Thursday, 19 December 2013

Pilgrimages: Across the Sound (Part 3)

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We’re a day early in posting this week as, due to all the festive fun, I’ll be away at a Christmas party tomorrow evening. But for now, let us go to Wales, to a lonely lane where my body finally gave up on me and St. Francis of all people came to the rescue.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Don’t forget to check out my V-log of this trip!

Links to all parts of this travelogue:

Part 1: Days 1 & 2

Part 2: Day 3

Part 3: Day 4

Part 4: Day 5

Links to accounts of all my pilgrimages:

Pilgrimages: To the Holy Island

Pilgrimages: Nazareth in Norfolk

Pilgrimages: And Those Feet Did...

Pilgrimages: The Sacred Heart of Wales

Pilgrimages: Across the Sound

England-Cities-Area-Map nefyn

bardsey day 4

The Fourth Day

Starting off the next morning, I had an excess of energy due to a sound night’s sleep, a fine full breakfast and a long soak in a rather impressive Jacuzzi bath which apparently, is the kind of facility that one gets if one books four star.[1] We covered the first mile or so to the pretty little church at Edern in no time but the church was locked so we motored on along four miles or son of rather boring B-road until we reached Tudweiliog where the church was also closed, but thankfully, the shop and public toilets were both open. During that trek and afterwards, Paul and I discussed the Welsh language. In the Llŷn – and at Llangynog and Pennant Melangell – Welsh had very clearly been the first language and I never cease to be amazed at how well the Welsh have preserved their tongue in the face of the overwhelming onslaught of English which is, after all, not just the dominant local tongue, but indeed the global lingua franca. Paul too was impressed by its survival but also a little morose for his own people who, although so much more successful than the Welsh in asserting their political independence from Britain, have failed almost completely with regards to their language, which to him was a problem since, (in his opinion), perhaps the main defining factor of a nation is it having its own language.

After Tudweiliog we left the road and headed for the coast. At a delightful – and deserted – cove we ate the lunch that we’d purchased in the village shop and then continued south along the clifftops. Like our previous coastal walking experience, this was easier said than down, but unlike our expeditions near Trefor, at least we were now following a designated path. Nonetheless, every kilometre here felt like two on the road and my ankles and feet were soon complaining bitterly from the mauling that they were being subjected to as we strode along the narrow and uneven pathway and our rests began to grow more frequent.

bardsey pilgrimage 032 The cove where we lunched

We came upon a beautiful, wide and mercifully sandy beach (Traeth Penllech) and Paul suggested that we leave the cliff path to walk along the sands instead. It was wise advice for the going was definitely easier, slowed only by Paul’s propensity to stop and pet – and if possible converse with the owner of – every dog that we passed, be it a mangy mutt or pampered pedigree. To be honest, I found this a little annoying; I grew up in a house without dogs and then moved to the Far East where they’re often viewed as more food than friend, so my attitude towards dogs veers between indifference to a slight fear, but there was something wholesome and heartening in the way that Paul loves, reveres and makes time for any creature, human or otherwise. I just wish that I felt it, particularly as I am currently contemplating joining the Third Order of St. Francis, the saint most famous for being matey with animals.

Recognising our flagging energy, the exertions of the previous two days’ walking compounding the aches of today, we elected to take the shorter and easier inland route after Traeth Penllech and were rewarded for our choice by chancing upon a café at a caravan site where we drank a much welcome cup of tea and chatted to a couple from Mold. Then it was on again, but the rest had knocked me out of what was left of my stride and by now I was starting to struggle. We, (well, I, Paul was in a far better state), limped along the tiny lanes towards the hamlet of Pen-y-Graig and en route bought a painted pebble, one of several that a nine-year old girl had placed outside her house with a ‘For Sale’ sign, hoping to earn a little extra pocket money. Impressed by such business acumen in one so young and wanting to bring my son back a little something from my travels, I willingly parted with the 20p that she was asking and popped the ladybird pebble into my rucksack.

