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The last stop before Ireland, rugged and rocky Holy Island offers some of the best walking in Anglesey.
Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 886ft (270m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Well-maintained paths and tracks
Landscape Heathland, coastal cliffs and rocky hills
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 262 Anglesey West
Start/finish SH 210818
Dog friendliness Dogs should be on leads at all times
Parking RSPB car park
Public toilets Just up road from car park
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 Take the path signed for the RSPB centre, past Ellin's Tower, a small castellated building, then climb along the path back to the road which should be followed to its end.
2 If you're not visiting the South Stack Lighthouse, climb right on a path passing a concrete shelter. The path detours right to round the BT aerials and dishes. At a crossroads go left, heading back to the coast, then take the left fork. Ignore the next left, a dead end path. The footpath required works its way over the north shoulder of Holyhead Mountain.
3 Ignore paths to the summit, but keep left on a good path heading north towards North Stack.
4 After passing through a grassy walled enclosure the path descends in zig-zags down some steep slopes before coming to a rocky platform, where the Fog Signal Station and the island of North Stack come into full view. Retrace your steps back up the zig-zags and towards Holyhead Mountain.
5 With the summit path in sight, take a narrow path heading sharp left across the heath. This joins another narrow path contouring round the east side of the mountain. Turn right along it, later ignoring another summit path coming in from the left. Beyond the mountain, take a right fork as the path comes to a wall. Follow the path downhill towards rough pastureland.
6 Go down a grassy walled track before turning right along another, similar one. This soon becomes a rough path traversing more heathland, now to the south of Holyhead Mountain.
7 Near to a quarry with a lake, take the path veering right alongside the rocks of the Holyhead Mountain. The BT aerials and dishes can be seen again on the horizon by now. Follow paths towards them then, at a crossroads, turn left and left again, along a concrete footpath leading back to the road.
8 Turn left along the road to the car park.
Anglesey's flat - everybody knows that from geography lessons at school - and when you motor along the fast and busy A5 to Holyhead the flat fields flashing by the car window confirm the fact. It comes as a surprise then, that when you leave the main road and pass Trearddur Bay, the green fields turn to rugged heathland that rises to a rocky hillside. The locals and the mapmakers call it Holyhead Mountain, and it matters little that it rises to a mere 722ft (220m) above the waves, because this mountain rises steep and craggy and looks out across those waves to Ireland.
The path from the car park heads straight for a white castellated building known as Ellin's Tower. This former summerhouse is now an RSPB seabird centre. The surrounding area is a breeding ground for puffins, guillemots, razorbills and the rare mountain chough a closed-circuit video camera shows live pictures of these birds. Outside you can look across to the little island of South Stack, with its lighthouse perched on high cliffs.
Although the cliff scenery is stunning, a rather nasty concrete shelter and the radar dishes of a BT station spoil the early scenes, but they're soon left behind as you make your way towards that rocky 'mountain'.
In this area the footpath traverses splendid maritime heath dominated by heather, bell heather and stunted western gorse. The rare spotted rock rose also grows here, it looks a little like the common rock rose but has red spots on its yellow petals.
The footpath eventually climbs over the shoulder of a ridge connecting the summit and North Stack. You'll see a direct path heading for the summit when you reach this ridge. It's a bit of a scramble in places, but worth doing if you're fit and there are no young children in your party. Otherwise, the best route for the more sedate rambler is to head along the ridge towards North Stack.
After a short climb there's a big drop down a zig-zag path to reach a rocky knoll with a splendid view down to North Stack, another tiny island. On the mainland, adjacent, there's a Fog Signal Station which warns shipping away from the more treacherous waters.
Now the walk cuts across more heath along the north east side of Holyhead Mountain. From here you'll be looking over Holyhead town and its huge harbour. Once a small fishing village, Holyhead came to prominence after the Act of Union 1821, when its convenient position for travel to Ireland made it the ideal choice for shipping routes. The big ferries and 'cats' will be a feature of this last leg, for you'll surely see at least one glide out of the bay.
It's worth seeing the South Stack Lighthouse Visitor Centre while you're here. You get there by descending 160 steps down to a suspension bridge to the island. You can tour the exhibition area and see the engine room before climbing to the top of the lighthouse tower. Open Easter to September.
There is a basic café near the RSPB centre. The Trearddur Bay Hotel is a large hotel overlooking the sea. Here the Inn at the Bay is more informal than the hotel restaurant and makes use of a conservatory.
Holy Island is one of the few places in the United Kingdom where choughs live and breed. Part of the crow family, the chough is a large black bird with a red bill. Its aerobatics are rather like those of its cousin, the raven, and it nests in crevices in the sea cliffs, where it quarrels regularly with the sea birds.