Foam Amsterdam

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The second full day of our break in the Netherlands we left our son to spend the day with his sister and then took the train into Amsterdam – a 20 minute journey. I wanted to visit the Foam photographic museum, which is on the “Golden Bend” section of the Keizersgracht . It was a warm day, if overcast, so we decided we’d walk along the canal, which I always enjoy. It was surprisingly quiet – there weren’t as many people and, particularly, bicycles, around as during previous visits as can be seen in the photos I shot.

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Foam is one of two photographic museums in Amsterdam. The other one, Huis Marseille, which we visited the last time we were in the Netherlands at Christmas, is also on the Keizergracht, and we passed it on our way to Foam.

There were four exhibitions showing in the museum. The main one was Silver Lake Drive a retrospective of the work of Alex Prager, an American photographer and film maker from Los Angeles. The exhibition included large scale prints and a number of films, in some cases photographs being stills from the films. Rather like Cindy Sherman, she creates scenarios but, rather than featuring herself, as Sherman does, she uses actors, models and extras. The scenarios are influenced by film noir, thriller, melodrama and crime fiction, but also have a surreal quality. Some of them were clearly influenced by the films of Alfred Hitchcock such as The Birds and North by North West.

The style of the photographs, with bright vibrant colours, was very similar to that of Martin Parr and there were similarities too in the way the photographs capture people in action, although Alex Prager’s scenes are staged whereas Martin Parr’s photographs are of real people, sometimes caught unawares but sometimes posed.

Crowd #1 from the series Long Week-end (2010)

Her compositions were interesting and often taken from unusual angles, like this one, looking upwards from floor level and with the figures positioned at the edges of the photo.

I hadn’t come across her work before so this was a good discovery!

Another of the exhibitions featured the work of a British visual artist Dominic Hawgood. In Casting Out the Self he

visualises the effect of the drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which he personally experienced as a transfer into the digital realm. (Foam website)

The works in this exhibition weren’t photographs as such but 3 dimensional objects and digital projections, a number of them including a statue of the Buddha. I had mixed feelings about this exhibition, but I did like one of the installations which included a circle of smaller reflective silver spheres surrounding a larger one, illuminated by UV light (A statue of the Buddha was also included in the installation)

On the top floor Morpher III (1989) by the French artist, Kévin Bray was an abstract multimedia work centred on a digital film in which he created a surreal, imaginary landscape.

I wasn’t so sure about this one at first, but once I’d worked out what was going on after watching the film a couple of times I found it quite engaging.

So, overall an interesting visit. Some of the works a little challenging and not to my taste but I certainly enjoyed the Alex Prager exhibition.

Teylers Museum

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During our previous visits to Haarlem, we’ve passed the entrance to the Teylers Museum, which stands on the Spaarn embankment, many times, but I’d never visited.

Open to the public since 1784, it was the first museum in the Netherlands. It was founded after the death of Pieter Teyler van der Hulst (1702-1778) a successful silk merchant and financier who had a wide range of interests in the arts and sciences. In his will, Teyler left two million guilders (roughly 80 million euros) to establish a foundation, to promote theology, the sciences, and the arts.  In 1779, the Foundation’s first directors commissioned the young architect Leendert Viervant to design a ‘Books and Art Room’ behind the Foundation House (Fundatiehuis, where Pieter Teyler had lived). The result was the Oval Room, which is still the heart of the museum, although the premises have been expanded considerably since then. In fact, it’s rather like the Tardis. It doesn’t look so big from the outside but once you’re inside there’s a whole series of interconnected rooms and a whole new extension which, from the outside, you wouldn’t know were there.

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By Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, Link

It’s quite an amazing place. In many ways it’s an old fashioned museum with lots of exhibits, including fossils, minerals, coins and scientific instruments, many in glass display cases. There’s also two galleries of paintings and a large collection of drawings and prints by artists including Michelangelo, Raphael, and  Rembrandt. The building itself is also fascinating. We spent a couple of hours looking round but there’s really too much to see during one visit.

