Today is St David’s Day and for the benefit of those not too well up on their British patron saints, he’s the Welsh one. His history goes all the way back to the fifth century, when he founded a monastic community in Pembrokeshire, on the spot where St David’s Cathedral stands today. March 1 was the day he died and it’s been honoured in Wales since the Middle Ages. But what does St David have to do with cruising? Well, though Holyhead in Wales is traditionally more associated with serving Ireland as a busy ferry port, it’s also a port of call on a number of British Isles and Northern Europe cruise itineraries. When you look further into the history which can be found in Holyhead, it’s not hard to see why.
Arriving in Holyhead
It’s often refreshing to see things from another perspective and though many of us may have enjoyed a British holiday in Wales, arriving into Holyhead by cruise ship offers a very different experience, with soaring sea cliffs and the famous South Stack Lighthouse the sights which greet you as you arrive. Though Holyhead is associated with being on the Isle of Anglesey, it’s actually part of Anglesey county and located on Holy Island. Just as Anglesey is connected to the Welsh mainland via a road, so too is Holy Island to the Isle of Anglesey.
There’s a lot of history to explore in Wales, not least in Holyhead itself. Holyhead’s town centre was developed around St Cybil’s Church, which stands inside the grounds of one of the few three-walled Roman forts existing in Europe, Caer Gybi. Now, you’d be right in thinking that a three-walled fort has an obvious design flaw. However, this is a term used to describe forts where the fourth wall is formed by the sea. Back in the day, the sea went much further inland and so formed the fort’s fourth wall. These days, you can explore the remains of the fort, including one of its rounded bastions which is still mostly intact. You can easily see why the Romans chose to establish a fort here, as it offers a fantastic view of both the town and the sea.
Roman history is ancient enough, but in Holyhead, history goes back much further. Anglesey was the location for the druids’ last stand against the Romans and as such, there’s a lot of Celtic and prehistoric history to explore in the surrounding area. On Anglesey, you’ll find more ancient burial chambers and standing stones per mile than anywhere else in Britain. On that subject on Holy Island, to the southwest of Holyhead, you’ll find the Penrhos Stones. These towering 10 foot leviathans are a rare sight and are said to date back to the early Bronze Age. If it’s Iron Age you’re after, then the Ty Mawr Huts, or Irish Huts, are one of Anglesey’s best-known monuments. Here, you’ll find the remains of 10 round stone huts with evidence of occupation as far back as the first millennium.
Holyhead as a gateway to Wales
If you want to see a little more of Wales during your call at Holyhead, there’s plenty of different places to visit during you day.
A cornucopia of castles
Wales is big on castles. When it wasn’t Romans fortifying their position, it was the English trying to keep the Welsh out in their attempt to conquer the country. A castles tour will see you visit such fortifications as Conwy, Beaumarais and Caernarfon castles, all built during the reign of King Edward I. Of the three, Conwy is the most intact and you can explore much of it during your visit. Be sure to climb the towers for a commanding view of both the town and the surrounding coast.
A village fit for a Prisoner
This fascinating tourist village is perhaps most famous for being the location where much-loved 1960s TV series The Prisoner was filmed. Indeed, it’s a fascinating sight and there are plenty of McGoohan-centric souvenirs to be found. However, it’s certainly more than just a set. The village was built from scratch in the style of a traditional Italian village by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in 1925, with the last bit of work being completed in 1975. Today, some of the buildings are still private residences but many of them, including a number of ‘scaled down’ architectural tributes, are yours to explore. Pools, pillars, plazas and greenery… Portmeirion’s certainly a fascinating place.
Exploring the age of steam
Just because you’re an avid cruiser, it’s doesn’t mean you can’t have a soft-spot for the age of steam, too. Holyhead’s a great port from which to get your rail-related fix. You can travel both the narrow gauge rack and pinion Welsh Railway all the way to the top of Mount Snowdon or the Ffestiniog Railway, which travels between the slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog and the coastal Porthmsadog. It’s manned by period-dressed enthusiasts who do a great job of taking you back in time as you pass through the natural beauty of Snowdonia National Park.
By Simon Brotherton