Thursday, December 10, 2009

#2 Ynys Enlli, Wales: The Pilgrimage to the Isle of 20,000 Saints

My life is turning upside down right now, and I am wondering what comes next. What my future years will be filled with. I guess I am a little lost. One of the things I find myself wanting to do is walk to weird and wonderful places - places filled with magic and romance (truly using the word romance in its classical sense, that is.)

Why do lost people go on long walks into the unknown? Why does the aborigine use the confusing season of the transition into manhood to send young men on walkabouts? Why do religious seekers go on pilgrimages to strange and distant places?

I suppose like lost souls before me, I really am concerned with the "why" right now, and less with the where. My first of the 1,000 things is to go the top of Cadair Idris to spend the night and become a poet. This, my second "where" starts only a couple hours drive away from Cadair Idris at Caernarfon Castle in Caernarfon, North Wales.

Caernarfon Castle breaks my heart. It is a sadly beautiful and haunting place. I cried openly when I visited there 4 years ago.

Within its walls is housed a Prince of Wales exhibition. It begins with the death of the last native born Prince of Wales Llywelyn ap Gruffud on December 11, 1282. After his betrayal, the English crown established their own Prince. The English Prince of Wales was suppose to have spoken no language but Welsh throughout his life, but that never happened, and it is only a side note of the exhibit.

Caernarfon is a fitting beginning for a pilgrimage to one of the holiest sites in Celtic Christendom: Ynys Enlli, or Bardsey Isle. The walk begins in infamy, and ends in the distant memory of ancient glory.

Ynys Enlli lies 1.9 miles off the tip of the Llyn Penninsula. It's name in Welsh means Isle of Currents, but the Viking name given to it (Bardsey) may refer to the place of the bards.

Stretching down the northern coast of the Llyn Penninsula (variant English spelling: Lleyn) a walking trail hugs the rugged coast of the Irish Sea. From the walls of Caernarfon to the town of Aberdaron is 60 miles. At Aberdaron the ferry leaves for Ynys Enlli. This is a walk through the heart of Welsh speaking Wales, and a trip from castle to castle with views of some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the world.

Ynys Enlli is called the Isle of 20,000 saints, who are said to be buried beneath its soil. In 546 St. Cadfan established a monastery there, and by middle ages it was declared that three pilgrimages to Ynys Enlli was equal to one pilgrimage to Rome. In this mythological and historical mix the legends of King Arthur join the Celtic Age of the Saints. Some believe that the real Arthur and Merlin were here on Ynys Enlli as well. Here Arthur was brought to be healed after the battle at Camlan, and Merlin is supposedly exiled on this same isle until Arthur returns again someday.

The pilgrimage visits the shrine of St Beuno at Clynnog Fawr, and passes through Nant Gwrtheyrn a formerly deserted quarry town on the seashore now developed into a Welsh Language and Heritage Centre. To the east lies views of the Snowdonia mountains. The seaside walk is awash with the mythology of Arthur and Merlin, and stories from the Ancient Celtic Saints.

For these reasons the pilgrimage to Ynys Enlli makes my #2 on the list of 1,000 things to do before I die.


  1. I am so grateful that you took us there 4 years ago....I adored Caernarfon Castle it was so beautifully sad. The day was gloomy and overcast....and memorable. History became so alive walking through the castle....and my passion grew for the Welsh...for their land....for their struggle. I fell in love with Wales on that visit. And even more on the second time around. I have been blessed and my mind has grown from our trips there. I too hope to one day visit again. But for now...the stunning photos will have to do. lol!

  2. Hey Peg/Zumi, Looks like I will be headed there in February. Might be a tough time to visit Ynys Enlli, or climb Cadair Idris - but who knows?