The Wales Coast Path – Llŷn Peninsula 

Travel writer David Atkinson tackles the Wales Coast Path along the north coast of the Llŷn Peninsula on a day walk from Trefor to Nefyn.

A modern day pilgrimage

Travel writer David Atkinson sitting in front of Bardsey Church

Bardsey Church, Llyn Peninsula by atkinson.david

I’m not cut out to be a pilgrim.

I've got nothing in sackcloth. But walking the north coast of the Llŷn Peninsula as part of the Wales Coast Path, I could feel some kind of conversion.

“Walking is a modern-day pilgrimage,” says Peter Hewlett of Edge of Wales Walk, my walking guide to the peninsula. “We walk to contemplate a higher purpose. Not worry about the gas bill.”

The Llŷn Peninsula was a cornerstone of the North Wales pilgrimage during its 14th-century heyday. The Pope decreed that three trips to Bardsey Island, the sacred island off the western tip of the peninsula, would be worth one to Rome. In recent years the pilgrimage route has been busy again. But this time it’s fleeces and walking boots, not sandals. We’re all just seeking a place to think and breathe.

RS Thomas, the former poet-priest of Aberdaron, saw it coming. He wrote in his poem, The Moon in Lleyn:

In cities that have outgrown their promise
People are becoming pilgrims again
If not to his place,
Then to the recreation of it
In their own spirits

Trefor to Nefyn

Porth Dinllaen, Llyn Peninsula

Porth Dinllaen, Llŷn Peninsula, Snowdonia
On the day walk from Trefor to Nefyn, the saints first came to me. I could smell them, my nostrils flaring as I pushed open the wood-creaking door of Pistyll church.

The 12th-century chapel, where rushes cover the aisle with a fragrant carpet, was a key rest place on the ancient route to Bardsey. Herbs and medicinal plants still grow close to the waterfall behind the graveyard.

I sat amongst them, yellow-grinning daffodils at my feet, and breathed in the healing aroma of spring.

As I pushed on, following a coast-hugging path through coastal heathland and sheep-grazing pasture, I felt my mind clearing, my breathing deepen.

Bardsey Island

“People still talk about Bardsey in terms of pilgrimage,” says Bardsey ferryman Colin Evans. “Just to be away from the busyness of modern life is a healing process,” he adds.

Colin ferries some 2,000 people across to the tiny island each year. The next morning he took me, wave-tossed and expectant, in a canary-yellow 12-seater. I arrived to a welcoming committee of wildlife: puffins and grey seals basking on the foreshore. The path led to St Mary’s Abbey, where the Celtic cross is etched with a weather-eroded dedication to the 20,000 souls buried close by.

I could feel the ancient saints surround me. But I wasn’t after a one-way ticket to an eternal Shangri-La. Just a moment of peace to claim as my own.

Finally, I understood. Maybe I’m not such a bad pilgrim after all.