came the sixteen huge chain cables, each made of 935 iron bars, that support the 176-meter (577 ft) span. To avoid rusting between manufacture and use, the iron was soaked in linseed oil and later painted. The chains each measured 522.3 meters (1,714 ft) and weighed 121 tons. Their suspending power was calculated at 2,016 tons.

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Because of its isolation for much of its history, Anglesey has been a bastion of Welsh culture and language. At the beginning of the 20th century 90% of the population were native Welsh speakers. Now they are closer to 50%.

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Numerous megalithic monuments and menhirs exist on Anglesey, testifying to the presence of humans in prehistory. Plas Newydd is near one of 28 cromlechs that remain on uplands overlooking the sea. Geologists believe that Anglesey was once part of the mainland. Historically, Anglesey has long been associated with druids. In 60 CE the Roman general Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, determined to break the power of the Celtic druids, attacked the island using his amphibious Batavian contingent as a surprise vanguard assault and then destroying their shrines and the sacred groves. News of Boudica’s revolt reached him just after his victory, causing him to withdraw his army before consolidating his conquest. The island was finally brought into the Roman Empire by Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Roman Governor of Britain, in 78 CE. During the Roman occupation, the area was notable for the mining of copper. The foundations of Caer Gybi as well as a fort at Holyhead are Roman, and the present road from Holyhead to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll may originally have been a Roman road.

British Iron Age and Roman sites have been excavated, and coins and ornaments discovered, especially by the 19th century antiquarian, William Owen Stanley. Following the Roman departure from Britain in the early 5th century, pirates from Ireland colonized Anglesey and the nearby Llŷn Peninsula. In response to this, Cunedda ap Edern, a Gododdin warlord from Scotland, came to the area and began the process of driving the Irish out. This process was continued by his son Einion Yrth ap Cunedda and grandson Cadwallon Lawhir ap Einion, the last Irish invaders finally being defeated in battle in 470. As an island, Anglesey was in a good defensive position and, because of this, Aberffraw became the site of the court, or Llys, of the Kingdom of Gwynedd. Apart from a devastating Danish raid in 853 it was to remain the capital until the 13th century, when improvements to the English navy made the location indefensible.

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After the Irish, the island was invaded by Vikings, some of these raids being noted in famous sagas, as well as Saxons, and Normans, before falling to Edward I of England in the 13th century.

Anglesey is a relatively low-lying island with hills spaced evenly over the north of the island. The highest six are: Holyhead Mountain (220 metres (720 ft)); Mynydd Bodafon (178 metres (584 ft)); Mynydd Llaneilian (177 metres (581 ft)); Mynydd y Garn (170 metres (560 ft)); Bwrdd Arthur (164 metres (538 ft)) and Mynydd Llwydiarth (158 metres (518 ft)). To the south/south-east the island is separated from the Welsh mainland by the Menai Strait, which at its narrowest point is about 250 meters (270 yd) wide. In all other directions the island is surrounded by the Irish Sea. It is the 51st largest island in Europe.

Anglesey has several small towns scattered around the island, making it quite evenly populated. The largest towns are Holyhead, Llangefni, Benllech, Menai Bridge, and Amlwch. Beaumaris (Welsh: Biwmares), in the east of the island, features Beaumaris Castle, built by Edward I as part of his Bastide Town campaign in North Wales. Beaumaris is a yachting centre for the region, with many boats moored in the bay or off Gallows Point. The village of Newborough (Welsh: Niwbwrch), in the south, created when the townsfolk of Llanfaes were relocated to make way for the building of Beaumaris Castle, includes the site of Llys Rhosyr, another of the courts of the mediaeval Welsh princes, which features one of the oldest courtrooms in the United Kingdom. Llangefni is located in the centre of the island and is the island’s administrative centre. The town of Menai Bridge (Welsh: Porthaethwy) (in the south-east) expanded when the first bridge to the mainland was being built, in order to accommodate workers and construction. Until then, Porthaethwy had been one of the principal ferry crossing points from the mainland. A short distance from this town lies Bryn Celli Ddu, a Stone Age burial mound. Also nearby is the village with the longest purported place name in the United Kingdom, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Nearby is Plas Newydd, ancestral home of the Marquesses of Anglesey. The town of Amlwch is situated in the northeast of the island and was once largely industrialized, having grown during the 18th century supporting the copper mining industry at Parys Mountain.

Other villages and settlements include Cemaes, Pentraeth, Gaerwen, Dwyran, Bodedern, Malltraeth, and Rhosneigr. The Anglesey Sea Zoo is a local tourist attraction, providing a look at and descriptions of local marine wildlife from lobsters to conger eels. All the fish and crustaceans on display are caught around the island and are placed in reconstructions of their natural habitat. They also make salt (evaporated from the local sea water) and breed commercially lobsters, for food, and oysters, for pearls, both from local stocks.

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The island’s entire rural coastline has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and features many sandy beaches, especially along its eastern coast between the towns of Beaumaris and Amlwch and along the western coast from Ynys Llanddwyn through Rhosneigr to the little bays around Carmel Head. The northern coastline is characterised by dramatic cliffs interspersed with small bays. The Anglesey Coastal Path is a 200-kilometre (124 mi) path which follows nearly the entire coastline. Tourism is now the most significant economic activity on the island. Agriculture provides the secondary source of income for the island’s economy, with the local dairies being amongst the most productive in the region.

Anglesey eggs is a popular dish using local ingredients. It is essentially a casserole of mashed potatoes and leeks in which are embedded boiled eggs. The whole is bathed in cheese sauce, and may be topped with chopped bacon. Here’s the recipe in pictures. I made it for my breakfast this morning.

Cut in half enough boiled eggs to make one layer in your casserole.

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Mix mashed potato with sliced poached leeks.

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Make a cheese sauce by gently simmering heavy cream with butter and adding grated cheese.

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Combine the cheese sauce and mashed potatoes.

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Spread the mashed potatoes on the bottom of a casserole and top with eggs.

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Cover with the remainder of the mashed potato and sprinkle with bacon.

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Heat under the broiler or in a hot oven.

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