Monthly Archives: May 2014

Bardsey / Ynys Enlli ” the island of tides”

The final day of this year’s pilgrimage.  11 of us meet in the church at Aberdaron for a short period of prayer and silence. We then head off up onto the clifftop path that will take us to the pick up point for the boat that will take us accross the Sound to the island. It is a mere 2km away but it can be a treacherous span of sea and islanders can be cut off for weeks at a time. Today however the sea is like a mill pond and Colin the boatsman soon has us safely accross. There is a mist and low cloud over the island, but as we begin our walk accross the sun begins to shine through. We stop for coffee at the farmm and two domestic goats join us!

We continue on to the chapel, which is non-denominational, and here we celebrate with communion, using a thermos flask cup as a chalice! It is a joyous celebration and we take time to think prayerfully about the past days of our pilgrimage. We wander through the graveyard where there is the cross bearing the carved  memorial to the 20,000 saints buried here. In medieval times 3 trips to Bardsey was considered the equivalent to 1 visit to Rome.  We then track up to the highest point Mynydd Mawr just 167m above sea level. The views from the summit are astounding.  There is a low cloud base through which the peaks of Snowdonia emerge to the east, and the mountains of Wicklow to the west. We can also see Holyhead mountain on Anglesey ahead of us.Below coming accross the Sound is the boat bringing new sheep to the island! We enjoy our picnic high above the sea and then it is time for us to meet the boat again. Seals are basking off the shore.

Colin delights us by slowing down the engines as we pass the cliffs so that we have wonderful   sight of the razorbills, guillemots,  and puffins that nest here.Puffins swim around like bathtime toys, and razorbills dart by flapping their wings 9 times per second. So we arrive once more on the mainland. The island was idyllic today, but it is remote and must be a hard place to endure in stormy weather.

Our journey has ended. The affinity with nature for almost 2 weeks has been wonderful. The felllwship of fellow pilgrims and other friends has been tremendous. 

I haven’t worn a watch for almost 2 weeks, and I feel very privileged to have been able to undertame this journey.i have also been able to raise about £1000 for St Kentigern’s Hospice.  All in all a fabulous 13 days.





Final day of walking. Tudweiliog to Aberdarron 12 miles

It doesn’t seem possible that we are on the final day of walking. 4 of us have walked the entire route, but we have had many come and join us for days here and there. Today 10 of us set off on the final leg fromTudweiliog to Aberdarron. It is a fine day as we head out to the headland and the coastal path. It is still wIth little breeze, and the sea below is like a mill pond.Jenny has rejoined us and Chris will meet us at Whistling Sands. They have been the leading lights of the instigation of this pilgrimage,  and we have missed them on this year’s journey. We stop on the headland where there is the ruin of an old house and here we have our service. Karen and I have now got into a rhythm of reading, prayer and silence. A reading from St Augustine seems appropriate as Karen and I have sung our way for the last 7 days. “So, brethren, let us sing alleluia now, not in the enjoyment of heavenly rest but to sweeten our toil. Sing as travellers sing along the road, but keep on walking. Sing, but keep on walking…….” And so we continue to sing as we walk along the wonderful clifftops, looking out upon a glassy sea with  only the sound of oyster catchers punctuating the silence.Flowers still carpet our way and we are delighted with the abundance of purple orchids. The route is undulating,  dipping down over  small creeks and clambering up the opposite banks. At times we get onto the beach and wander awhile before clambering up onto the clifftops once more. We picnic high above the shore enjoying the seascape before us.

We are due to meet Chris and Pat and Catrin at Whistling Sands but our timing is skewed and we eventually arrive after 4pm. The sands live up to their reputation and whistle as we walk over them towards the cafe where we are rewarded with tea and ice creams. We sit awhile enjoying the respite before we head uphill to regain the route to Aberdarron. We are tired now and the road seems never ending. But soon we see the sea ahead and Aberdarron is within our grasp.It is a perfect evening as we approach and Val and Derfel meet us as we approach.

Alun, our host at the Ship, where we are staying tonight greets us as old friends.  We head for the church and are welcomed with tea and cakes, this is a true homecoming.  We share in a short service, and then meet again for dinner at the Ship. 13 of us in all. And so to bed after a long and happy day. Tomorrow we will hopefully be on Bardsey the destination of our pilgrimage. 


Nefyn to Tudweiliog

The Rev Richard Woods is at  St David’s church in Nefyn to set the 8 of us off on our day with prayers. He had been with us yesterday at Pistyll.  He is setting out for Scotland today on holiday so we are very grateful to him. But this is not the only gift he brings us, he brings us a gift of chocolate digestives as he heard Mike moan about our plain digestives yesterday!

