January Light And The Ever-Changing Earth


We have just returned from a week away in the tiny coastal village of Aberffraw on the North Wales island of Anglesey. It was two years since we were last on Ynys Môn, the island’s Welsh name, and we had all missed it. It is a special place, not least because it is a land rich in ancient remains. In the past, too, it was rich in other ways – at times its wealth of farm produce making it the bread basket of Britain.

From the time the Romans left Britain to the early Middle Ages when England’s Edward I set about hammering the Welsh by means of obsessive-compulsive-castle-building, Aberffraw was a major seat of Welsh power. For eight centuries (from AD 450 to AD 1282) it was here that the kings of Gwynedd held their royal court and ruled North Wales. They saw off Viking raiders and Norman interlopers. They had their glory days under Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (AD 1173 – 1240), who was recognised as ruler of all Wales. This period of prosperity appears to have coincided with the Medieval warm period, a time of clement weather and of good harvests. This was all to change in the next century (1314-1317) when a period of prolonged winters and high-storm weather began, and brought with it the Great Famine.


It’s a stark lesson – how fortunes rise and fall and entire communities, landscapes and weather patterns transform, the cycles of change we humans often find hard to accept or credit. When Edward invaded Anglesey, he dismantled the palace at Aberffraw and repurposed the stone and timber in his own strongholds. And then in 1331 came ‘the great storm’ that blew up monumental quantities of sand that covered the inland fields and began the silting of the River Ffraw, which action reduced the once vibrant port to a backwater. Gone was the busy fishing harbour. Gone the trade with the great sailing ships that once put in there to take on local produce.

In 1949 Aberffraw was reckoned amongst the poorest places in Wales. Today there are just over 600 residents; less than three quarters of whom are native Welsh speakers. Many of the old cottages are holiday lets. (We six stayed in the upper floor of a converted Methodist chapel). There is one small shop cum post office. And now, under new management by covid and staff shortage, the once popular pub is shut indefinitely, or so the notice in its front window told us.

Yet despite the signs of economic shrinkage,  Aberffraw is still a place of magnificent resort. Every day we were there, and in the face of blistering gales, families, lovers and dog walkers trekked along the little estuary and across the rolling duneland to the beach that centuries of silting have created. And oh, the wonder. Oh, the ravens buffeting on the tempest; the roar of surf; bristling marram grass, that light; that misty mainland spine of Snowdonia across the Menai Strait.

And oh, the wind that knifed through every poorly padded body part…

But never mind the shivers. Here are some of the holiday snaps:









The centuries of sand invasion have also had creative effects. The dunes themselves are now sites of special scientific interest, harbouring uncommon plants and birds. Also the inland streams dammed up behind the dunes have created pools and lakes and areas of marshland rich in wildlife of all kinds, especially birds native and migrant.  It was of course far too cold and windy for birdwatching, but we did see large airborne flocks of starlings and common plovers, both absent or declining species in parts of the UK.


Lake Maelog, site of special scientific interest  behind the dunes at Rhosneigr, just north of Aberffraw.



We also saw some hefty signs of coastal erosion. Something of an environmental irony, I thought to myself: the sea taking back what waves and wind had begun depositing there some 800 years ago.



But now for a peaceful scene: the seventeenth century packhorse bridge across the estuary at Aberffraw.


And just above the bridge, the chapel where we stayed:


Christmas Past On Ynys Mon

P1000056 - cropped

That this first  photo worked at all is something of a mystery. There was hardly any light (as you can see) and I was using my very basic Kodak EasyShare digital camera. But then it was Christmas Day and we were staying on the Welsh island of Anglesey (Ynys Mon) with its millennia of mystical associations – druids, saints and seers. When I took the shot I was standing above the little town of Beaumaris looking towards the Welsh mainland and the foothills of Snowdonia. The Menai Strait lies between, obscured by trees. It is a zone of extraordinary light-through-cloud displays.

Here are some early morning shots taken further along the Strait, rooftops of Beaumaris in the bottom edge foreground:



Life in Colour: Black/Grey

Catching the Light ~ Menai Strait In Winter


This week Amy at Lens-Artists has set us a fine task – the pursuit of natural light. It’s one of the aspects of photography that fascinates me most; especially when it’s in short supply. Anyway, I instantly thought of the strange light effects that happen across the Menai Strait between the North Wales coast and the island of Anglesey, caught here during various December sojourns on the island. All the views are looking towards the Welsh mainland and Snowdonia.



100_5196 - Copy


Lens-Artists: Natural Light

In A Winter’s Light ~ Ynys Mon


Winter light over the sea can make for some mysterious monochrome images. The first photo was taken early one morning, above the small town Beaumaris on the island of Anglesey (Ynys Mon). In the foreground is Menai Strait; beyond it the mountains of Snowdonia in mainland Wales.

For several years Anglesey has been a favourite place for family Christmases. There have been times of hair-raising gales, but also days of brilliant sun and unexpected warmth. This searchlight-sun effect over the Strait is a particular local phenomenon, and you quickly understand why the Celtic Druids, and later the early Welsh Christian saints were so drawn to the place. Landscape as transcendental meditation.

You can hardly see the Strait in the next photo (below the tree silhouettes), and it was anyway just going dark. But even so there’s a luminous glow on the field slopes of the far shore – a reflection off the water? And then there are the snow slopes making their own light. I like seeing how much of an image can be gained from the least amount of light. At the time I was using my little Kodak EasyShare ‘point and shoot’ camera. It was interesting what it could come up with.



The morning we visited Plas Newydd it was broodingly gloomy – as if the sky gods had forgotten to switch the lights on.




But some sunnier days on the beach at Newborough:




2020 Photo Challenge #46 This week’s assignment from Jude: make sure you have contrasts in your image(s). Clear whites and strong blacks will add impact and create attention.

To The Lighthouse: Penmon Point

IMG_6172 sq

On Christmas Day we went to Penmon Point in Anglesey, North Wales – fair weather and good winter light on the lighthouse.


Happy New Year Everyone


January Light  #1 This month Becky says ‘let there be light’, however we choose to conjure it so long as it’s squared. Please pay her a visit. Better still, join in. We cannot have too much light in 2020: lots of issues requiring full-beam illumination.

Twr Mawr Lighthouse On Llanddwyn Island


Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey is only an island at high tide. Mostly it is a narrow spit reaching out across Llanddwyn Bay to the mountains of the Welsh mainland. It is named after the early 5th century Christian mystic, Dwynwen who, unhappy in love, is said to have retreated to the island, living out her days there alone. Later she became known as the Welsh patron saint of lovers, and in medieval times pilgrims would flock to the island in hopes of divining the faithfulness of their own loves at Dwynwen’s well. In fact so much revenue was raised from the pilgrims’ quest for true love that in the 16th century a substantial chapel was built on what was believed to be Dwynwen’s own place of sanctuary. You see the chapel ruins if you go there today.

The lighthouse was built in 1845 to guide shipping entering the Menai Strait from the south. Now it serves mostly as a very striking landmark, viewed here on a blustery Christmas morning a few years ago.

Lens-Artists ~ Seascapes