Visitors are provided with an audio guide which provides information on selected exhibits by entering a number. For this summer the audio guide also includes an introductory tour, a “radio play” based on Napoleon’s visit to the museum in 1811 which focused on the history of the museum and key exhibits.

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We followed the “Napoleon tour”, which took about half an hour, and then had a more detailed look around, concentrating on particular areas of interest.

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Just a few of the large collection of fossils
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Humanoid skulls and bones
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Fluorescent minerals
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The large electrostatic generator. They had smaller examples to see as well.

The Oval room was one of the highlights. Originally this was the whole museum! It’s lit only by natural light that comes in through the skylights – so it’s probably best to visit on a bright summer’s day!

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It was difficult to get a shot that really shows off the room, so I resorted to embedding a picture from Wikipedia which was taken from the balcony, which isn’t accessible to the public.

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By Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, Link (source: Wikipedia)

A painting in one of the art galleries shows what the room looked like in 1800, with the large electrostatic generator in the centre.

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A large horseshoe magnet supporting 100 kg
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An early electric battery
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An astronomical globe

The two art galleries were also lit by natural light

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The collection mainly features works from the Dutch Romantic School and the later Hague School and Amsterdam Impressionists.

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Wintergezicht met Schaatsers (1864) by Johan Barthold Jongkind
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De Molen (1899) by Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch
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Twee dienstboden op een Amsterdamse brug bij avond (1890) George Hendrik Breitner
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Trommelslaagster (c 1908) by Isaac Israels

Like many other galleries and museums in the Netherlands there was a temporary exhibition marking 250 years since the death of Rembrandt. It featured prints by the master and some of his contemporaries.

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As usual, I was bowled over by the beauty and the amazing detail of Rembrandt’s tiny prints. One of them had been blown up and covered the whole of one wall. Even on such a large scale the detail was amazing.

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And this was the real thing, which, even though it is the largest of his landscape prints, was not even as big as an A3 sheet of paper

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The newest part of the museum, an exhibition hall and a cafe, were built in 1996 and are airy, cantilevered spaces on two sides of a “secret” courtyard / garden.

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It was time for some refreshment!

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the Dutch know how to make mint tea!

We’d spent more than a couple of hours in the museum so had a last look around before returning our audio guides and leaving the building to meet up with our son and daughter, who’s been spending some time together.

Teylers is an excellent museum and I suspect we’ll be paying a visit another time when we next visit Haarlem.

Back to Haarlem

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Last week we were back in Haarlem, to visit our daughter while taking a few days break. As usual, we managed to pack a lot into the week – spending some time exploring the small, historic city, watching some live music acts (the Haarlem Jazz Festival started towards the end of our little holiday), taking in some art in Amsterdam and even managing a short walk on the dunes.

We caught the plane from Manchester. Unfortunately there was a dealy which meant we were sat on the plane for over an hour and a half before it took off. Not the greatest experience, but it could have been worse. So we arrived in Haarlem a couple of hours late. It’s quite easy to get to the city by catching the Number 300 bis that runs from Schipol airport to the train station in Haarlem, a 40 minute journey with buses about every 10 minutes during the daytime. We’d rented a house a few minutes walk from the station, so after picking up the keys we were soon settled in.

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The next morning we spent the morning wandering around Haarlem. The Single canal was just a couple of minutes walk from our little house. The canal was built as part of the city defences and the northern section zig zags – a defensive arrangement. The city walls used to stand on an embankment to the south of this section of the canal but they were dismantled many years ago as the city expanded northwards and a park created where they used to stand. We followed the path along the canal bank through the park.

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We spent the rest of the morning mooching around the pleasant streets in the city centre before grabbing a bite to eat in the cafe on the top floor of the Hudson Bay department store

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from where there are good views over the city.

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The building that the Hudson Bay store occupies was built in the 1930’s for the Vroom en Dreesman store. It’s architecture is modernist in style with Amsterdam School and Art Deco influences. It’s something of a Marmite building – you either love it or hate it – I fall into the former camp! V and D went bust in 2015 and the building was unoccupied the first time we visited Haarlem, but it was taken over by Hudson Bay (a Canadian company) who opened there in 2018.

