The Reluctant Travel Writer - “Money for Nothing and the Chicks for Free.” Capturing the Essence of Wales on the Island of Anglesey

Leonard Lea Frazer
Girls from Manchester enjoy a visit to the South Stack Lighthouse.
Girls from Manchester enjoy a visit to the South Stack Lighthouse.

What I find most fascinating about Wales and England, and several other Northern European countries, is how the different history time slots are dispersed and represented on the land. A visitor can explore and experience these time slots at archaeological digs, preserved castle fortresses and in present day festivals and cultural events.


In September of 1992 I spent four days on the Welsh Island of Anglesey discovering their own set of time slots. My visit was part of a 22-day self-planned travel writing adventure. As always, I had written ahead to familiarize myself with the area and to have contacts and ideas for possible stories and photographic opportunities. When the answer came from my letter of interest to the Isle of Anglesey Borough Council I discovered that the Principal Tourism Officer, Eluned Davies, had lined up my entire itinerary. She suggested interesting people to interview and meet; guest houses to stay at, attractions to visit, and also forwarded a copy of my letter to the Sonya Model Agency. The agency could provide models to be in some of my photographs depicting the Welsh atmosphere.
Jac Roberts during a walking tour of his Anglesey farm.
Jac Roberts during a walking tour of his Anglesey farm.
In each area of Wales that I toured I was met with a similar contact person as Ms. Davies, and I was looking forward to another foreign island experience.
Anglesey is only 20 miles wide and 20 miles long and is situated in the Northwest corner of Wales. It is cut off from the mainland by the narrow Menai Straits but, although physically separated, Anglesey has never been isolated from the mainstream of civilization. As early as 3000 B.C., Neolithic man came to this island in search of land to farm. He left some of the earliest monuments to survive on Anglesey; the numerous Megalithic burial tombs dot the island. Neolithic man was followed by Bronze Age Man in 2000 B.C. During the Iron Age (800 BC – 50 AD) the Romans arrived in Britain and even reached faraway Anglesey. The Romans left in 400 A.D., and their departure was followed with Christianity and the construction of sturdy stone churches and, later in 1282, the English King Edward I built magnificent castles, one of which stands today on the Welsh island I would visit.
On my first day I rented a car (a Lada) and drove to meet my guide Eluned at her office. We drove in her vehicle to a Museum/Gallery, which was a great interpretive type place for travellers to get acquainted with the island. I talked with Denice Morris, the Principle Heritage Officer for the Borough Council and Gallery and met local artist, Kyffin Williams, who said I could come and visit him at his home studio the next day.   After I left the Lada at the caravan-tenting site I was chauffeured around to and the Sea Zoo aquarium where I saw the largest curved fish tank in the UK.
Kate Joy at the entrance of her family’s hostel.
Kate Joy at the entrance of her family’s hostel.
Next, we visited one of the burial Chambers (Bryun Celli Ddo). This was a late Neolithic religious site built in two stages. The first was a “henge,” with a ditch and stone circle. The second was the building of a stone chamber for the burial of human remains, approached by a passage, and covered by a mound.
In the village of Llanfair P.G., I visited Ian and Celia Skidmore. Ian is a journalist/broadcaster and his wife writes children’s books and newspaper stories. They explained that their tiny village had the second longest official one-work place name in the world - Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychnyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Translated from Welsh, that means  “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave.” The Volvo dealership there has the name written in full on the roof of their show room. Then we visited Church Island and Jac and Marian Roberts at their guesthouse on an old farm. It had been a long first day.
The next morning I visited the Welsh artist at his home. Kyffin uses a pallet knife on most of his paintings, which includes portraits of farmers and landscapes of Welsh mountaintops. I took pictures of Mr. Williams holding some of this work.
I drove to Beaumaris and parked near the castle. Then I met Eluned for lunch at the Bulkley Hotel. From here I took photos of white swans in the moat at the entrance to the Medieval Beaumaris Castle and also shots of sheep in a field behind the castle. The fortress was built as part of Edward I’s campaign to conquer the north of Wales after 1282. Construction of the castle was delayed due to lack of funds and
A Celtic settlement called Din Lligwy.
A Celtic settlement called Din Lligwy.
work only began in 1295. Work finally ceased around 1330 after a total of £15,000 had been spent; a huge sum for the period, but the castle remained incomplete. UNESCO considers Beaumaris to be one of "the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe", and it is classed as a World Heritage site.
Next I had a quick visit to the Museum of Childhood and the Penmon Priory (church), which was a monastery from the 6thcentury, a victim of Viking raids, and a nearby lighthouse where we could see Puffin Island out on the misty water. The island is a bird sanctuary that can only be visited with a special permit.
We drove back to Beaumaris where we phoned the lady from the Sonya Model Agency (not the real name) and I was informed that her models could be hired for 15 pounds per hour. We drove over to the lady’s house, looked at her portfolio
Mr. and Mrs. Joy at the Penmaen Hostel.
