Tuesday, May 19, 2015

In a Quiet Place:Wandering the Lleyn Pilgrim Trail

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'


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Animal Rights Zealots and the Green Horses

I think I can safely classify myself as an animal lover. We’ve got three horses-two of which were rescued, four cats-two or which arrived on our doorstep as tiny kittens; probably dumped; a Springer who came from the Springer Rescue society after being rescued by the RSPCA. He’d spent the first six months of his life locked in a shed in terrible conditions. On top of that I’ve created wildlife zones and a pond, built and erected owl and small bird boxes around the place. We support The World Horse Welfare, the horse charity where our cob ‘Bill’ came from, and last year planted a small patch with saplings and daffodils which will also be a pet cemetery. Our poor old cat, Bella who died a few months ago is the first client!

On the social media, quite naturally I have a lot of animal loving friends; from people like myself to total zealots. These ‘ultras’ are usually harmless enough if lacking any perceivable sense of humour. An example of this occurred today when someone posted a picture of The Green Party using two horses to pull flat-bed carts which provoked a sadly predictable explosion of ignorant, hysterical outrage at this outrageous act of animal cruelty.

Sadly, the animal rights people who take issue with this know nothing about horses or the real welfare issues which have arisen in recent years since the economic crisis of 2008. Ten of thousands of horses are being dumped, abandoned or starved because their owners simply cannot afford to keep them. Horse welfare charities like WHF simply cannot cope anymore as they just don’t have the facilities, funds or staff to save every horse. Given the terrible condition of horses and ponies who come into their care, the charity would find the suggestion that two obviously healthy,cared for horses pulling empty carts are being mistreated, quite risible in the circumstances.

Horses are incredibly strong and sociable beasts who would not be phased in the slightest by being pressed into service like this. Old and sick horses excepted-they would also appreciate the exercise as quite often, if they are based in an urban setting, they will inevitably be restricted to a yard or stable. I can only guess that these two horses probably enjoyed the day out and the attention.

Zealotry in any form is a pretty dangerous thing; especially allied to ignorance and hysteria. Supporting animal rights is to be commended but being outraged and offended by something which is not even close to being an act of  animal cruelty goes to show that the dumbest animals usually just have two legs and an incredibly tiny brain!