Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Pilgrimage, ancient and modern

Today we drove to the far end of the Llyn Peninsula and walked in glorious sunshine on the coastal path opposite Ynys Enlli - Bardsey Island - such a wonderful gentle landscape of grassland, gorse and heather, tranquil, populated with grazing sheep and walkers like us. 

Outside the coastguard look out hut on the highest promontory of the hills surmounting the sea cliffs, Clare got chatting in Welsh to a couple visiting from Llanelli down south. He revealed that he was born in Llyn and moved south when he married a South Walian. When I asked him which village, he said "Pistill". Then he mentioned the name of Pen Isa'r Lon farm as his birthplace, the very house in which we're staying. He was much moved by the co-incidence. He remarked approvingly on the cross I always wear and said they attended a Pentecostal Church back home. We parted with warm handshakes and a photograph.

I made my way back to the car, in need of a drink of water, then walked down to where St Mary's well was indicated on signage and maps, in the fold of the terrain leading down to the water's edge. This was where ancient pilgrims made their way to take a boat across to visit Ynys Enlli, the isle of twenty thousand saints. The last part of the descent to the waterline has no steps and is quite rough, but just before the going got tough for someone like me walking in sandals, a spring of water breaks out of the cleft of grassy ground and trickles across the rocks into the sea. That's the well, no physical structure, just pure water, flowing from the ground. A place where salt and sweet water mix was always a place of wonder in ancient times. The sheer peacefulness of this wild yet gentle place remains awe inspiring.

On the steep climb back up from the spring, which for me involved chasing a single butterfly to photograph, I met a man descending, who stopped and asked me what I'd found below. I described the spring I'd located above the water's edge, and as we parted company, he expressed the hope that whatever he discovered he'd experience the grace to be found in the place - an unusual thing for a stranger to say, except perhaps in a place much visited by pilgrims walking in hope through the past millennium.

I met up with the others picnicking in the lee of a stone wall close to the car park, and after lunch we made our way down to Aberdaron, to visit the lovely church and village next to the beach, where the poet R S Thomas spent twenty years of his ministry and wrote some of the most spiritually profound poetry of the twentieth century. St Hywyn's Parish Church is currently having its roof renovated. It's open for visitors, but half of it is a building site. I was reminded of that year in St John's City Parish Church, when we succeeded in keeping the place open to visitors for the three months it took to repair and redecorate the building interior.

I bought a volume of R S Thomas' collected poems in the village store, to compensate for the absence of any volumes of his later than 1978, which was the last time I bought anything of his. Nourishment for years to come. I love his sparse style and vivid use of imagery. To my mind his work has a touch of the zen master about it. I found the others huddled outside a shop overlooking the beach, taking advantage of the free wi-fi signal to connect with the outside world. The wi-fi where we're staying is still ignoring us, cause of huge frustration to us, who normally take connectivity for granted.

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