Despite being in about as Welsh-speaking a part of the British Isles as it’s possible to be, Beaumaris comes with a somewhat Gallic name and a location to match – no Provençal hills or quite so azure sea here, but the approach to Beaumaris is none-the-less a beautiful, cliff-top drive along the south coast of Anglesey. On a fine day there are wonderful views down the Menai Straits to Telford’s grand suspension bridge; the sparkling waters of the Irish sea dotted with little boats; the steep and slightly perplexing streets of Bangor on the mainland shore; and most impressively, a panoramic view of the Northern Snowdonian mountains as they sweep down to the sea.
The unusual name has its roots in the Savoyard architects brought in by the francophile Edward I to build a string of castles in the area. The Hammer of the Scots was apparently no more smitten with the then kingdom of Gwynedd, and built fortifications in Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech and here, on beautiful marshes south of Llanfaes – hence beaux marais – to keep those pesky Welsh in order. The castle still dominates the town; the walls built by Henry IV to keep Owain Glyndŵr out have all but gone, the pier has been rebuilt after storms, and just a few buildings remain from the town’s Tudor industrial heyday, but the concentric castle remains undiminished – very impressive business, I love a good castle me.
It sits at the end of Castle Street (funnily enough), Beaumaris’ main drag. Along here is all the bustle of a quaint seaside town, with narrow side streets, ice cream parlours, expensive fish and chip shops and bunting everywhere – it’s really very attractive, and far removed from the grim realities of Holyhead for example, on the far side of the island. There’s not a great deal of charity shop action, sadly. We found the tiny St Davids Hospice shop on Church Street just before it closed, but didn’t come away with any purchases (just the usual wracking guilt at keeping a volunteer at work longer than they expected). The other to be visited is Beau Annies – although with even less joy here, as it was closed both times we pootled out to Beaumaris.
Don’t be deterred though. There’s plenty of other stuff that makes Beaumaris worth a visit, whether you fancy some local arts’n'crafts shops, fancy chippies, ice cream parlours, that castle or a trip out on the waves. Sitting eating our chips overlooking the Straits and on to Snowdon was one of the highlights of a highlight-packed holiday in Wales, and the fact that there are charity shops in this lovely little spot is really just the icing on a very charming cake.
Find: Beaumaris @ Google Maps
Get there: If you don’t fancy a substantial hike over the Menai Bridge, then you’ll need a bus from Bangor or Llangefni.
Consume with: I’m not sure I could go without getting chips overlooking the sea. We also tried a slightly odd tea shop near the castle, but only because the wonderful Red Boat Ice Cream Parlour was full.
Visit: well, the castle of course.
Overall rating: four strings of bunting