We head on to the coastal path which we will follow now pretty much all the way to Aberdarron.  It is a perfect day. The sky is blue and there is only the occassion slight breeze.  We look back to the Rivals that we crossed yesterday, and ahead we soon see the idyllic setting of Porthdinllaen, where will stop for coffee. The flowers along the way are wonderful, and I promise myself I will look them all up when I get home. I do remember the names of some of them from the days when I was a little girl and my grandfather took me walking, but there are glaring gaps in my knowledge. There are pillows of pink sea thrift and carpets of blue vernal squills. Bluebells still abound in places, and primroses  cling to the sides of the cliffs. Below there are cormorants and seagulls, and oyster catchers flying and calling out in their distinctive cry. We arrive at Porthdinllaen and enjoy our coffee.  The Ty Coch pub on the beach is said to be one of the world’s finest beachbars. We carry on to the new lifeboat station which is a splendid new building with a new boat ready, for any emergency.  I think about how times have changed since Grace Darling famously rescued the sailors. How many courageous men, and women, braved the elements to go to the aid of those in danger at sea.

We walk over the golf course at Morfa Nefyn.  Golf being a good walk spoiled according to Gladstone! I think of my lovely neighbour Sheila who enjoys playing golf so much, but at the moment is not able to as she is caring for her sick husband. I know Sheila has played this course and would dearly love to be playing on it on such a glorious day.

Over the headland and we descend to a delighful cove. Two Shell Ducks are spotted as we approach. We settle down for our picnic and then Karen and I conduct our little service that has become the pattern of these past days. A heavenly spot, a thin place, where between the prayers and readings we can reflect in silence. Our reflection today is on the people who have accompanied us at different times of our life journeys. The silence here is broken only by the rippling litle river heading to the sea, and the song of the birds.

Suitably refreshed we head back up to the clifftop and knowing that we have only a few easy miles to cover, we wander along enjoying every aspect of this scenic route. There are seals on the rocks below, some adults but many pups. We hear them calling against the sound of the sea and the gulls. We watch them for a while before finally walking on to Tudweiliog,  our destination for today.

We have time for a leisurely bath and rest before meeting everyone for dinner tonight. Chris and Jenny have arrived, so they join us and it is great to see them again. It’s been strange not having them with us all the way this year, especially as they have been the driving force behind this venture, and Chris our spiritual leader. But I think we have been able to maintain the integrity of the pilgrimage and I feel confident that it will flourish and grow.

Tomorrow we arrive in Aberdarron.  There will be mixed feelings about journey’s end, but also anticipation of the crossing to Bardsey.

Trefor to Nefyn and the Rivals

We set off from Trefor along the coastal path round the headland. There are dark clouds looming over the Rivals. As we reach a high point on the headland we find a sheltered spot for our service. We start with a reading that includes “Help us to hear the cry of the earth, the water and the air. Help us to notice small things, as part of your bigger picture.  Help us to heal not harm, to give not take, to act, not acquiesce  that gifts may be given, received and valued, that your Spirit  may inspire and sustain our flourishing” and Karen leads the prayers and encourages us to reflect on the gifts of this pilgrimage. The sound of the sea fills the silence.

So we continue along the coast enjoying the seascape and the gentle walking. Choughs and oyster catchers fly overhead and cormorants duck and dive. There are carpets of the tiniest flowers underfoot, pinks and yellows and blues. It is a joy to be walking on relatively dry ground! Soon we are starting our ascent of the Rivals. My enduring memory of this uphill stretch 4years ago on the first pilgrimage is having walked 14 miles already and then making the ascent. I have climbed it twice since but the memory lingers! I am assured that we have had steeper climbs over the past few days, but that doesn’t make it feel any  less daunting! But we stop for coffee before the final pull and enjoy the rest and the views. The clouds are still hanging over the tops and we fear the views from the top will be obliterated,  or worse still it might rain! But we reach the top with no rain and the views are still worth the climb.

We are now on the downhill stretch overlooking Nant Gwytherin,  which was once the home to the slateworkers, and now wonderfully restored, and home to the Welsh language centre. On previous occasions we have descended to the centre and climbed out the other side, but that really is a step too far for us today. The clouds begin to break and we have no rain. We push on along the clifftop fields to the ancient church of St Bueno at  Pistyll. This old church nestles in a little hollow overlooking the sea beyond. The vicar, Richard Woods is waiting to greet us. By now the sun is high and warm and we enjoy our picnic sitting outside the church.One of the largest tombstones in the graveyard is that of Rupert Davies of Maigret fame. Richard then invites us into the church for a short service. The stone floor is strewn with rushes, and sunlight pours through the windows. Prayers, readings and silence follow. Outside a chaffinch sings throughout, the only sound to punctuate the silence.

