Friday, February 19, 2010

The Menai Strait, Bangor

Menai StraitStill journeying westward, we come to Caernarvonshire, and reach the remarkable estuary dividing the mainland from the island of Anglesea, and known as the Menai Strait. This narrow stream, with its steeply-sloping banks and winding shores, looks more like a river than a strait, and it everywhere discloses evidence of the residence of an almost pre-historic people in relics of nations that inhabited its banks before the invasion of the Romans. There are hill-forts, sepulchral mounds, pillars of stone, rude pottery, weapons of stone and bronze; and in that early day Mona itself, as Anglesea was called, was a sacred island. Here were fierce struggles between Roman and Briton, and Tacitus tells of the invasion of Mona by the Romans and the desperate conflicts that ensued as early as A.D. 60. The history of the strait is a story of almost unending war for centuries, and renowned castles bearing the scars of these conflicts keep watch and ward to this day. Beaumaris, Bangor, Caernarvon, and Conway castles still remain in partial ruin to remind us of the Welsh wars of centuries ago. On the Anglesea shore, at the northern entrance to the strait, is the picturesque ruin of Beaumaris Castle, built by Edward I. at a point where vessels could conveniently land. It stands on the lowlands, and a canal connects its ditch with the sea. It consists of a hexagonal line of outer defences surrounding an inner square. Round towers flanked the outer walls, and the chapel within is quite well preserved. It has not had much place in history, and the neighboring town is now a peaceful watering-place.

Across the strait is Bangor, a rather straggling town, with a cathedral that is not very old. We are told that its bishop once sold its peal of bells, and, going down to the shore to see them shipped away, was stricken blind as a punishment for the sacrilege. Of Bangor Castle, as it originally stood, but insignificant traces remain, but Lord Penrhyn has recently erected in the neighborhood the imposing castle of Penryhn, a massive pile of dark limestone, in which the endeavor is made to combine a Norman feudal castle with a modern dwelling, though with only indifferent success, excepting in the expenditure involved. The roads from the great suspension-bridge across the strait lead on either hand to Bangor and Beaumaris, although the route is rather circuitous. This bridge, crossing at the narrowest and most beautiful part of the strait, was long regarded as the greatest triumph of bridge-engineering. It carried the Holyhead high-road across the strait, and was built by Telford. The bridge is five hundred and seventy-nine feet long, and stands one hundred feet above high-water mark; it cost $600,000. Above the bridge the strait widens, and here, amid the swift-flowing currents, the famous whitebait are caught for the London epicures. Three-quarters of a mile below, at another narrow place, the railway crosses the strait through Stephenson's Britannia tubular bridge, which is more useful than ornamental, the railway passing through two long rectangular iron tubes, supported on plain massive pillars. From a rock in the strait the central tower rises to a height of two hundred and thirty feet, and other towers are built on each shore at a distance of four hundred and sixty feet from the central one. Couchant lions carved in stone guard the bridge-portals at each end, and this famous viaduct cost over $2,500,000. A short distance below the Anglesea Column towers above a dark rock on the northern shore of the strait. It was erected in honor of the first Marquis of Anglesea, the gallant commander of the British light cavalry at Waterloo, where his leg was carried away by one of the last French cannon-shots. For many years after the great victory he lived here, literally with "one foot in the grave." Plas Newydd, one and a half miles below, the Anglesea family residence, where the marquis lived, is a large and unattractive mansion, beautifully situated on the sloping shore. It has in the park two ancient sepulchral monuments of great interest to the antiquarian.

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