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Open Country
Sat  6.10 - 6.35am
Thurs 1.30 - 2.00pm (rpt)
Local people making their corner of rural Britain unique
This week
Saturday 30 December 2006
Listen to this programme in full
In this week’s Open Country, Helen Mark visits Newborough on Anglesey, which not only boasts a stunning natural beauty, but is also the site of a medieval palace and a paradise for geologists.
Situated on the south east corner of Anglesey, Newborough lies on the southern edge of the Menai Straits, and is overlooked by the majestic mountains of the Snowdonia range.

The sandy beach at the neck of Llanddwyn Island is strewn with greeny-blue coloured pillow lavas, which as geologist Margaret Wood tells Helen, are the result of red hot blobs of lava cooling rapidly as they were forced out of underwater volcanoes. On the other side of Llanddwyn Island Helen sees the wonderful shapes and colours of melanges. These are a variety of different types of rocks and of all different sizes which instead of coming up through the earth’s crust went down into a huge trench. Yet these types of rock are just two of the many examples of the treasure trove of rocks that can be found on Anglesey, which has the greatest geo-diversity for its size anywhere in Europe, with rock formations from most of the major geological eras, starting 600 million years ago in the Precambrian. For this reason GeoMon is hoping to establish Anglesey as an international Geo Park, promoted by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).

Two miles inland on the outskirts of the modern town of Newborough can be seen the foundations of perhaps one of the most important discoveries in medieval archaeology in North Wales. In the early 1990’s Gwynedd Archaeological Trust uncovered the foundation of a Welsh palace, llys  is the Welsh term, of Rhosyr, which acted as an administrative centre for one of the six regions or commotes  on Anglesey and was owned successively by various Princes of Wales. However as David Longley of the Trust explains, in the 1280’s, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was defeated by Edward 1 marking the end of the kingdom of Gwynedd. Edward 1 set up a new system of administration, which included building a castle at Beaumaris. However this was close to the Welsh llys   Llanfaes. In order that Beaumaris survive Llanfaes had to die, and so all the people from Llanfaes were moved form the northern end of the island down to a new borough, giving the name to the present town of Newborough.

Although the people did not want to move, Newborough flourished as a market town, until it met not this time with political problems but with terrible storms which in Elizabethan times caused 200 acres of land to be engulfed by sand. In fact the sand covered the site of Rhosyr and came right up to the edge of Newborough itself and today Newborough Warren is still an extensive sand dune system. Now it is covered with extensive vegetation and according to Will Sanderson of The Countryside Council for Wales it now harbours over 600 species of calcium loving plants, which is almost half of the Welsh total of flowering plants.

The first plant to colonise sand dunes is marram grass and this is why in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Newborough became the centre for a flourishing marram grass industry. Enid Mummery who lives in Newborough shows Helen how the grass was plaited into lengths of up to 9 metres and then sewn together to make mats to cover haystacks.

On the western edge of Newborough Warren is the Malltraeth estuary, home to thousands of over-wintering birds. At one time it was possible to travel all the way up the River Cefni to the county town of Llangefni but in 1810 an embankment called The Cob was erected to exclude the tidal influences of the sea. Ann Benwell recites a Welsh folk song about the devastation that would happen if the Cob was breached and shows Helen the place where the renowned wildlife artist Charles F Tunnicliffe, the illustrator of the book ‘Tarka the Otter’, once lived. An exhibit of his life and work is on display in Llangefni.
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