Newborough is probably the most beautiful beach in Britain; in fact, I’m almost reluctant to tell you about it because it should really remain my secret! But, I guess, having featured it as a major location in Illumination, that ship has kinda sailed! Reaching it involves driving down a track through beautiful, dense pine forests and the odd whitewashed cottage, managed by the Forestry Commission, and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. At the car park at the bottom, there are no commercial outlets, just more forest and the sound of the surf. Clamber over the dunes, and before you is the wild beach of fine sand. Look to your left, and you’ll see the mountains of Snowdonia; if you’re lucky enough to be there in winter, they may even be snow-capped. Stretching out into the Irish Sea is the Lleyn Peninsula – mountainous too. To your right, the wide sweep of the bay, contained and sheltered by Llanddwyn Island, extending from the mainland.
Wander along the shore, past driftwood from the bordering forest. If the tide is out, the wide beach is perfect for a game of cricket or football. I have very fond memories of being a student in Bangor, and my housemates and I would often visit Newborough – even for a chilly dip in October!
Ynys Llanddwyn (Llanddwyn Island in English, and actually more of a promontory much of the time) is a place of antiquity. Formed of volcanic rock, it’s a National Nature Reserve. It’s supposed to be the last resting place of St. Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers. She fell in love with Prince Maelon, but he tried to seduce her and, upset, she retreated to Llanddwyn, where she spent the rest of her days as a hermit. Dafydd ap Gwilym, the twelfth century Welsh poet, wrote that “Neither sickness nor sorrow/Will follow a man from Llanddwyn”. The name itself means the Church of Dwynwen, and the ruins of that building are easily found alongside the main path, and a cross further on commemorates her life. In Wales, couples often celebrate St. Dwynwen’s day on January 25th instead of Valentine’s Day in February.
The old lighthouse is no longer in use; in fact, there is no light at the top any more – it’s been capped off. In writing the novel, the idea occurred to me that if you were to visit the tower now, you should see it after the events described took place. The missing light inspired me to tell a story about what might have happened to it. There is a beach below the lighthouse, but no sea-cave – that’s my invention. On the east side of the island, though, is a bay called Porth yr Ogof, Port or Gateway of the Cave. The vessel Atlantis, too, is the product of my imagination – I did try to find a real shipwreck to reference, but could find none that would be suitable.
If you’re in North Wales, a visit to Newborough beach and Llanddwyn Island is definitely worth an excursion. Just don’t tell anyone else about it!
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