Island Cruise Aboard MV Balmoral

by Don McKnight

One benefit of living on an island is that you can circle your domain by coastal roads by following the now almost complete Anglesey coastal path.

This affords vistas previously only experienced by those who worked the land adjacent to the sea.

Those whose chose career or leisure activity involves putting to sea will know of the totally different views to be had by seeing the shoreline from a sea-based viewpoint.

For many it was a perspective to be imagined rather than achieved.

This, however, changes each summer with the visit of the classic ships, one of which is the MV Balmoral , offering a programme of excursions along the North Wales coast.

So it was on Wednesday, 16 July 2008, my wife and I along with some friends and a few hundred cheerful travellers, steamed away from Menai Bridge on MV Balmoral on a Palin-esque type of journey to circumnavigate our world – a trip around Anglesey!

Probably like all travellers of past generations we had consulted a TV weather soothsayer, and he said it would start to rain at 3 pm.

Our departure time from Menai Bridge was, you guessed it, 3 pm!

We settled into our deck-rail side seats as we left the pier, and sat back to enjoy the panoramic coastline on the straits unfold before us.

It also started to rain!

But not enough of the wet stuff to spoil the enjoyment, not only of being able to see sights previously hidden from view when we are tied to the land, but also being part of the pageant passing before those still ashore.

Our neighbours in the rail-side seats had thought well ahead and cracked open a bottle of champers, and with fluted glasses no less, toasted the sights of Bangor and the pier, Beaumaris and Penmon, as we pressed on anticlockwise around the island.

We were going around Anglesey this way, according to one of the officers, so that we would not be stopped at Caernarfon bar.

He didn’t seem amused when I suggested it would be fine if we stopped there because we would be ready for G & T’s by then.

As we progressed up the east coast we marvelled at the wild and rugged coastline and the variety of differing geology and strata on view.

It seems clear why Anglesey is pressing the case in Europe to be designated an international Geo Park.

On we went past the broad sweep of Red Wharf Bay, Benllech and Moelfre.

What is imagined as a land of holiday caravan sites from the coastal roads, is seen to be no such thing from the sea.

In fact one sees a beautiful coast full of small sandy bays with rugged cliffs, sweeping fields and headlands largely unspoilt by development.

On we pressed into increasing wind and waves past Amlwch, Cemaes and Wylfa, and until we could see the Skerries in the distance.

Then the ship’s purser announced that the Captain had decided for safety reasons, with the weather showing serious signs of deteriorating, to turn and retrace our steps to the Menai Straits.

We were not sold short, however, as on the return, the Captain took the MV Balmoral on a slow pass of Puffin Island for a look at the seals, but even for them the wind and cold was too much and they kept themselves out of sight.

We were the treated to a sail along the Menai Straits going through the colourful Wednesday evening race fleet off Beaumaris, under both the Menai Suspension Bridge and Britannia Bridge and past Port Dinorwic and Plas Menai.

Soon we were in site of Caernarfon Castle and we turned and retraced our route back along the Menai Straits past the manicured lawns of Plas Newydd on Anglesey.

How we marvelled at the engineering feat of the bridge builders and also the sight of many herons fishing for their supper along the banks, before arriving back to moor up at Menai Bridge Pier.

Our dream of landing back in the last rays of sunshine of a warm July evening faded completely.

At least it only started to rain again in earnest as we disembarked and made our way home. Perfect timing.

This was a wonderful journey around the Anglesey coast and well worth the cost of the ticket.

While we were disappointed not to have made the full circle, we took it in good part and appreciated the professionalism of the skipper in his concern for his passengers.

Perhaps next year will be when we go around “our world” completely, and see the south and west coast of Anglesey.

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