Penmon lies to the east of Beaumaris, and is notable for the long history of its church, which stretches back to the sixth century AD. Founded by St Seiriol, a friend of St Cybi who founded Holyhead on the opposite end of the island at this time, the early monastery was attacked by the Vikings in the tenth century, before the current buildings were established in from the middle of the twelfth century. Shown above is the chancel, which is a significantly later addition, but the tower, transepts (one of which is on the right in the picture) and the nave are all dated from the original Augustinian house.
No great saint would be complete without a holy well, of course! St Seiriol’s Well was used, as were most holy wells, for reputed healing properties until at least 1811.
The monastic buildings at Penmon Priory include the refectory, or dining hall, as shown above. The building to the right in the above photo is the dovecote, which post-dates the suppression of the monasteries. The Jacobean landowner Sir Richard Bulkeley, with a mansion just outside Beaumaris, had the dovecote built sometime after 1600. The Cadw guide tells us that, in the days before farming had advanced to keeping animals fattened all year, doves and pigeons provided an important source of meat in the winter months.
The monuments at Penmon also include a number of crosses, now kept in the Priory itself, which date to the time of the Viking invasions:
I really like Penmon. The close-siting of the monuments of a small monastic community gives a really strong impression of what life must have been like in these early Christian foundations. The remote location serves to add to this feeling, too – much better than the St Cybi monuments, which are within the town centre of Holyhead.
Just a little farther on from the Priory, there is a fantastic reminder of Anglesey’s rich industrial past. The Flagstaff Limestone Quarry was originally operating from around the 1830s, though limestone had been quarried at Penmon much earlier, as Beaumaris Castle was made out of the stuff.
A small confession, here: I love industrial archaeology. While I think I will always be a medievalist at heart, nevertheless I find the remnants of our industrial past simply irresistible. The remains of the Flagstaff Quarry buildings can be seen from the coastal road on the approach to Penmon, and I was ridiculously excited once they caught my eye:
If I ever get round to writing travelogues of my previous trips to Anglesey, first on the list will be last year’s trip around Cemaes-Bull Bay, where I came across the ruins of Porth Wen brickworks and was almost faint with joy! Truly, truly magnificent!
I think what excites me so much about industrial remains is the fact that everything we see had a working purpose to it. As much as one can say that every inch of a castle is intended to be a defensible structure, or an abbey is intended to glorify God, things like these massive banks of lime kilns here made things. People worked here, and they made stuff. It’s just really, really exciting to be among such buildings!
I have spent a lot of time in quarries – there’s a massive limestone quarry not that far from where I live – but I can’t pretend to know a lot about what I’ve seen here today. The Royal Commission site tells me that there is a crusher house still standing, which could potentially be the structure above – that would certainly explain the chutes coming out of the walls, if not the chimney as a means of powering the rollers – but I don’t know.
What I do know, however, is that this place was awesome! And so picturesque, too!
Leaving our industrial past behind momentarily, however, we come to the final stop on this tour: Penmon Point.
This is really what drove my trip today. I’d seen a lot of this view over on twitter for a while, and had been wanting to get up to the island to see what it’s like for myself. Pretty damn amazing, I think you’ll agree! The island to the right in the above pic is, of course, Puffin Island, once home to possibly the largest colony of puffins in Britain until a plague of rats reduced their numbers. The island was the site of another monastic foundation of St Seiriol, who is said to be buried here. There are apparently ruins of a church on the island, but it is strictly off-limits due to the bird-breeding programmes.
So there you have it, an excellent tour along the eastern tip of Anglesey! It’s well worth a visit, and on an excellent day like today, you really ought to get out there and see the sights!