Time to leave and continue our journey. It is a glorious afternoon and we are able to take our time. We come upon a delightful spot where yellow marsh irises bloom, and gunnera grows almost incongruously on this bracken covered hillside. A picnic table and benches allow us to sit awhile.

And so we arrive at Nefyn and ice creams are the order of the day. We are back at the Lion in good time, and John arrives in time to be with us for dinner.




Penygroes to Trefor

Today I leave home in rain yet again and wonder whether I can cope with yet another walk on the wild and wet side! John is not able to be with me for the next 2 days so drops me off at Mike’s and we head off in the rain to join the rest of the group at Penygroes.  Waterproofs come out and 11 of us set out through the unremarkable Penygroes.  it is a grey characterless town that seems to be in a 50s time warp. We decide not to hold our little service here in the car park, but to wait until we get to the pilgrim church of St Bueno af Clynog Fawr.

Soon we are in open countryside though and the clouds break and the sun begins to shine. This is going to be a good day

3 ramblers have joined us today and as is their wont they stride ahead. The topography has changed and we are walking through rich meadowland which is easy on the feet and the eyes! Our first break of the day is for coffee, and it’s extraordinary how the now familiar places welcome us. By now the sun is warm and the sky blue with cotton wool  clouds gently passing overhead. The waterproofs come off and we are able to walk at last without the constraints of too many layers.

The  views are more gentle than those of recent days with the sea now our constant companion below us. Ahead the Rivals dominate the horizon.  The differing shades of the gorse, bracken and slate bneath the blue sky make a wonderful tapestry of colour. We pass through fields of sheep and cattle, and at times the young bullocks are frisky, coming as close as they dare before turning tail and running off. The sheep on these fields high above the sea seem so much whiter and woolier than those anywhere else!

Our lunch stop is well chosen by Ron, and we enjoy the views as we eat. It seems appriate to have a reading before we leave, and we all stand in a circle to listen to one of the readings that Sally had provided for us when we were at Llangernwy.  A quote from it reads”And the love and power of God is speaking to us through all of creation….the grass, the animals, the rocks, the trees, the rivers and streams, the sun, the moon, stars oceans…..we see and yet we do not see…..” How very true. How often do we allow ourselves the time to stop and wonder at God’s wonderful creation?

We are soon heading in to Clynog Fawr and Nick receives a phone call saying we were expected at 12pm! We had not realised this and are embarrassed as it is now 1.30pm. As we approach the bells peal out to welcome us and we are greeted warmly and offered refreshment. St Buenos is the oldest Tudor church in Wales. It is a huge church in such a tiny village. There are two schools of thought about this. One is that it was  built for pilgrims,  as Clynog Fawr is the gathering place of all the routes to Bardsey. The other is that at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries the monks had the foresight to sell all thier extensive lands and invest the money into the building of the church, thus ensjring that the king would not be able to get his hands on it.I am inclined to go with the business minded monks! The Rev Jones shows us round the church and then takes us on to the holy well of St Bueno where he conducts a beautiful short service and also blesses a newly commissioned pot that will hold holy water at the entrance of the church. He takes photographs of us as he says we are authentic pilgrims!

Our journey continues at first along the road  but soon we head down to the coast and with the Rivals still beckoning we walk the length of the beach to Trefor.  I am suddenly aware that Katherine appears to have fallen in the mud. She hasn’t,  but she has sunk up to her knees in it. She’s unable to extract herself but Nick is on hand to help her. It was a scarry experience for her.Katherine has joined us from Chester and had brought her tent with her, but earlier in the day Judith had offered her hospitality in her home which Katherine had accepted. Just as well in the circumstances! And this act of generous hospitality is a characteristic of the fellowship of the pilgrimage.

We arrive at the Lion at Tudweiliog which will be our home for the next 3 nights. Mike, Karen and I enjoy a meal together. We bid our goodnights early. As I reflect on the past 10 days I think of the extraordinary range of scenery, weather and people we have encountered on the journey so far.IMG_2091

Day 8 Llanberis to Penygroes

Another very rainy day. There are just 7 of us today and the rain is torrential.  We have our short service in the shelter of the eaves of the church and then set off on the uphill climb out of Llanberis.  The clouds hang low over the mountains obliterating the views we might have had. By the time we reach the top my boots are completely sodden.

