Notes on...

Anglesey: la dolce vita in north Wales

It’s an outdoors place, with puffins, basalt stacks and beaches of what might be mistaken for Caribbean sand

24 October 2015

9:00 AM

24 October 2015

9:00 AM

We teased our friends by saying that our holiday would be on a far-away island. The Maldives, perhaps? No, Anglesey, off the northwestern tip of Wales. Mentally far-away, that is: but by train, it is only three and a half hours to Bangor, where we hired a car. Two mighty 19th-century bridges span the Menai Straits, with the fearsome currents known as the Swellies (regarded by Nelson as one of the greatest of all tests of seamanship). Cross them and the world seems to go into reverse. Time slows. You find yourself playing Scrabble. I never actually went to Anglesey when I was growing up but, once there, I slip into a world of idealised childhood — except that today groceries are delivered by Waitrose.

Anglesey is an outdoors place, brilliant for every kind of watersport — sailing, white water rafting, kite surfing. It’s got puffins, basalt stacks, beaches of what might be mistaken for Caribbean sand, some of which are empty. So why should we be so happy there? We’re indoor people; one of the children does own a tennis racket, but that’s the limit of our sporting ambitions. We like art galleries and opera — neither of which you find on Anglesey. Instead, you’re almost compelled to ramble over the cliffs, walk along sandy beaches, or watch the light play on the waters in which the Royal Charter went down with all hands in 1859. You gaze at distant Snowdon, wondering whether the clouds will clear from its brow — and feel glad for the blusterous island weather, which isn’t as wet as the mountains. You don’t really need anything else. As a child of the hippy era, I can sum it up in a word: peace.

There’s history here, too. Every other field seems to contain a burial chamber — a spectacular one overlooks Cable Bay. Did tribesmen emerge from the Iron Age village at Din Lligwy to fight the Romans? Bad news if they did: the tribesmen, despite human sacrifices by the Druids, comprehensively lost. Another invader came in the 1290s: Edward I, who built Beaumaris Castle. If you like castles, though, cross to Caernarvon: I did that a few years ago on a rigid inflatable boat (, which was awesome in the literal sense. Perishing as well, it being January.

One holiday, we went rock-pooling with a marine zoologist from the Anglesey Sea Zoo, which was fascinating. But this time we didn’t really move from the house. Then again, that house was Cae’r Borth. Although it’s on the books of Menai Holiday Cottages (, this building pushes the definition of holiday cottage. You could probably fly to Mars in the sophisticated kitchen and the spine of the house is a passage hung with its owner Lord Boston’s family portraits. Cae’r Borth means ‘field by the harbour’, referring to a dock where the Victorian Bostons kept their large pleasure craft. It was a favourite site of the eighth baron, who built the house in 1965. With a book, or possibly a glass in your hand, you gaze over the sands of Lligwy Bay, almost summoning the energy to go for a walk — but not always succeeding. Dolce far niente is an Italian phrase which can, in the right mood, apply equally to Wales.

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  • rtj1211

    Anglesey is also a place of inter-generational poverty. Oh, the nobs from Liverpool and Manchester may moor their sailing boats there, but for local islanders, the aluminium smelt went, Wylfa needs recommissioning to avoid another huge set of job losses and setting up new businesses there is extremely challenging due to the isolation and the relatively low local population.

    Yes the A55 helped a bit, but it helped the Irish far more – gets them from Holyhead to Hull and on to Europe quicker in their 40 ton lorries. Anglesey doesn’t see much benefit from all of that….

    The article, as usual, is written from the viewpoint of London privilege. And no doubt after reading this, patronising the locals by saying ‘be grateful that we holiday here with you’, even as they buy up the local housing stock to price out the locals from their own region.

    Same old story of rural Britain, really…….

    • jonkle

      “Nobs from Liverpool and Manchester”
      You sound like a great ambassador for the Welsh tourist industry.

  • Huw

    What a vile artilce – shame on the Spectator for running such nonsense

    Anglesey Is NOT a dolce vita for the natives.

    Crumbs fron the yuppies holiday homes don’t do anything to resolve the huge economic problems here. That Victorian mentality just holds us all back.

    Totally agree with previous commment – ”The article, as usual, is written from the viewpoint of London
    privilege. And no doubt after reading this, patronising the locals by saying ‘be grateful that we holiday here with you’, even as they buy up yhe local housing stock to price out the locals from their own region”.

    • Malcolm Stevas

      Gosh, why don’t you leave?

  • Malcolm Stevas

    Sure it’s an “outdoor place” (what else had Aslet imagined it to be…) which is a good start, but it’s in Wales – i.e. even wetter & draughtier than England, in fact it’s IME one of the wettest & draughtiest bits of Wales – a country which can be very beautiful when the sun shines and the rain holds off for a few hours but such happy circumstances are all too intermittent. Years ago I moved from Manchester, a city renowned for its precipitation, to Wales: it was much wetter there…
    I recommend going much further south, somewhere on the Med perhaps. I’m sure the Aslets can afford it.

  • snavej

    There is one art gallery in Llangefni on Anglesey. My parents used to go there quite often. It also has some museum displays. Anglesey was the Druid capital of Britain but also the place of their destruction by the Romans. For many centuries, Anglesey was the best place in Wales for growing crops and thus supplied food to the rest of Wales. Consequently, it was known as the ‘Mother of Wales’.

  • lionel

    Typical patronising article, written from the perspective of a London toff. I’m surprised it didn’t have a paragraph complaining about the rude locals daring to speak Welsh in their own country and a reference to ‘ that pub’ everyone in England seems to have been to where the Welsh speaking locals, for whom Welsh is their first and most natural language, having been since birth, for some utterly bizzare reason were speaking English until the very point at which the English person entered, then everyone instantly switched to Welsh. Oh, and Caernarfon isn’t spelt with a ‘v’ either

    • An answered like a typical whinging Celt, always bearing a chip on his shoulder no matter how much the metropolitan Englishman tries to praise your home.

  • jonkle

    Seems from some of the comments below that tourists and holiday makers aren’t welcome in Anglesey, particularly if they’re English and happen to come from London. Shame really, but plenty of other nice places to visit in the UK.

  • Huw

    ‘People living in Anglesey have the lowest incomes in the country—£11,200 a year—below the annual national minimum wage’ (from “Legatum Institute” recent survey). What was that oubout a Dolce Vita???

    The comments regarding not being welcoming is totally missing the point. The Spectator is respected as a source of informed analysis – the ‘Dolce Vita” article is missing out much of the facts.

    • jonkle

      But it seems pretty clear from the tone of your previous post that you don’t welcome tourists in Anglesey. Blaming tourists for economic problems caused by other factors such as closure of industries is missing the point. If you want to improve the economy of the island, you should be encouraging tourism as well a attracting other industries.
      Describing tourists as nobs and yuppies isn’t going to help is it.