The History of the Menai Strait

Posted: 28th January, 2022

What makes Anglesey an island is the Menai Strait. The narrow, 24 kilometre stretch of water separates it from mainland Wales and to many, when spotted, provides the first pang of excitement on the approach to the beautiful island. 

However, historically it was seen as more of a logistical inconvenience, one that was eventually overcome, to link the riches of Anglesey and beyond to the mainland more substantially.

Stories of disastrous ferry crossings and even herding livestock across the Strait during low tides finally came to an end in the early 1800s.

Menai Bridge

Completed in 1826, the bridge was designed by famed civil engineer of the day, Thomas Telford. Telford was tasked with finding a way of shortening the travel time between London and Holyhead, for those travelling back and forth from Dublin With Ireland having recently become part of the British Empire (1800), travel and trade had increased. 

The Menai Strait proved the biggest hurdle, with only ferry travel available at the time. This was more difficult than the short distance seemed, with the challenge of two different tidal currents and four tidal shifts per day. Telford concluded that a bridge linking Anglesey to the Welsh mainland was the best way forward. His design would become the world’s first major suspension bridge and reduced the London to Holyhead (A5) travel time nine hours, from its then 36 hours, yes 36!

Still in use today, the structure is grade 1 listed and stands opposite the only other crossing to Anglesey, Britannia Bridge (Pont Britannia).

Menai Bridge and Snowdonia in the background

Menai Bridge at night

Britannia Bridge 

Completed in 1850 and designed by railway pioneer Robert Stephenson, it was created to connect Anglesey to the mainland rail network to further improve travel to Holyhead. With railways advancing the way we travelled in the Victorian era, further connecting Holyhead London was vital.  

The original bridge remained in place until the 1970s, when a fire all but destroyed the original. Years of rebuilding led first to it’s reopening (1972) and then to an upgrade, with a second deck. Opening in 1980, the upper deck was created to accommodate car traffic, with rail traffic running underneath, as it does today. 

Both stand as important historical developments, not just because of their ingenuity, but also because of the role they took, and continue to take in linking Anglesey to the Welsh mainland. 

The Britannia Bridge

The Britannia Bridge

So, next time you visit us at either of our sites, remember that the travel time to the Strait and it’s crossings is just a 30 minute drive from Rhoscolyn and a little over 20 minutes from Lligwy.