Today's destination is beyond the boundary of the British mainland, onto Anglesey and then beyond that too: to reach today's destination you will be heading onto Holy Island, so named for the large concentration of holy sites across its 15 square miles. I will be completely honest and admit that for the longest time I had no idea there was another Island beyond Anglesey, with maps often failing the mention the narrow winding channel that divides the two into distinct landmasses - it wasn't until I planned a trip here that I discovered the difference. But there is a lot to love about this place and for such a small island there is still plenty to explore, lots to see and adventures to be had, with my personal highlight being what may be one of the prettiest lighthouses in all of Wales.
South Stack Lighthouse is situated on the furthest western reaches of Holy Island, on a petite island of its own; you certainly won't be driving to this island, however, as this small rock in the Irish channel has just enough space for the lighthouse and its modest grounds. It was constructed in 1809 and has diverted away passing ships from the jagged, unforgiving cliffs ever since, helping to guide them past the tip of Anglesey and into port at Liverpool and vice-versa with the aid of further lighthouses and fog stations such as the one at North Stack. The construction of the lighthouse becomes all the more impressive when you realise the accompanying bridge would not be constructed until another two decades after, with workers, tools and supplies transported across via little more than a cable. There is plenty to learn and love about South Stack Lighthouse, and rather continue to spoil the story I highly recommend you plan a visit and take the tour. The staff on-site are warm and friendly, and the tour will teach you about the operation of this building, from its manual roots through to electrification and eventually automation; if the history doesn't excite you, the tour concludes with ascending the lighthouse tower and ascending to a spectacular viewpoint over the Irish Channel.
Our journey begins a short walk away at the RSPB parking seen here, it is absolutely possible to park closer at the second RSPB car park or at the dedicated car park seen here. Wherever you end up parking, be warned the closest parking for South
Stack Lighthouse is little more than a large lay-by and spaces go fast on all but
the quietest of days. We went with the first car park for two reasons: the first reason was the wonderful weather we happened to be enjoying meant the route that smoothly sauntered towards the cliff's edge was a relaxing and joyous walk! The second one was the visit to Elin's Tower. This RSPB operated tower (and surrounding grounds) is a great place for wildlife spotting and also provides an excellent vista up to and beyond South Stack lighthouse. Visitors are welcome to pop in and learn more about the local fauna, with a little luck you may even see some of the more elusive birds or marine wildlife; Porpoise and a number of birds were active in the area on the day we visited, with us just missing out on some visiting Puffins. When you're done birdwatching and soaking up the views, you will want to make your way back to the road, either directly up the hill and via the rough steps, or via the RSPB main building if you want to take some of the slightly easier paths.
Follow the paths up to the road and before you know it you will arrive at a small archway that marks the beginning of the descent; if you opted to park at the closest car park this is where your journey will begin. Now, this next bit may be uncomfortable for some, but pushing through is well worth it to get onto the island and see South Stack lighthouse up close. Even with our perfect storm of difficulties, with Rox's fear of open-water (the technical term would be Thalassophobia) and my vertigo making me a little jelly-legged around big drops, we still managed to grit our teeth and push through without any real issues. The stairs down are generally fine, snaking around down the cliffside they are smooth and easy-going at least until the bottom where the stone steps are replaced by a moderately steep set of metal stairs - picture something that is the halfway point between stairs and a ladder. The last part of the journey is the aluminium bridge across to the island itself, offering amazing views in both directions along the cliffs and out to sea those with either a fear of heights or water will be happy to know the bridge floor is not see-through. Just remind yourself that the route you are walking has been walked millions of times before, keep one hand on the handrail so you can brace for the strong coastal winds and you will get to the lighthouse before you know it. It is worth noting there is a small price for admission, check before travelling to get the most up to date prices.
The bridge crossing did lead to a funny moment for us, I had made my way steadily down the cliffside, taking breaks to let my pulse calm itself and refind my composure, while Rox had generally charged down without much of an issue. Once at the bottom, I took a moment to gather my wits and psyche myself up then we both agreed to go for it; we both knew neither of us would enjoy this part, with the waves crashing below wrecking havoc with Rox's previously calm demeanour. I went first but I was hardly cool, calm and collected about it, picture in your mind the most rigid upright stance, dead-eye staring at the opposite side of the bridge, unblinking, while power walking - this was me. I reached the other side, breathed a sigh of relief as my anxiety dissipated and turned to ask Rox how she found it; she would struggle to hear my question, considering she was staring at me from the other side. I took a deep breath and repeated my walk back across, gave a quick pep-talk and told her to grab the handle on my bag so we would power walk together to finally reach the island. On the plus side, by my return journey across the bridge, that being my fourth time crossing, I was so used to it I actually stopped in the middle to enjoy the views for a while, smell the salt and enjoy those strong gusts that had terrorised me on the walk down. A nice little bit of aversion therapy sometimes works a treat!
The windswept grounds are small but amazing to explore, especially when paired with the views of the cliffs you just descended. In both directions, the cliff faces stand tall and firm juxtaposed against the crashing waves foaming at their feet. Then in the other direction, the great blue beyond stretching out as far as the eyes can see; that is unless you happen to visit on a day with perfect visibility, where you may just be able to catch a glimpse of Ireland across the channel! We were not so lucky, but that didn't detract from our visit - if you want to try your luck, seeing Ireland is easiest done from elevation, so now its time to head up to the highest point South Stack has to offer.
The staff inside organise tours at set intervals, where they will give you an interesting look into the internal mechanics of the lighthouse, its history and construction - the tour strikes the balance between educating without dragging perfectly. Before long you will ascend the spiral stairs inside the tower - they are moderately narrow and jut out from the lighthouse wall with a handrail, definitely an interesting sight from both above or below. The top is a ladder-like steep ascent through a moderately small hatch, fine for most people to fit through but I did have to remove my bag to get in and out. Once you've tackled the climb you will find yourself surrounded by glass with an absolutely glorious panorama over the Irish Channel! The tour will continue to give you an excellent insight into the operations of the lighthouse and they are happy to take any questions you may have. Picturing the workers on the outside of the glass doing maintenance inspires a feeling of both excitement and anxiousness in me, something I would love to try but would probably turn my stomach at the time. A minor issue to be aware of, the top of the lighthouse is, as little as makes no difference, a greenhouse - on sunny days it may be a little toasty up here, so pack a drink or two to keep the heat away.
That is just about all you need to know about South Stack, the return journey may take your breath away simply by how taxing it is, there are plenty of spots to recover so take your time and enjoy those sublime views one last time. The rest of the journey is as simple as retracing the route you took to get here. Of course, there is no reason for your day to stop here, as is often the case with coastal attractions, there are plenty of walks in the area you can pick from with walks to the north taking you to North Stack (of course) and all the way around to Holyhead town. Holyhead is a seaport town with ferries running to Ireland, so if you feel like extending your day trip into a grand adventure you could always hop on a ferry and pop across the channel too!