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An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the Isle of Anglesey

Published on September 3rd 2018
I first visited Anglesey around 10 years ago. Growing up in Shropshire, I’d been to the Welsh coast countless times on summer holidays, but never so far as the little island which sits north of North Wales. I was immediately greeted by the view as you cross the Menai Straits onto the island, with the stunning Menai bridge forming a picture postcard scene. I knew I was heading into somewhere special.
At first, I was so awestruck by the range of wildlife around the coast; the seabirds, rockpools, choughs, seals, lizards and so on, that I almost overlooked the interior of the island and the array of plant life that resides there. That all changed when I stumbled upon the tiny village of Aberffraw, next to Traeth Mawr. The few acres which lead to the beach, via the sand dunes have, arguably, some of the most exciting plant species in the UK. My first visit was during June, so right in the middle of the orchid season. I remember seeing my first pyramidal orchid as I got out of the car and going crazy, taking picture after picture. Imagine, then, my amazement when I looked up and saw a meadow studded with them. And not only pyramidal orchids, but also northern marsh orchids and early marsh orchids. Walking closer towards the dunes, the purple spikes were punctuated by yellow rattle – which really does rattle in the breeze – blue harebells and lavender scabious.
Stonechats and meadow pipits were dancing around catching flies and I saw a family of stoats larking about on the dunes, however, my greatest find was a solitary bee orchid. Even on the way back to the car, I walked through a swathe of white dune helleborines. There were so many I was literally tip-toeing to avoid treading on them.
On my successive visits to the island I have not only been back to Aberffraw, but also to Newborough forest where I’ve spotted twayblades, round-leaved wintergreen and evening primroses, Porth Dafarch cliffs adorned with rock samphire and thrift and South Stack where there are acres of heather punctuated with golden gorse and blackberries galore. A real treat, however, was a visit to Cors Goch nature reserve, where I found some of my favourite plants growing in the marshland. You have to walk on wooden boards to get around, and they often flood, but it’s worth it to see wild carnivorous sundews, butterwort and aquatic bladderwort as well as the rare and fragile grass of Parnassus
After all the hiking and plant hunting, then you may prefer a more civilised spot and Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens is a great place to spend a day, plus it’s nestled between the towns of Menai Bridge and the charming Beaumaris, with its pastel-hued houses and tea rooms.
If you are passionate about wildflowers, then Anglesey is a real treasure trove. The next few months are a great time to start planning and looking for holiday cottages before they get fully booked. I promise you, one visit and you’ll be hooked.
Daniel Cousin spent his formative years training under the watchful eye of Percy Thrower's daughter, Margaret, at her father's garden centre in Shrewsbury while training in horticulture. He now lives in London and loves growing aroids, exotics and scented plants on his postage-sized roof terrace in Pimlico.

For more information on wildflowers, we strongly recommend looking at Plantlife and taking part in their wildflower campaign.

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