Caldicot to Chepstow
Huge bridges and small villages with big histories.
Dramatic cliffs, spectacular bird life, an iconic lighthouse, ancient communities and Roman forts
Car park at Holyhead Breakwater Park. However, this loop could also be started at any point in Holyhead, at The Range or at South Stack.
10 miles / 16 kilometres or 11 miles / 17 kilometres (if taking the short detour to the summit of Holyhead Mountain).
There are options to shorten this walk to about 7 miles / 11 kilometres by taking a taxi from Holyhead to The Range to start the journey or 6 miles / 10 kilometres by taking a taxi to South Stack.
We start this walk at the former quarry of Holyhead Breakwater Country Park. It supplied the rocks to build Holyhead Breakwater - the largest in Europe - but is now a tranquil and pleasant park on Holyhead’s doorstep.
Through the park we reach the outskirts of Holyhead and the breakwater. Past the marina we make our way to Caer Gybi Roman Fortlet. Its position on low cliffs overlooking the sea suggests it was part of a coastal network of defences, possibly linked to the watchtower at Caer y Twr on the summit of Holyhead Mountain (more on this later).
Through Holyhead town centre we join Plas Road. This pleasant country lane meanders for a couple of miles until we take a short detour to see the mysterious Penrhos Feilw Standing Stones. Other, similar ancient monuments nearby are Ty Mawr Standing Stone and Trefignath Burial Chamber.
From Penrhos Feilw, it’s another mile or so along pleasant country lanes to reach the coast. Here, the walk takes on a new, spectacular dimension.
Walking out of the car park at the RSPB’s The Range onto North Wales’ largest maritime heath, the spectacular cliffs towards South Stack and its iconic lighthouse come almost immediately into view.
The heath is home to rare plants and butterflies as well as adders and lizards and is part of the RSPB’s South Stack Cliffs nature reserve which supports choughs, puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwake, fulmars, peregrine falcons and ravens. We follow the path through the heath, fields and along a lane for about a mile towards the RSPB’s visitor centre and café, nature reserve and the lighthouse.
As we reach the first car park, we take a short diversion right on a path through the bracken to reach Holyhead Mountain Hut Circles, known as Cytiau’r Gwyddelod (Irishmen’s huts). These are the remains of an ancient, pre-Roman farming community, and they certainly pre-date the Irish raids on Anglesey which were finally beaten in 470AD. With a little imagination it’s not hard to envisage what life was like (YouTube video) here thousands of years ago.
Back on the clifftop path and we soon find ourselves standing above South Stack lighthouse. First proposed in 1665, the first light did not shine from here until 1809. It’s 400 steps down for a close-up inspection – and another 400 back up. Guided tours can be booked at the RSPB’s visitor centre.
We now climb up to an abandoned lookout with commanding views. The lookout is all that remains of the Holyhead Telegraph Station, built in 1827. Although a crude system, a message could get from here to Liverpool in around a minute. Now we head off towards Holyhead Mountain through an area which is criss-crossed by a network of paths, but the Wales Coast Path route is well sign-posted and the paths of good quality.
As the mountain looms large in front, a sign to the summit directs us right, off the Wales Coast Path. We can continue along the coast path, but it’s worth the effort to reach the highest point on Anglesey which has stunning views over most of the island to Snowdonia, and even to Ireland on the clearest of days.
Here also you will discover the remains of the Iron Age settlement of Caer y Twr, a large enclosure of seventeen acres (7 hectares). The rampart walls still stand 10 feet (three metres) high and 14 feet (four metres) thick in places, creating an imposing fortification. The base of a Roman watchtower can also be seen beside the triangulation pillar.
Heading over the summit, we turn left at a junction of paths to re-join the prominent Wales Coast path below and continue descending steeply to North Stack. Turning right here we pass an old magazine building to reach an abandoned quarry back on the edge of the Breakwater Country Park.
Gruff Owen, Wales Coast Path officer for the North Wales coast, said: “Many people talk about part of this route being the most dramatic section of the entire Wales Coast Path. It offers superb walking along country lanes, through heathland and above rugged cliffs, providing dramatic views and iconic locations.”
Car parking is available at The Range, South Stack and in Holyhead. Be aware however that there is no public transport available. If not completing the loop in its entirety catching a taxi from Holyhead to The Range or South Stack is a good option, or take two cars and park one at Holyhead Breakwater Park to drive back to South Stack or the Range.
There are toilets at the RSPB’s visitor centre at South Stack (10am-5pm) and at Breakwater Country Park.
There are numerous shops, cafes bars and restaurants in Holyhead, a café at the RSPB’s visitor centre at South Stack and another at Holyhead Breakwater Country Park
Download the Holyhead and mountain loop map (JPEG, 3.31MB)