We reached Pen-y-Graig without further incident, my mind meditating over the Christ in my favourite folk song, ‘Bread and Fishes’ who meets the unnamed traveller en route from Glastonbury,[2] but after the hamlet had been attained every step became a real struggle. Our campsite was still three and a half miles distant and yet Paul noticed how I was now limping quite noticeably. Nonetheless, I continued, the mile that followed feeling like the four to Tudweiliog, but then finally, by a turn in the road, I knew that I could do no more and, by a gatepost, sat down, my body telling me that it would do no more. “It is for the best,” said Paul and wearily I agreed, as he continued onwards, promising to return with my car.

At first I rested, eyes closed, weary in mind, spirit, but mostly body. I have long realised the importance of exercising the former two regularly and as such both recovered quickly and easily, but as for the latter that has always been the poor relation, the one that got forgotten and I knew that its recovery would not be so swift.

After I had rested a little I opened my eyes and thought. I was angry; I had failed to reach Aberdaron and instead I had fallen short. I had a boat booked the following morning to take me to Bardsey, but did I deserve to catch it, failure that I was? My mind vacillated between two voices in my head. The first told me to not go to Bardsey now and instead to return to this place sometime in the future and then complete the final five miles or so, (two and a half to the campsite, then two and a half more to the harbour), crossing to the island then after I had truly earned the right to go there, the pilgrimage properly completed in full. But then the other voice disagreed with this; surely the point of pilgrimage is not the destination but the journey it argued and if you do it that way, yes, you will have completed all the miles on the map, but you will only be accompanied by the physical pains and spiritual meditations of five miles of easy walking. Now you are attaining Bardsey, then you should only be reaching it. Unable to decide I got out my rosary and recounted the miles and travails up to this point and then I lay back and let my eyes drift over that place, a non-place in fact, neither here nor there, a mere gateway by a kink in a nameless lane between two unimportant hamlets.

And then it happened.

I noticed the place. For the first time on the entire pilgrimage, I actually saw. Like Saul in the house on the Street Called Straight, it was as if scales fell from my eyes. I saw the tall grasses above me and realised how beautiful they were, how insanely, incredibly beautiful. On our trip we had passed millions, countless millions of blades of grass but up until then I had not seen a single one of them. There was a cricket in those grasses too; I couldn’t see him but I could hear his joyful song. And my how beautiful it was! I drank it in and then turned to the perfect grey sky above my head across which two birds flew, two swallows looping and loving together in the heavens above my head. Love filled my heart and music was on my lips; the words of the song by Donovan inspired by the prayer of one of the greatest of all the saints:

Brother Sun and Sister Moon

I seldom see you seldom hear your tune

Preoccupied with selfish misery

Brother Wind and Sister Air

Open my eyes to visions pure and fair

That I may see the glory around me.

I am God's creature, of Him I am part

I feel His love awakening my heart.

Brother Sun and Sister Moon

I now do see you, I can hear your tune

So much in love with all that I survey.

At first the words were but a whisper on my lips, then softly sung, then shouted out, then I was up, dancing and spinning barefoot in the middle of that lane in that non-place like some sort of holy fool, the two swallows above me darting and dancing, happy, yes, happy, so much in love with all that I surveyed! I danced and I danced and I laughed and I loved, thanking God for pilgrimage, for nature, for life. And when I had finished I sat and wrote these words:

I am on the lane from Glastonbury and the Holy Family are coming the other way.

I am one of the disciples lying down to sleep in the fields of Judea.

I am with Mary and Joseph resting by the roadside on the way to Bethlehem.

I am with the dying man, waiting for the Good Samaritan to return.

I am with St. Francis and his brothers as they pause to break bread on their journey to Rome.

I am with St. Chad as he eats by a hedgerow on a journey around his diocese.

I am with St. Beuno as he preaches by a drystone wall, bringing God to his people.

I am with the numberless pilgrims of yore as they plod the path to Bardsey.

I am me, today, surrounded by the Glory of God.

bardsey pilgrimage 033 Non-place

Day 5

[1] We booked four star because there was nowhere else.

[2] See my travelogues Nazareth in Norfolk and And Those Feet Did for explanation as to why that song is so dear to me.

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