The cliff bound shoreline along the north coast of the island of Anglesey in North Wales is a favoured holiday haunt during the summer months, but with its strong tides, currents and over falls (areas of steep breaking seas produced by the opposing forces of wind and tide), coupled with northerly gales in autumn and winter, it can be a very different place indeed, held in due respect by mariners navigating along its potentially treacherous length.
Seafarers will be familiar with the Skerries Lighthouse standing sentinel on the cluster of small inlets (“Ynysoedd Moelrhoniaid” in Welsh), lying some two miles off Carmel Head, the northwestern most point of Anglesey. During the 1940s and 1950s, my family lived in the coastal village of Cemaes Bay and although it is some six or seven miles east of the Skerries, nevertheless during periods of coastal mist or fog, one could hear the mournful sigh of its foghorn in the calm atmospheric conditions; a sinister, eerie sound that I can recall to this day.
East of the Skerries lie three well separated, hump-backed islets looking like recumbent mice, lying closer inshore. These are the West Mouse (“Maen Y Bugail” or “Shepherd’s Stone”), the Middle Mouse (“Ynys Badrig”) and the East Mouse (“Ynys Amlwch”). Just east of the latter is Point Lynas, the northeastern most point of Anglesey and which for many years was the principal pilot station for the port of Liverpool and other Mersey ports.
The Middle Mouse lies close to Cemaes Bay and so I am especially familiar with this particular “mouse”. Many of the ships which could be seen proceeding eastwards off the coast here were bound for the River Mersey and followed a course taking them a respectable distance off, perhaps one to two miles. Having rounded the Skerries and requiring a pilot, they would make for a position off Point Lynas where they would rendezvous with the pilot cutter to pick up the pilot for Liverpool. (It should be noted however, that ships belonging to Alfred Holt’s Blue Funnel Line, a company well known for doing things uniquely “its own way” picked up and dropped off their appropriated / choice pilots off Holyhead breakwater. The reason I believe was that the company preferred not to risk having its vessels “jockeying for position” with a number of other shops off Point Lynas).
By the early 1980s however, the Liverpool pilot cutters had been withdrawn from service and today pilots travel out to inbound vessels from Liverpool by fast pilot launch, boarding ships in the vicinity of the Mersey Bar, some 17 miles from Liverpool Pierhead. Fortunately, one of the three final pilot cutters, the 701 GNT diesel-electric motor ship Edmund Gardner (built 1953 by Philip & Son of Dartmouth and measuring 178ft x 32ft beam) is in the care of the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Canning Drydock, close by the museum and is open to the public during the period April - September annually and is well worth a visit.
As already stated, most ships passed well off the Anglesey coast but I have a vague recollection going back around 70 years of seeing a small ship, probably a coaster, pass inside the Middle Mouse, ie in the comparatively narrow passage between the Mouse and the coastline. In case that sighting all those years is no more than a figment of my imagination, perhaps one or two older readers of Sea Breezes may be able to confirm that on occasions small vessels did indeed sail inside the Middle Mouse? I might also mention, and again I can’t be categoric about this, that many years ago (1940s/1950s) at least one vessel either collided with, or ran aground on the Middle Mouse.
The Legend of St Patrick
Legend has it that around 430AD, the ship on which Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, was travelling to Ireland was wrecked on the Middle Mouse (called Ynys Badrig after the Saint). According to the legend he swam the 800 yards ashore and in gratitude for his deliverance he founded the diminutive parish church of Llanbadrig on the clifftop nearby. My maternal grandparents are buried in the graveyard just yards from the cliff edge.
More recently, a good friend resident in Cemaes Bay, remembers walking along the cliffs to the east of Llanbadrig in the vicinity of Llanlleiana and recalls seeing a “small passenger ship, possibly an Isle of Man boat” sailing westwards very close inshore. Although intervening high ground subsequently restricted his view, he feels certain that the vessel would have passed inside Middle Mouse. Whilst not questioning my friend’s observation, I would not have thought that the Master of a ship possibly carrying a number of passengers would have risked navigating his vessel in such confined waters – the Middle Mouse lies a mere half mile off the coast affording little sea room in the unfortunate event of an engine or steering failure.