There are some rather nice stained glass windows in the stairwell and on some of the floors

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After we’d eaten we wandered through the shopping streets down to the Spaarn and made our way to the Tyler’s Museum. Our visit there warrants its own post so to finish this one, here’s a few photos I took around the town (some taken later in the week).

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Parys Mountain and the Copper Kingdom

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In my line of work you almost inevitably become something of a nerd, unable to resist an industrial site, especially a historical one, even when on holiday. So the last day of our stay in Anglesey we drove over to the north east of the island toward the small port of Amlwch , which at one time was the site of a major copper mine.

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Copper has probably been extracted in the area since the Bronze Age, 4000 years ago, but most activity took place from 1768 after The Great Discovery when Roland Pugh a local miner stumbled on a large deposit of copper ore at Parys Mountain,  a couple miles from the small port. His reward was a bottle of whisky and a rent-free house for the rest of his life. That would have seemed like a great deal at the time, no doubt, but it pales into insignificance compared with the amount of money made by owners of what became, for a while, the biggest copper mine in the world.

We parked up in Amlwch and walked over to The Copper Kingdom Centre, in a converted copper ore store on the quayside. This small museum told the story of copper mining in the area. The high point of the industry in the area occurred during the 1780’s when it dominated copper production in the UK. The copper from the mine was used to “copper bottom” the Admiralty’s wooden ships of war, to prevent the growth of seaweed and barnacles and to protect the wood from attack by shipworms.

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Originally the ore was extracted from surface pits and shallow shafts, then by open cast mining, from underground adits. The ore was broken into small lumps by hand, the and shipped to Lancashire or to the Lower Swansea valley in South Wales. The ore was sorted by women – the Copper ladies – which sounded similar to the Pit Brow Lasses who used to be employed in coal mines, particularly in the Lancashire coalfield.

The small harbour expanded due to the need to export the ore Other industries grew up in Amlwch alongside the mining – chemical processing and ship building and repair. The small port becoming a hive of industrial activity. Inevitably the mine became worked out and the other industries also declined, so Amlwch is today a quiet backwater. However, there is thought to be a reserve of about 6 million tonnes beneath the old mine workings. There’s been some thoughts about working the reserves but it’s not currently economic.

After looking round the museum we had a stroll around the harbourside, visited the small maritime museum and had a brew in the cafe, both in the old Sail Loft building. Then it was back to the car to drive the few miles over to Parys Mountain where we were able to wander around the old mine workings. There’s a guided trail, but we didn’t follow it, preferring to wander round on our own.

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It’s a desolate industrial wasteland, and due to the high level of soil contamination, little life can survive here. But it has it’s own strange beauty. With a range of colours it was rather like a 3 dimensional abstract painting.

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the old ruinded windmill standing on top of the wasteland
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Bangor Pier

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Whenever we looked out of the windows at our holiday apartment we couldn’t miss seeing Bangor pier. There it was sticking out into the waters of the Menai Strait directly across from us. We could see people promenading up and down the deck and we thought that sometime during our holiday we should go and have a closer look. So, after our visit to Carnarfon castle, as we were on the right side of the water, decided to take the opportunity before we drove back across the bridge.

The pier was opened on 14th May 1896 and is typical of Victorian leisure piers, with cast iron columns, a wooden deck, wrought iron gates, ornamental “street lamps” and a series of octagonal kiosks along its length, which have been rented out to local small businesses, including cafes and an artist’s studio. At 458 metres long it extends right into the middle of the Straits.

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The pier is actually at Garth, a small community on the edge of Bangor, separated from the main part of town. It’s often referred to as “Garth Pier”.

We made our way to the pier, parked up and went for a walk, dropping some coins in the “honesty box” for the requested donation.

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The pier has being undergoing renovation work in recent years and the far end was still closed off.

Looking over the water, not surprisingly, we could see Bryn Mel Manor. I used my zoom lens to take a photo.

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At one time steamers would dock on the pier taking passengers to and from Blackpool, Liverpool and the Isle of Man. But that stopped many years ago.