Karen and I decide that as it’s Sunday we should celebrate  by singing hymns. we start off with ” O Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways. Reclothe us in our rightful minds………” at which point we burst out lauhing at the words! We can’t possibly be in our right minds!! So we change tack and sing “All things bright and beautiful…….” to the sheep! Mad we are but we are now singing anything that comes into our heads and we are glowing and warm despite the sodden feet. The way ahead is not so bad.

We pass by the place we would have stopped for a coffee break as it is so exposed and there is no respite in the rain. And so we head on, mercifully downhill now, to Waunfawr and the little station on the mountain railway track. There is shelter here for us to enjoy our picnic.  As we are leaving the train for Caernarfon chugs in, white smoke billowing in the wind.

As we head out of Waunfawr,  Ron and John, the 2 ramblers stride out ahead as they are keen to get back. This causes some confusion  and so we manage to lose sight of John L and wonder whether he has followed the other 2 or whether he has got lost. We try calling but he doesn’t answer his phone. Mike decides to go down the road to look for him while Nick leads Karen and I up onto the hillside route. . The climb up the hill is steep and the 2 ladder stiles are a challenge in the wet! But the woods on this stretch are a picture of vibrant green moss that covers the stones and boughs of the trees. Once we are through the woods we are on open moorland once again. At the brow of the hill there are some ruins where we find John waiting for us. In the meantime Mike has had an unnecessary detour

Now there are just the 5 of us and we plod on over marshy moor, and the rain just keeps on. A cuckoo persistently calls but we don’t see him. Out of nowhere comes the sound of roaring motorbikes and suddenly we seem to be in the middle of a racing circuit! We manage to  miss each other! We stop for a rest at the large boulders before heading on down to Penygroes. In the distance are the Rivals which we will cross on Tuesday morning. Our first sight of them had been from Abergwyngregin last Friday. 

I manage to slip on the mud on the final stretch,  and so we arrive at our cars, muddy, wet, tired and all ready to start again tomorrow. In spite of the weather conditions, the companionship, and uplifting spirits have carried us through. We are lucky as we are able to have hot showers and  a clean change of clothes, not to mention a  good meal. How did those early pilgrims mange? Were they provided with hospitality on the way? Was their driving force very different from ours? 

Day 7 Bangor to Llanberis 12 miles

“May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. May the rains fall softly on your fields and gardens. And until we meet again may God hold you in the hollow of her hand. AMEN”

With this blessing from Sue Jones the Dean, we set off from Bangor cathedral. 13 of us today. We were perhaps lulled into a false sense off security about the weather, for though the forecast was not good, we wallked in fine weather until lunch time. The road did rise up to meet us, and we did get a brief moment of warm sun on our faces! Then the rain came! And it was not falling softly, or gently but was driving and sharp on the face.

The route over the moors is exposed and rugged and we were getting blown and buffeted along. But in spite of this atrocious weather there is something wonderful about being at one with the natural world. And I am thankful that I am physically able to make this journey.The varying shades of green over the moorland are vibrant and fresh. The distant mountains are mysterious as the clouds wrap round  them, shrouding them in white blankets.

We know we have a treat in store as we come off the moorland.  Stuart, who is vicar of Llanassa in Denbighshire, has a house he is renovating just above Llanberis overlooking the lake, and he has invited us for refreshments.  He and his wife and dauhters welcome us with tea and coffee and the most delicious home made cakes. The house is warmed by a log burner and we steam beautifully before putting all our wet togs on again for the descent through the woods to Llanberis. 

Rhian who joined us today has twisted her knee and Stuart kindly transports her back to Llanberis by car.  The same thing happened last year with another 1 day pilgrim! We descend on foot. It is a tricky path as the slate is wet and slippery. But the woods are magical. Green verdant moss and distorted trees resting on carpets of bluebells. The lake is below us and Llanberis is nestling beneath the shrouded mountains.Image

A wet and at times a wild day, but I shall sleep well tonight!

Day 6 Rowen to Abergwyngregin

Well inevitably the rain had to hit us and today was the day!

Our starting point today was Zion Chapel in Rowen. This chapel was built at the height of Nonconformism in Wales at a time when there were more seats in chapels than the population of Wales! This chapel has a seating capacity of over 300. As with all nonconformist chapels the focal point is the pulpit and at this chapel the floor is sloping theatre stile, so that everyone has a good view of the preacher! But the 10 of us who set off this morning just enjoyed a brief reflection

“My journey is always beginning, a fresh new day, on an old, old path. That’s the blessing, that’s where the hope  lossoms. However muchI wandered yesterday I can start again tomorrow, and when all my tomorrows are used up, I’ll still have travelled.  It’s the journey that counts, not the arriving.” (Mary Fleeson Lindisfarne)

And so our fresh new days begins with a strenuous uphill haul to the ancient church of St Celynin at Llangelynin.  This is probably on of the most remote churches in Wales lying just over 900feet above the Conwy valley.  It dates from the 12th century. Ron gathers us so that we can all arrive at this holy place as one. This is the place where we hold our short service today. And so after our coffee break we are both physically and spiritually refreshed.

