Centuries ago, pilgrims in their thousands were finding their way to Bardsey Island, drawn there by stories of the special peace to be found at the edge of the western world – drawn to the place of the setting sun, with only the vast ocean between them and the unknown.
1,500 years ago St Cadfan had founded a Christian community there. In the Middle Ages, two pilgrimages to Bardsey were considered as good as one to Rome. And that sense of a sacred place draws pilgrims there still.
Today a route crossing North Wales has been mapped and waymarked, linking ancient churches dedicated to the saints of the 6th century whose gentle faith, entwined with a sense of thebeauty and wonder of nature, still echoes with us today.
Basingwerk Abbey, which served as a hospital to pilgrims goingto Holywell in medieval times, marks the start of the Pilgrim’s Way.
The route leads through woodland and over rivers, up mountains and along coast paths, through wilderness and into villages.
It celebrates the heritage of those Celtic saints whose stories are lost in the mists of time but whose memory reverberates in ancient churches and at holy wells along the way.
The Pilgrim’s Way is a walking route of over 130 miles. Tiny stone churches nestled into the hills provide shelter and rest along the Way, much as they would have done in the past.
Now the tradition of pilgrimage is being rediscovered and reinvented for a new age. Present day pilgrims have described the experience as “resetting the defaults,” as “time out” and “atime to wander and wonder.”
There is much to make us wonder, as we encounter the 12 foot high cross at Maen Achwyfan – a thousand years old, carved with Celtic knotting and still standing enigmatic and isolated in the middle of a field, with its mix of Christian and pagan symbols. We may wonder too, as we pass the stone circles above the Conwy valley, about life all those years ago. And as we walk, we soak up the beauty of the Welsh landscape.
A pilgrimage is a walk with an extra dimension. Engaging with the challenges of the terrain and the weather, everyday preoccupations are swept away and the pilgrim is caught up in the bigger picture. Perspectives change, priorities reassessed.
To cross the sea in an open boat and finally to arrive on BardseyIsland is the pinnacle of the experience. And to carry home thatpeace and quietness is the gift that remains.
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