Mr. and Mrs. Joy at the Penmaen Hostel.
book, which contained pictures of some of the models, and we discussed locations on the island, how long it would take to travel and exactly what the model would wear. The lady said that there would be a form to sign and that any photos taken on the shoot could not be published in “men’s magazines.” She also mentioned that a percentage would have to be paid at a later date to the models for royalties. I met one of the models at the house and agreed to phone the lady later with the time I would pick her and the model up the next day. I explained that I was a Travel Writer and trying to capture the essence of Wales on the Island of Anglesey.
Eluned could hardly contain herself during the visit with the lady from the Sonya Modeling Agency as I had made jokes about using a helicopter for the “Big Shoot” which the lady and her husband had taken seriously.
We drove to Red Wharf Bay where I photographed boats in the water. Then off to the Penmaen Hostel, the only one on the island. We talked to the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Keith Joy. We had coffee and Eluned left to pick up some of her co-workers. I talked to the Joys about their hostel. I discovered that they were not affiliated with any youth hostel association and they explained the reason. In their teens they had both enjoyed the facilities at many hostels on mainland Europe and did a lot of travelling around. Now that they were older and in a position to “give back” they
Kate, Emma, and Knee try their hand at modeling near their homes on Anglesey.
Kate, Emma, and Knee try their hand at modeling near their homes on Anglesey.
completely renovated a sturdy barn on their property including separate dormitories, common area, laundry and communal kitchen. When they went to apply to be an official Hostel of the International Youth Hostel Association, they were rejected. The reason, apparently, was because the Y.H.A. was downsizing and eliminating many of its long-time hostel locations in England and Wales. However, that did not deter the Joys from opening their hostel.
About an hour later Eluned returned to pick me up to take me to a pub at the Rhostrefor Hotel in Benllech. We joined some of the staff from her office and ordered drinks and dinner. Later, I went to another part of the hotel where a local choir was celebrating the first year of being together as a group. They were all pretty drunk but sang beautifully
and spontaneously.
From the hotel I phoned the lady at the Sonya Model Agency to tell her what time I would be picking her and the model up in the morning. She explained that she decided to change the part of the contract concerning the royalties and that she was willing to eliminate them all together. I would just pay a flat 40 pound fee which would cover all future publications of the pictures of the model. I tried to relate the
Two boys exploring the restored ruins of Din Lligwy.
Two boys exploring the restored ruins of Din Lligwy.
meaning of trust and honesty in a business relationship, but she insisted on the 40 pounds. So I declined and cancelled the Big Shoot. Well, so much for that. Eluned drove me back to the Hostel where I had a good night’s rest.
The next morning I took pictures of Mrs. Joy’s teenage daughter, Kate, on the front steps of the Hostel. Later, I made arrangements to photograph Kate and her two friends. Mrs. Joy picked up the three girls in her van and we all drove to a nearby cove to take portraits. I shot a total of 7 ½ rolls of film. No release forms, no royalties. Nothing. The girls were shy at first but at the end were real pros. Emma, Knee and Kate. I agreed to send copies of the pictures to the girls, which I did. We drove out to a nearby lighthouse and I took more pictures. Mrs. Joy drove the girl back to where they had been staying (a sleep-over).
Talked to Mr. and Mrs. Joy, more about their hostel, packed up my gear, and drove to Beaumaris. I met up with Eluned and we visited an ancient Celtic settlement called “Din Lligwy.” This was a well-preserved example of the type of defended settlement built by the native population of Anglesey during the latter part of the Roman occupation of Wales during the 4th century AD. Later, I had a lovely dinner and Welsh entertainment.
The Medieval, Beaumaris Castle, with the Welsh mainland in the background.
The Medieval, Beaumaris Castle, with the Welsh mainland in the background.
The next day I visited Jac and Marian Robert’s farm and guesthouse, again, where I was to stay that night. Jac took me on a tour of the farm and then Eluned and I drove to South Stack for pictures of a lighthouse there. Later, took pictures and had a visit with two musicians at a pub. They played flute and fiddle. From the pub we went to the Butterfly Farm. Here there were birds, butterflies, lizards and snakes. Then, back to Beaumaris for more pictures of the castle and finally to the guesthouse where Eluned and I reviewed the map of Anglesey and all the places we had been to in the correct order. The day ended with a great dinner served by Marian Roberts.
The next morning I returned the rented car and Eluned drove me all the way to Chester (England) train station, stopping en route at a restaurant, where I insisted on paying; after all, the Borough Council had been paying most of my expenses up until then. We said our good-byes and I took the next train to London. That was the end of my tour of Wales.
When I think of all the travel-writer-freebees I received while visiting on the Island of Anglesey, and of course, having free models that provided the human element for some of my photos, I always think of those two lines in the English rock band Dire Straits’ song, “Money for Nothing” when they sang, “That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it.  Get your money for nothin’ get your chicks for free.”