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Caernarfon Castle

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After a grey day on Wednesday, Thursday was forecast to be a scorcher, and so it transpired. We’d decided to drive over the Menai Straits and make use of our Cadw memberships by visiting Caernarfon Castle. This is probably the most impressive of all the castles that Edward I had built following his subjugation of Wales. It was built to intimidate, impress and also to act as the main administrative centre for North Wales. Some say it was meant to look like the walls of Constantinople with bands of different coloured stone and multi-sided, rather than round, towers. Like Beaumaris and the other main castles in North Wales it was built by the sea to make it easy to reach and supply. A bastide was also constructed, surrounded by walls that even today are pretty much complete.

Edward’s son was born here and he had him crowned as Prince of Wales, again as a mark of authority and to consolidate his rule over the conquered territory. Two other Princes have been invested there, In 1911 and again in 1969.

Having navigated our way through the old town, we parked up in the quayside car park which is right under the massive walls of the south side of the castle.

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We walked round to the entry on the north side, flashed our Cadw cards and entered the courtyard. Unlike Beaumaris with it’s double ring of curtain walls Caernarfon has only perimeter wall. But there were still lots of towers to climb (up spiral staircases) – nine in all not counting the gatehouses with their barbicans – rooms and passages to explore and battlements to walk around.

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This is the Eagle Tower, the fanciest of all of them, with its triple cluster of turrets (you can only see 2 of them in my photo as the third is obscured by one of the others). 

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Some views along the battlements

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Looking over the ward

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Views over the town towards the mountains

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And over the Menai Straits to Anglesey.

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A number of the towers had had floors restored, which is unusual , which gave a feel of what it was like to live in the castle.

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Inside a Garderobe

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Some of the exhibits in the towers

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After spending a few hours looking round the castle it was time to explore the old town. It was getting quite hot (this was the hottest day of the year so far and temperature records had been broken in the south of England – it was not quite as hot here) so some of us were starting to flag a little,

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so we stopped for a brew in this rather nice little deli / cafe.

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before wandering around the streets. There are a few interesting shops including an excellent independent bookshop (where we ended up treating ourselves to a few volumes) and a gift shop selling interesting artistic objects rather than the usual sort of tourist tat.

The old walls are still pretty much complete, but they can only be viewed from the ground.

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I wanted to get a shot of the castle and the best viewpoint is from over the other side of the river, which meant crossing over the swing bridge.

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As I was snapping my photos the bridge opened to allow a tour boat out of the harbour.

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After it had passed the bridge swung back round. But although it looked as if it had closed, it looked like something had gone wrong as the gates didn’t open. After a wait of several minutes the operator walked over and told the crowd waiting to cross that the gearbox had broken and that he had phoned somebody but it would be several hours before it would be fixed. Now it’s a major detour to the next crossing point – several miles – so especially as the bridge was to all intents closed (but not quite engaged) – there was, to say the least, something of an uproar. There were clearly no contingency plans to get people back across to the other side. So it was a case of “people power” as those able to do so climbed over the fence and walked over the bridge. There was nothing the operator could do to stop them. But some elderly people were stuck and would apparently have to wait in the hot sun until ether the bridge was fixed or arrangements were made to get them back over to the other side.

So, a little crisis to end what had been a good day in Caernarfon!

Return to Niwbwrch beach and Ynys Llanddwyn

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Last year during my short solo trip to Anglesey, I spent a few hours walking on the marvellous sandy beach at Niwbwrch (Newborough in English). I’d been a little strapped for time on that occasion, so always intended to return.The Tuesday of our holiday was forecast to be a hot and sunny day, so it seemed an ideal day for a trip to the seaside. It took about half an hour to drive across to Niwbwrch . This time I parked up in the main car park in the forest close to the middle of the long stretch of sand rather than at the Llyn Rhos Ddu Car Park which required a lengthy walk on soft sand through the pine forest to reach the beach.

