Anglesey is an island off the north-west coast of Wales. It resurfaced more than thirteen thousand years ago after years of glaciation spent under an ice cap 550 metres high. A part of Wales, it is famous for its ancient historical sites and its beautiful coastline. The island is home to no less than the earliest evidence of life on Earth, which has been preserved as calcified microbes. These helped increase the world’s oxygen content and were critical to the evolution of more advanced forms of life on our planet.
Hunters to Farmers
Around eight thousand years ago, the first hunter-gatherers arrived on the island. Three thousand years later, they were followed by the first farmers, who left behind Neolithic burial mounds Around 300 BC, the Celts arrived, making the island a centre for Druids. They created important trade links via sea routes to Scotland, Ireland and the rest of Europe.
In 60 AD Roman invaders arrived. In addition to mining for copper, they violently attacked the Druids, destroying some of their sacred sites. After the Romans left, the island was attacked by the Irish, Saxons, Vikings and Normans. In the 13th century, Anglesey finally fell to the English, led by Edward I, who built the huge fortress of Beaumaris Castle. In the Middle Ages, the island was given the Welsh name Môn Mam Cymru, which means ‘Anglesey, the mother of Wales’. The island’s fertile land would lead it to serve as a breadbasket for Wales for hundreds of years.
Island life was now free from invaders, but violence sprang from an unexpected source: men played a sport that was a precursor to modern football, very popular but with very few rules. One 18th-century commentator described a game ending with “numbers of players left here and there on the road, some having limbs broken in the struggle, others severely injured, and some carried on biers to be buried in the churchyard nearest to where they had been mortally injured.”
Connections to the Welsh mainland were fundamental for the economy. Two bridges cross the turbulent tidal waters of the Menai Strait: the Menai Bridge, built in 1826 as the first major suspension bridge in the world, and the Britannia Bridge, built in 1850 specifically for trains. Ferries can now be taken from the port of Holyhead;: they currently take two million passengers a year to and from Ireland.
The seas between Anglesey and the mainland can be stormy On 26 October 1859, a ship carrying gold, the Royal Charter, was stranded just twenty-five metres off the island coast as a result of a terrible storm. A sailor, Giuseppe Ruggier, swam to shore to fix a rope that would allow the passengers to reach the land. Forty passengers were saved before the rope broke, but another four hundred died. Ruggier’s bravery was immortalised in a sculpture. The tragedy marked the beginning of weather forecasting in Britain, with the first official gale warning issued one year later, in 1860.
Innovation and Invention
Anglesey is deemed to be fertile land also for invention and innovation. The world-famous (and Royal Family favourite) off-road vehicle Land Rover was invented there by farmer and engineer Maurice Wilks in 1947. A few years later, the agricultural world saw an ingenious innovation, the Easycare breed of sheep, which does not need shearing. Every spring, these sheep shed their woolly winter coat all by themselves.
Tourism is the island’s major economic activity. The coastline is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Popular activities include sailing, angling, walking (on the 200-kilometre Coastal Path, or in the mountains of Snowdonia National Park), windsurfing and jet skiing. Tourism actually dates back to the 19th century.
Anglesey has the village with the longest name in Europe: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrob-wllllantysiliogogogoch. The Welsh name was coined in the 19th century to attract tourists to the island! In English it is translated as ‘The church of St. Mary in a hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and near St. Tysilio’s church by the red cave’.