Sacred Places of Wales

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Aberdaron and Llyn

At the very western edge of Wales, on the tip of the Llyn Peninsular, you will reach Aberdaron, overlooking the sea. Here you will find the small cafe known as "Y Gegin Fawr" (Uh Geggin Vowr: The Large kitchen) which was for centuries a hostel for pilgrims on their way to the small island named in Welsh "Ynys Enll" (Uniss Enthlee: the island of strong currents) and its ruined Abbey of St. Mary. The name Bardsey is thought to be of Viking origin; in addition to Ynys Enlli, it is also known as The Island of 20,000 Saints.

Today the island is a nature reserve, practically uninhabited except for large colonies of seabirds. For many centuries, however, from the fifth century, Bardsey was a very important ecclesiastical centre and a major place of pilgrimage, so important that two visits to Bardsey (some say three) were equal to one visit to Rome. The first monastery was founded here by St. Cadfan, a Breton in 429 AD. In the early seventh century, when Ethelfrid of Northumbria destroyed the great monastery at Bangor-is-y-Coed (Bangor Ees uh Coid) on the English borders, the surviving monks are believed to have settled here, safe on the remote, windswept island. (Today there is still limited access across the treacherous straits).

The remains of the Augustinian Abbey of St. Mary date from the 13th century. In the churchyard are the graves of some of the 20,000 saints of legend. As the very first monastic community to be founded in the whole of Britain, and as one of the most visited holy places in medieval Wales, the sacred Island of Bardsey fully deserves its place on your pilgrimage.

You will now turn eastwards back through the gentle, peaceful countryside of Llyn, through the majestic mountains called "Yr Eifl" (Ur Eye vul: the forks) that drop abruptly into the sea. On the slopes of the east peak of the mountain is Tre'r Ceiri (Tray'r Kayree), "the town of Giants," the best-preserved Iron Age hill fort in Wales. Originally, the five-acre site was enclosed by walls, some of whose remains still stand at 15 ft. high. The village dates from about the second century BC, but was still in use at the time of the Roman occupation of Britain.

Within the walls of Tre'r Ceiri are the remains of some 50 stone huts and outside the ramparts are the well-defined cattle enclosures. To reach the fort, take a short, but steep walk from the roadside. There is no official parking place, but you can squeeze into a narrow spot against the hedge on the very narrow but picturesque B4417 that leads from Llanaelhaearn (Thlan isle High arn) to the resort village of Nefyn (Nevin). You will turn at Llanaelhaern off the main A499 from Caernarfon to Pwllheli (Pooth Hellee). You will be rewarded with one of the finest mountain views in Britain.

Just at the village of Llithfaen (Thleeth vine), opposite the Victoria, its only pub, a narrow road takes you first up the slopes of Yr Eifl and then down a steep, narrow incline to the abandoned quarrying community of Nant Gwrtheyrn (Nant Goorthairn). It is now re-opened after many years of abandonment and neglect as the National Language Centre of Wales. Here one can spend time learning the Welsh language in a restored quarrymen's cottage. Weekend courses are especially popular with businessmen and adult learners.

The centre is named after the British leader Vortigern, who supposedly sought refuge here and was supposedly drowned, trying to escape the fires that came down from the angry Celtic gods to destroy his palace (Vortigern is held responsible for inviting the Saxons to the shores of Britain). One of the last residents of the old village helped guard Irish rebel leader De Valera in Lincoln Gaol during the early days of World War I and his stories of village, always told in the Welsh language, enthralled many visitors to the language centre in the early 1990's.

People from all parts of Wales (and many from other countries) come here to learn the Welsh language in an ideal setting. You are on your way, however, to the other Welsh religious settlement to have been named Bangor. As usual, there are a few very necessary stops you have to make as part of your modern pilgrimage, the first one at Clynnog Fawr.

At Clynnog Fawr (Klunnog Vowr), on the road to Caernarfon, the Church is dedicated to St. Beuno (St. Bine-o), Wales' second most revered saint after St. David. Completely dominating the present village, the church marks an important place of rest for medieval pilgrims on their way to or from Bardsay. Founded in 616 AD, St. Beuno's Church may have originally been monastic, but had become collegiate by the year 1291, though the present building dates only to the late 1500's after the Dissolution.

The tomb of St. Beuno was destroyed by a fire in 1856 but was restored 50 years later. Local tradition tells us that the stone with a cross was given to Beuno by a Prince of Gwynedd. The church contains a curious dugout chest known as St. Beuno's Chest. Beside the roadside not too far from the church is St. Beuno's Well, a spring where the Welsh 18th century historian and naturalist Thomas Pennant claimed to have seen the healing of a paralytic.

After leaving Clynnog Fawr, to continue your journey to Bangor, you will soon come to the shores of the Menai Straits (Afon Menai: Av onn Men Aye) that separate the island of Anglesey (Ynys Mon: Uniss Mon) from the Welsh mainland. A short detour off the main highway will bring you face to face with one of Edward I's mightiest strongholds, the castle at Caernarfon, a World Heritage Site.

Next Stop: Caernarfon
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