It was a gorgeous day and the beach was busy (at least, the area near to the car park) when we arrived. Lots of other people had had the same idea as us so we’d had to queue for about 15 or 20 minutes in the car to pay the £5 toll to drive through the forest to park up, but we did manage to find a parking space. After climbing over the dunes to the beach we were greeted by views of a long stretch of fine sand, a blue sea and the mountains of Snowdonia and the Llyn peninsula in profile.

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I’m not one for lying sunbathing on a beach – I soon get bored and burn easily – but I do enjoy walking beside the sea. And there’s a good walk along the beach and on to Ynys Llanddwyn, also known as Ynys Y Bendigaid – “the Island of the Blessed” – which we could see over to the north. Being less pressed for time than during my previous visit, we planned to have a proper, more leisurely, look around the island.

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We set off towards the island, but rather than follow the route through the pine forest, we walked along the beach.

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Ynys Llanddwyn is, in reality, more of a peninsula than an island as it remains attached to the mainland except for during the highest tides. So although the tide was coming in, there was little risk that we would get stranded.

We crossed over to the island and followed the path along the cliffs

Looking back to Niwbwrch beach

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and Malltraeth Bay.

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The latter is to the north side of the island. It’s more exposed than Niwbwrch beach and so waves can be seen sweeping in.

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Rocks islets out in the sea

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Llanddwyn means “The church of St. Dwynwen“, named after the Welsh patron saint of lovers and at one time it was a popular site of pilgrimage. This is the legend of St Dwynwen from the Anglesey History website

Dwynwen lived during the 5th century AD and was one of 24 daughters of St. Brychan, a Welsh prince of Brycheiniog (Brecon). She fell in love with a young man named Maelon, but rejected his advances. This, depending on which story you read, was either because she wished to remain chaste and become a nun or because her father wished her to marry another. She prayed to be released from the unhappy love and dreamed that she was given a potion to do this. However, the potion turned Maelon to ice. She then prayed that she be granted three wishes: 1) that Maelon be revived, 2) that all true lovers find happiness, and 3) that she should never again wish to be married. She then retreated to the solitude of Llanddwyn Island to follow the life of a hermit.

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A Celtic cross, a memorial to the pilgrims, with the inscription “they lie around did living tread, this sacred ground now silent – dead“. *
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These are the remains of the old chapel.

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Pilgrimages stopped following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and the chapel was stripped of it lead and timber.

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A second, plain cross – “Dwynwen“; “in the sixtieth year of Queen Victoria 1897 ” ; “in memory of St Dwynwen Jan 25th 1465“; and, “erected by the Hon F G Wynn owner of the isle“. *
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Due to it’s position close to what was a busy shipping lane when slate was shipped from ports along the nearby coast, a beacon, called Tŵr Bach, was built at the tip of the island to provide guidance to ships heading for the Menai Straits. Another more modern lighthouse, Tŵr Mawr, modelled on the windmills of Anglesey, was built nearby in 1845. Cottages were also built nearby for the pilots who guided ships into the Strait.

We walked over to the newer “lighthouse”, Tŵr Mawr (Great Tower) which marks the western entrance to the Menai Straits.

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There’s no light on top of this lighthouse. It may originally have been intended as an unlit marker that could be seen by ships and other vessels during the day, but a light was certainly installed later.

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After taking in the views, we walked over towards the older, smaller lighthouse, Tŵr Bach

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It’s been fitted with a new, modern navigation beacon, so is used today to guide shipping whereas the newer tower is defunct, other than as an attractive landmark.

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Looking back towards Tŵr Mawr . Both of the memorial crosses can be seen over to the right of the photo

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A short walk from the tower took us to the row of whitewashed houses that had been built for the pilots who used to guide ships through the straits. They also crewed the Llanddwyn lifeboat until it was withdrawn from service in 1903.

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We set off back down the island. Looking back:

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Through one of the attractive, carved wooden gates

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At the end of the island we crossed the causeway (the tide hadn’t cut us off – phew!) and then retraced our steps along the beach to the car park.

* text of inscriptions from the crosses obtained from https://newboroughanglesey.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/the-crosses-of-ynys-llanddwyn/