Dawn trip to Ynys Llanddwyn

Ynys Llanddwyn, Newborough Forest / Warren and Nature Reserve – our Anglesey destination early on a fine February morning. Ynys Llanddwyn is a tidal island that is home to many tales including:

  • St Dwynwen and her church
  • The birth place of RSPB Cymru in 1911
  • Tŵr Mawr – the main lighthouse, built in the mid 1800’s (pictured above)
  • Tŵr Bach – a smaller & older warning tower by the old lifeboat station
  • Fascinating geology with both pillow lava & red jasper outcroppings

See a gothic view (monochrome infrared) of Tŵr Mawr on my Natures Universe site.

It’s a couple of hours drive north for us, so an early start was necessary. We top up on petrol & breakfast supplies in Bangor supermarket before driving the last stint over on Anglesey. Take the turn in the middle of Newborough village to reach the lovely forest / beach-side parking. At the time of writing, I believe parking fees are £5 for the day – unless you arrive really early (when the barriers may be open).

We parked up and quickly made our way through the dunes and on to the beach at 6 something or other am, where we were greeted by this beautiful view of a deep red pre-dawn sky over Snowdonia.

Maybe the shepard's warning but as a photographer ..
Maybe the shepard’s warning but as a photographer ..

I’d already expected to have to move around promptly to achieve the different shots I was looking for but the westerly jog up the beach with getting on for 50lbs of photography backpack certainly woke my leg muscles up! But oh was it worth it 🙂

The ponies that graze Ynys Llanddwyn start the day next to St Dwynwen's church ruins.
The ponies that graze Ynys Llanddwyn start the day next to St Dwynwen’s church ruins.
The 1903 Celtic Cross on Ynys Llanddwyn

St Dwynwen

Wales’ patron saint of lovers. There appear to be various versions of Dwynwen’s story. She was said to be the fairest of the many daughters of King Brychan Brycheiniog. She fell in love with a young man called Maelon, who reciprocated, but unfortunately her father had plans for her to marry another.

When she is forced to spurn Maelon, some say she runs away, prays to fall out of love or that she is raped by Maelon in his frustration. Either way, Maelon ends up frozen in a block of ice and an angel grants Dwynwen three wishes:

  • that Maelon be released
  • that God should, through her experience, care for the wellbeing of lovers
  • and that she, Dwynwen, should never become married

After this Dwynwen founds a convent on Ynys Llanddwyn, where she lives out the rest of her life. Her church became a place of holy pilgimage during the middle ages and the ruins can still be visited today.

The views from Ynys Llanddwyn are spectacular. With both Snowdonia & Llyn Peninsula as backdrops, whilst having various points of foreground interest too. It is no wonder that various feature film scenes have been set here.

Beautiful softlight and so many choices of subject.
Beautiful softlight and so many choices of subject.

Having photographed Tŵr Mawr at dawn we watched as the seabirds started their day with gulls calling overhead and a pair of Oystercatchers who stood together on a tide sprayed rock observing the coming of sunrise.

And what a sunrise it was. With renewed tangerine orange in the sky, the sun burst forth above central Snowdonia; whilst (from our shared rocky viewpoint) Tŵr Bach stood almost silhouetted to one side.

The sun gradually rises into a tangerine sky above the mountains of Snowdonia. In the forground stands the beacon tower (Tŵr Bach) of Ynys Llanddwyn.
The sun gradually rises into a tangerine sky above the mountains of Snowdonia. In the forground stands the beacon tower (Tŵr Bach) of Ynys Llanddwyn.

Having enjoyed spectacular dawn & sunrise, we sat and enjoyed our breakfast snacks before moving on to explore more of this beautiful & spiritual island. I always like achieving some pleasing shots early on a trip, the rest of the day becomes more relaxed and everything seems like a bonus. On Llanddwyn the surroundings almost beg you to sit back and enter a contemplative mood – what a source for inspiration.

Mountain, sea, sunshine and peace - where better for an artist's inspiration.
Mountain, sea, sunshine and peace – where better for an artist’s inspiration.

