There’s something about following a Pilgrim’s Trail which appeals to my non Christian sense of adventure in the same way as a long distance trod like The Pennine Way or the Coast to Coast walk. Probably, because these ancient trails more often than not, meander through quiet backwaters and take it some stunning locations, with ancient churches, holy wells and shrines thrown in for good measure.
The Lleyn Peninsular Pilgrim’s trail is not exactly the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St James) in Northern Spain which sees hundreds of thousands of walkers following its course every year, but in its own way, this 47 mile walk which essentially follows a coastal pathway, takes in some equally spectacular scenery with the added bonus that throughout most of the trail, you won’t encounter many fellow ‘pilgrims’.
The trail starts at Clynnog Fawr at the 12th century church dedicated to St Beuno , THE main man hereabouts when it comes to divine beings. This 7th century Abbot, healer and all round good egg could- legend has it- heal the sick and raise the dead. Excellent qualifications it appears, for beatification after death. The church dedicated to him is pretty huge by country church standards. Resembling a small cathedral, it dominates the village in its scale.
From Clynnog the trail meanders along the wild coastline, passing through Trefor and the near 2000’ Yr Eifl peaks to reach another of Beuno’s holy places. The stunning little church of Pistyll.
Open the heavy oak door and your olfactory senses are assailed with the smell of lavender and herbs. Here Beuno is said to have grown herbs in the garden cum graveyard, to heal the sick and balm the wounded. Nestling in a hollow in the hills, the little church’s western walls are windowless to protect it from the squalls which whip in from the Atlantic to gain velocity over the Irish Sea before crashing into the Peninsular. It’s no wonder the Lleyn often features on the national weather forecasts when wind speeds are mentioned.
From Pistyll, the way weaves around the coast, passing through Nefyn before reaching out to Porthdinllaen where the famous Ty Goch ‘pub on the beach’ attracts both punters and the odd celeb. Including Cam and Sam, Corries 'Ken Barlow',and Hollywood’s Demi Moore.
It’s hard for those not familiar with the Lleyn Peninsular to differentiate it from Cornwall. Same shape- an arm of land jutting out into the sea- same gulf stream kissed climate, same meandering dramatic coastline featuring rugged cliffs, quiet inaccessible bays and coastal villages. You will find a lot more people hereabouts speaking Welsh than you’ll hear Cornish spoken in Cornwall though!
The trail continue through RS Thomas country- the remote environs around Aberdaron- to conclude with a boat trip to Bardsey Island. ‘The Island of 20000 saints’ who are buried here....apparently. The Pilgrim’s Trail is said to take four or five days of walking although I’m sure as I write some lean, mean running machine will have done it in a day!
But a voice sounds to my ear: Why so fast,mortal?
These very seas are baptised. The Parish has a saint's
name time cannot unfrock.
In cities that have outgrown their promise people are
becoming pilgrims again, if not in this place then to the
recreation of it in their own spirits.
You must remain kneeling.Even as the moon making its
way through the earth's cumbersome shadow, prayer too
has it phases.
RS Thomas from 'The Moon in Lleyn'