Rownd a Rownd in Menai Bridge
- Credit: Archant
Despite its impressive heritage, like the Thomas Telford Suspension Bridge and a promenade built by Belgian refugees, Menai Bridge is a town with assets that will take it into the future
Menai Bridge is a little gem: the Anglesey town is a treasure trove of local businesses, restaurants and fabulous scenery. This may not be common knowledge to us in Cheshire, but residents and the cast of a Welsh drama have been enjoying what this North Wales town has to offer for years.
‘Twenty years ago Menai Bridge was chosen as the location for the filming of Rownd a Rownd for several reasons,’ said Manon Lewis Owen and Cliff Jones, producers of the award-winning S4C series. ‘It is picturesque all year: the bridges and the Menai Straits form a stunning backdrop, and the diversity of resources Menai Bridge offers is unique. They range from a variety of restaurants and hotels, to bespoke artisan shops and the essential post office, hairdressers, banks and various offices.’
The set of the youth drama is in Dale Street, where they have converted a disused garage into a fake row of shops. School scenes are filmed in the town’s two local schools.
‘Our 100-strong cast and crew agree that they are very lucky to work in such a beautiful yet convenient place,’ they continued. ‘Residents and businesses are very supportive and are very proud that Rownd a Rownd is situated here.’
Another resident who has called Menai Bridge home for nearly two decades is Anthony Tavernor. Owner of the stunning Plas Cadnant estate, which is almost hidden in a secret valley, the former dairy farmer has lived in the town since 1996. However, when he bought this 200-acre estate, much of the property was derelict and the gardens were overgrown woodland – which is hard to imagine today. So why did he take on the challenge of restoring the estate to its former glory?
‘I was looking for a lifestyle change,’ said Anthony, originally from Weston, near Crewe. ‘This ticked all the boxes. I have always been interested in gardening, history and architecture, so it was all my hobbies in one. Over the years, the project has become a labour of love and my life’s ambition is to preserve what is here.’
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The estate dates back to 1804, when the Georgian farmhouse Anthony calls home was built by John Price, an agent for the Marquis of Anglesey. Price had come into money after marrying a local heiress. The property and gardens thrived until the Second World War, when it fell into decline and resources dwindled. It was only when Anthony took Plas Cadnant under his wing that the grounds and buildings were transformed.
He has not only restored his own home, but also created five individual self-catering cottages in the Grade II listed outbuildings. Ranging from the old coach house to the garden cottage, these properties retain the character of their original purpose but have become a charming place for visitors to stay.
The ten acres of hidden gardens, opened to the public six years ago, include a walled garden with curving walls and pool, a secret valley garden with three waterfalls and river, and an upper woodland garden with stone outcrops and the remains of a 19th century folly. He has also added a visitors’ centre and tea room.
‘There is still a large section of garden that needs to be restored,’ said Anthony, who is also the President of the Menai Bridge and District Civic Society. ‘I want to make the whole estate sustainable into the future and survive beyond me. I don’t want it to be forgotten.’
‘We have people who visit us that say they have lived in Menai Bridge all their lives and never knew about Plas Cadnant,’ he continued. ‘Every month the gardens change and show something different, it’s fantastic now to share it with other people.’
In 1914, a group of refugees from Mechelen, Belgium, were driven from their hometown by the German invasion. They found solace in Menai Bridge, and as a gesture of appreciation to the people of the town for providing them with food and shelter, they constructed a promenade along the foreshore from Carreg yr Halen to Church Island. Their work was completed in early 1916.
The promenade was rebuilt in 1963 due to erosion and a seating area was added. The only surviving member of the original refugees, Eduard Wilhelms, reopened the walkway in 1965.
If you walk along to Church Island, you will find the small church of St. Tysilio, which dates back to the 1400’s. Despite having no electricity, it is still a popular venue for weddings.
Explore Menai by boat
‘About five or six years ago you wouldn’t have thought much of Menai Bridge,’ said Tom Ashwell, who along with Phil Scott co-owns Synergy Yachting, which owns The Marine Club and RibRide based at Porth Daniel in the town. ‘But now, the town has so much to offer. There are lots of businesses working together.’
The businessmen are both yacht consultants, and have previously worked in the Caribbean and other exotic locations around the world. They started Synergy in 2006 and then opened the Marine Club and Ribride at the boatyard in Menai Bridge in 2012.
‘We chose Menai Bridge, rather than Southampton, to base our businesses,’ said Tom. ‘Here we are between mountain and beach in five minutes and the transport links between motorways and airports in Liverpool and Manchester is great.’
The Marine Club offer a range of services from buying or sellingg your boats, storage and rental as well as watersports and Royal Yachting Association training. The RibRide side of the businesses was soft launched in 2014, and this year they want to increase focus of their boat trips along the Menai Strait and to nearby islands in Anglesey to locals and visitors of the town. They have also teamed up with celebrity Bear Grylls to run rides out of the Port of Holyhead.
‘We’ve challenged our skippers here to come up with ideas for a special day out on the rib,’ said Tom. ‘Charles, one of our main skippers, has said he will put on a foraging day, where people can then cook a meal with what they have found. We are also thinking of a pub crawl – as many of the pubs can be accessed on the Menai Strait by boat.’
Serving up a treat
Dylan’s restaurant is owned by business partners David Evans and Robin Hodgson. It Opened in 2012, the restaurant sits on the water’s edge beneath the Thomas Telford Bridge and specialises in seafood, freshly baked pizza, seafood and dishes created using locally sourced seasonal produce.
‘We were taken by surprise as to just how popular we were,’ said David. ‘We certainly didn’t anticipate the response locally or even from further afield. In 2014, we did over 150,000 covers – which is fantastic for our second year.’
Dylan’s The restaurant also runs a seafood festival annually in the town, and is keen to educate diners about with the food on the menu they are served and the sustainability of each dish. ‘It’s not just about sitting down and eating the food: , the backgrounddrop of where it has come from is important,’ continued David.
David, who lived in Manchester for many over 20 years, opened the restaurant with Robin in 2012after having a desire to create a place on Anglesey where he could take his family and friends. ‘I have five children and found it difficult to find a nice place in Anglesey to take them – so we thought let’s set up our own.’ The business is also planning to openon expanding their brand into a new restaurant in Criccieth this summer.
‘Menai Bridge is really blossoming now. There is 100% retail occupancy and a great sense of community here,’ he continued. ‘The whole town works really well together and it’s a fabulous place to live and work.’