As we continued to explore and then walk back to Llanddwyn Bay, we enjoyed not only the views but also the geology, the information signs, the ponies (again), the expanse of empty beach and then found a swing on the forest edge. Have a look at the gallery below for some extra pictures.

Finally we left around mid morning, time to move on and recce some other local spots for another day’s ‘golden hour’.

There’s a map beneath the gallery if you’d like to consult it. The only 2 bits of extra advice I would give is to be careful about the tides (it is a tidal island) and to respect all restrictions posted, particularly in seabird breeding season.

Gallery (click on picture to enlarge / bring up more details) :

Map (as a guide only) :


Harvest Moon Sunsets

Do you ever have one of those days or projects where you start off aiming to do one thing but end up with something quite different? Well this is a tale of one such occurrence. An example, if you will, of why flexibility is good and how beneficial, accepting that as one door closes another one may well open, can be.

Harvest Moons are defined as the closest full moon to the autumn equinox. For the northern hemisphere this usually falls as the September full moon but in 2017 the Harvest Moon falls later, becoming full at 7-40pm BST on the evening of 5th October. Over the years I’ve taken plenty of full moon pictures, like the one below:

Full Moon

For this Harvest moon I wanted to photograph something a little different, with more character than detail. This is the sort of shot that requires both planning & luck. A look at the weather forecasts suggested that evening cloud was a likely risk on the hills but it should be fairly broken along the coastline to our north-west. Time to use some of the great tools like Photographer’s Ephemeris & Google Earth to plan the shot. Calculations showed that the moon should just be rising above a silhouetted Cadair Idris as it went full, as viewed from the harbour wall at Barmouth. At that distance the effect of the 500mm lens should both emphasise the moon size & compress the landscape to help give a decent impactful composition. If luck was with us, a few burst shots should provide all that was necessary for a dramatic HDR image. Without luck, we’d just see a mass of dark cloud! At any rate it is always enjoyable to watch as the lights of Barmouth sparkle across the harbour at twilight.

Barmouth’s colourful twinkling

We packed up a few different bits of kit so that we could take advantage of various eventualities and set off for Barmouth, timing our arrival to give us just enough time to enjoy fish & chips overlooking the sea before sunset. We were treated to a fabulous sunset with almost clear skies out to sea & rich colours developing after the sun dipped below a watery horizon. I had setup the little Nikon in timelapse mode when we first arrived on the harbour wall, here’s a quick animated gif made from some of the shots …

Sunset animation from Barmouth harbour

The header image for this article is my favourite capture of the evening, taken at 500mm on a DSLR, the last moments of the sun floating above the sea can be made quite impactful.

Anyone who has visited Barmouth will know that the tide runs in to the harbour at quite a speed. With the incoming tide at full pace there was also plenty of opportunity to take a slightly wider view of the sunset with choppy waters to the fore.

Tidal Rush

As the evening wore on life & entertainment carried on around us but the clouds seemed resolute about obscuring our view of Cadair Idris. Still there was plenty to amuse us, with Tamsin sketching the waves and me rather more distracted by the various forms of transport ..

Mixed transport

As 7-40pm approached, I could tantalisingly see the glow of the rising moon but the clouds just would not break. Then at 7-42pm the clouds partially broke for just a few moments. The view was fabulous by eye but very fleeting & not ideal for the photographs I wished for. Still, always take the shot, that’s my motto. Here are two processings of it, one in partial monochrome, one with colour ..

Beyond Pared y Cefn Hir, above the looming shadows of Cadair Idris, the Harvest Moon breaks through scudding clouds.

Beyond Pared y Cefn Hir, above the looming shadows of Cadair Idris, the Harvest Moon breaks through scudding clouds. (colour version)

As the evening night progressed the cloud never cleared but we waited for the moon to rise high, above the cloud – enough to give moody silver reflections on the estuary.

Dark moon over sea

So a great evening out, some lovely photography even if not what I had planned for. That’s great, because there will always be another full moon, another harvest, so the challenge lives on. Anyway it was time for more mundane things – like doing our weekly shop before the supermarket closed at 11pm. Let me leave you with that sunset again; until next time dear readers …

Time to timelapse – capturing an animated sunset

Sublime fire above the deep blue