Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Mynydd Mawr!

I have decided that I should embark on the experience of exploring North Wales as gently as possible and not only take part on the rather overwhelming activities that lie ahead, but try and enjoy some calmer aspects of the area too. Mynydd Mawr, nr Aberdaron or ‘The Land’s End of Wales’ as it is often called, is not somewhere that I had ever thought to visit, however I was told that I must go! This spot is part of the Llyn Coastal Path and I knew to expect an impressive view.......but gosh what a spectacular view it was! The vantage point at Mynydd Mawr boasts a sensational outlook toward Bardsey Island (or Ynys Enlli in Welsh) which is also known as ‘the legendary island of 20,000 saints’; the island is not only beautiful but has important archaeological, spiritual, cultural and wildlife significance. I even managed to make out the (very vague) outline of the Irish Coast from the viewpoint, after it was pointed out to me of course!

But the view is not the only attraction at Mynydd Mawr. The amazing wildlife including the gorse and heather which flower together and the chance of catching sight of a rare chough make this spot a treat for wildlife lovers and bird watchers.  Honestly, I am not strongly interested in either plant life or birds, however I couldn’t help but be amazed by my surroundings and the impressively distinct call of this unusual creature (after a long search I found an audio clip of the chough bird call, so please humour me and take a listen: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/c/chough/index.aspx!)  The coast guard outlook station that can be visited there even has examples of local fauna and flora, it is clear this part of Llyn Peninsula really does cater to those who love nature.

Despite being offered such a wealth of wildlife to enjoy, my real interest focuses on the historical and spiritual aspects of this part of North Wales. I of course knew that the Llyn Peninsula has an ancient Pilgrim trail but I had never studied it any further, let alone thought about visiting a part of it. I have recently been given a comparison of ‘pilgrimage’ to that of a credit card, something which I can relate to! You build up points on your card or in this analogy ‘sins’, and these debts/sins can be gradually paid off, in the case of the sins you do so by visiting sites of pilgrimage. If one was to visit Bardsey Island however, where the Medieval Monastery of St. Mary’s Abby used to be, then all of your credit card history/ previous sins were cleared from your debt...not bad, if only it was so easy to pay off the real credit card bill! If you were unfortunate enough to die on the way to Bardsey, fear not as this was a short cut to wiping your ‘sin slate’ clean and you were to be sent straight to heaven!

The last church visited by the pilgrims on the way to Bardsey Island was St Mary’s Church, the raised foundations of which I got to see on my visit. It really is quite incredible as one can witness exactly where the Church stood, the surroundings also indicate a strong agricultural past as the remains and marks of shallow ridge and furrow crops are clear around the site. 

          In case you can't see them, I'm pointing out where the foundations of the church are!

When I began writing this blog I wanted so find the ‘hidden gems’ of North Wales and I believe that what I saw next truly is one....St Mary’s Well was the last sight to be visited on the way to Bardsey and was seen as a miraculous pool by the Pilgrims , it’s easy to see why. The ‘well’ is concealed in a cove on the very edge of the coast and believe me, is quite awkward to get as I had to scramble across the craggy rock to reach the pool of water. For me, as a person of a slightly clumsy nature I found this quite complicated, and even knowing that if I fell and died I would go straight to heaven was not particularly reassuring!  The well is usually covered by the tide, so it is imperative to check tide times if you wish to take a visit  otherwise the only experience you will have is that of disappointment! The fact that the tide usually covers the well (which is essentially a pool of water in the rock) is the exact reason as to why it is so incredible.  Despite being covered by salt water for the majority of the time, the well is filled with fresh water (I tasted it just to check!). This is due either to a natural spring in the rock or that the well was blessed by St. Mary herself, it does not matter which explanation you choose to believe, either way it’s quite impressive!

Can you spot me by the well?!

The crashing tide against the rock on which I was balancing really did create a spectacular scene and I couldn’t help but be utterly astounded by the effort the Pilgrims made to visit sights such as these. Although Bardsey Island looks fairly near to St Mary’s well, the boat ride which the Pilgrims would take from there must have been treacherous unless the right tides were caught, and even then, I doubt a swift journey in the rowing boat was guaranteed. I really found my visit to Mynydd Mawr worthwhile, but I think I’ll wait for the summer and take an organized ferry trip to Bardsey!

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