We have a wonderful walk across the moorland and the call of a cuckoo accompanies us on our way. The views are tremendous and atmospheric with the gathering clouds. We are lucky to find a resting place against an ancient stone wall for lunch and the sun warms us.

Our journey continues and Ron points out the prehistoric stone circles of 5 stones that he says are calles Irish stone circles

The rain is not held at bay for long though and soon we are heading into driving rain. The waterporoofs are really put to the test. It’s an uphill struggle now against wind and rain. But it is not cold so although we are drenched we are still smiling!

And then as we descend again to the end of today’s journey the sun comes out. Image

Day 5 Llangrnwy to Rowen 11 miles and 13 stiles

I have an hour to kill in Llangrnwy this morning before the walk starts, and I sit under the ancient yew that is said to be 4,000 years old, and the oldest living yew in Wales. I wonder how many stories this ancient tree could tell! How many pilgrims have sought shelter under it before me? How wonderful that it is still there.

There are just 9 of us gathered in the beautiful old church of St Digain. St Digain was the son of the 5th century saint Cytenyn Gorneu, and again Sally leads us in prayer to set us on our way.

The walk out of Llangernwy takes us through vibrantly yellow gorse bushes, but thankfully the way has been somewhat cleared since our first year when we had to battle our way through the prickly branches. Todays walk is considerably less strenuous than yesterday, which is a relief! Rain threatens from time to time but we are lucky and really only catch a brief shower or two. 

The Conwy valley opens up and the mountains beyond are silhouetted on the skyline. Our lunch stop is on an old track that was once sheltered by hedgerows.  These have gone since last year, but thankfully we notice that new hedging has been planted. So without the hedges our view is uninterrupted.  Reenergised we head on to Eglwysbach where we are once again greeted with wonderful hospitality and Eirlys’s home made Bakewell tart  to die for! Another recharge of the batteries and we set off for Rowen, knowing that tomorrow we have the uphill pull to Llangelellyn

Day 4 Llansannan to Llangernwy 13 miles and 19 stiles!

“People travel to wander at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at tne circular motin of the stars, and they pass themselves by without wondering. ”    So said St Augustine, and what a wonderful reflection for the start of our day.

Sally led the prayers for us this morning with this reflection. 11 of us then set off. We lost 6 from yesterday but gained another 3 today. Such an ebb and flow of people which is wonderful.

As we walked today we could wonder at the mountains of the Snowdonia range kn the distance and the rivers running their courses. I could also wonder at the mighty wind turbines, that even though contraversial have an awsome wonder about them as they appear majestically and mysteriously on the moorland horizen. 

It’s an uphill route for much of the day, but at least the weather is fine. The first year we battled aginst howling gales and horizontal rain and were literlly soaked to the skin. Mike asks if I can hear a strange noise. I can’t.  He then says he thinks it’s the echo of John’s grumbling that year!

At last we reach the perfect spot for coffee and the Pilgrim’s bench. A solitary carved pilgrim is seated on a bench reflecting on his books. This is part of an art project and is a wonderful sight with a vast panoramic view. Katy’s farm is adjacent and she comes to greet us.

We are now on a tight schedule to reach Gwytherin for lunch at the chapel that Alison has so lovingly restored as an art centre. Each year Alison has offerd hospitality and perhaps more importantly a wonderful loo that she has provided for the community! 

It’s an uphill pull out of Gwytherin. The flowers are still abundant and primrose banks are still in bloom. The sounds of the countryside are obliterated as jets scream by presumably on training excercise.  And again I wonder, this time at the marvel of such machines, even though they are for a deadly purpose.

Eventually we are on the level. It is 4pm and Ron had said that we would have no more climbing after 4pm and he was right! We are met by Sally and Lorraine,  her curate, and Lorraine’s 4 children who accompany us through the enchanting woods, where we meet another carved pilgrim. This one is in a tree pointing out the direction for us!

Jack , one of the children,has run ahead at this point and rings the church bell to welcome as we wearily arrive at Gwytherin,  already to return again tomorrow and start all over again!Image