The wreck of the Athena, with Ynys Llanddwyn in the background

The wreck of the Athena, with Ynys Llanddwyn in the middle distance and The Rivals on the Llyn Peninsula beyond


9 August 2014

Traeth Penrhos, Malltraeth Bay

SH 38666 64489; 53.15301°N, 4.41413°W


En route from Alexandria to Liverpool laden with a cargo of beans, the Athena ran aground in Malltraeth Bay on 20 December 1852. All fourteen crew were rescued by the Llanddwyn lifeboat men who had launched their lifeboat close to the stricken vessel after it had been hauled by horses from the station on Ynys Llanddwyn over Newborough dunes.

Built in 1840, Athena was a wooden brig (a two-masted, square-rigged vessel) with a gross tonnage of 369. She was registered in Crete and owned by Liverpool traders R & G Benn, one of many new firms that sprang up there as the African trade expanded during the 1830s and 40s.

[Note that the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales places the wreck some 600m to the north west of this location, but also gives a vaguer description of the site as being ‘1 mile to the north of Llanddwyn’.]


Ynys Llanddwyn

Twr Mawr and St Dwynwen's cross


19 November 2011

Newborough, Anglesey

SH 38502 62513; 53.13522°N, 4.41559°W


Ynys Llanddwyn is a tidal island — cut off only by the highest tides — on the western approach to the Menai Strait. It forms part of Anglesey’s Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve and is managed by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW).

Its name means Island of the church of St Dwynwen. Dwynwen — the Welsh patron saint of lovers — lived as a recluse on the island until her death in about 465 CE and during the Middle Ages Llanddwyn became an important destination for Christian pilgrims. The ruins of the 16th-century church are said to stand on the location of her original hermitage.

At the end of the island there are two early 19th-century towers — Twr Mawr (big tower) and Twr Bach (small tower). These were probably originally built as unlit markers for ships entering the Menai Strait bound for the slate ports of Caernarfon, Y Felinheli and Bangor. Twr Mawr is 35 ft high and of a design reminiscent of an Anglesey windmill. It was established as a lighthouse, with a lantern window on its ground level, in 1846 and was in service until 1975, when it was replaced by a flashing directional light fitted to Twr Bach. Twr Mawr featured in the 2006 Demi Moore film Half Light, in which its appearance was significantly altered digitally in post production.

Close to the towers stands a row of four pre-1830 two-roomed pilots’ cottages, two of which now house a CCW exhibition about the island. In times gone past the pilots would row out to approaching ships in order to guide them in their passage past the hazardous sand banks in Caernarfon Bay. A lifeboat, crewed by the pilots and also by volunteers from Newborough, was also stationed on the island up until 1903. The cannon outside the pilots’ cottages was used to call for assistance from Newborough village. The pilot station was closed in 1943.

Featured in NASA Earth Science Division’s Earth Science Picture of the Day, 18 December 2011.

Llanddwyn Island (Anglesey History);
Ynys Llanddwyn (;
St Dwynwen’s Day (national museum wales);
Lighthouse, Llanddwyn Island (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales)