Belgian Promenade, Menai Bridge

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Belgian Promenade, Menai Bridge

During the First World War, refugees from German-occupied Mechelen (or Malines) in Belgium were accommodated in Menai Bridge. In gratitude for the town’s hospitality, they built this promenade along the Menai Strait from Ynys Tysilio (Church Island) to Carreg yr Halen, completing it in 1916. 

It was rebuilt in 1963. The ceremonial reopening in 1965 was performed by the only surviving refugee, Eduard Wilhelms. The promenade was resurfaced in 2000 as part of a millennium project.

The 63 Belgian refugees – men, women and children – arrived by train in October 1914 and were greeted in French by the Bishop of Bangor. From Menai Bridge station (south of the Strait), road vehicles took them to the town, passing Royal Welsh Fusiliers who provided a guard of honour on both bridges. At the New Hall in Menai Bridge, the refugees were welcomed by a crowd and given a hearty meal. When the local band played the Belgian national anthem, many of the refugees cried.

Most of the refugees lived at three houses in Menai Bridge, with 12 housed at the Village Hall in Llandegfan. Most of the men were skilled in marquetry (decorative use of small pieces of wood).

As you view the Strait from the promenade, look for signs of churning water. The water between the Menai Suspension Bridge and Britannia Bridge is particularly dangerous to mariners, because the tides at each end of the Strait are usually at different heights. Water flowing in or out of one end often conflicts with that going to or from the other. One name for this stretch is the Swillies (or Swellies), which refers to a whirlpool. The name is preserved in the name of a house on the path which rises from Carreg yr Halen (at the end of the promenade) to the Anglesey Arms.

Another name for the Swillies was Pwll Ceris (probably “cherry pool”), with Ceris still the name of a large red-brick house on the Anglesey side, below which the training ship HMS Conway went aground on the rocks called The Platters in 1953. You can read more about this wreck, and see photos of it, here.

The two names Swillies and Ceris prompted some learned people to guess that these were references to the dangerous rocks Scylla and Charybdis of classical mythology!

With thanks to Prof Hywel Wyn Owen, of the Welsh Place-Name Society, and Menai Bridge Town Council

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