For centuries, pilgrims in their thousands made their way to a special peace to be found at the very edge of the western world.
Travelling across north Wales to Ynys Enlli or Bardsey Island, the island of 20,000 saints, they were drawn to the setting sun.
You to can make this journey, following a mapped and waymarked route across north Wales. Stop off at churches dedicated to 6th century saints, places where gentle history happened and where faith combined with beauty and the wonder of nature still resonate today.
If you do it all, it’s 134 miles of walking in some of the most stunningly beautiful surroundings in the United Kingdom.
Moorland, mountain, coast; and the cefn gwlad, the back country, the backbone of Welsh culture and language.
If weather and tide permit, you will cross the sea in an open boat to the island of 20,000 saints.
It’s not always easy. That’s why it’s a pilgrimage.
It will be an unforgettable experience
Type : Walk
Distance : 134 mile linear walk
Time required : Two weeks at about 12 miles a day. Take it easy and take longer, or just do a day at a time.
Difficulty : 5/5 if you do the whole route in one go
What to bring : Whether you do one day or two weeks, footwear with good grips, ideally boots with ankle support, are essential. Waterproof and warm clothing during the colder months are important too.
Welsh Landscape by RS Thomas
To live in Wales is to be conscious
At dusk of the spilled blood
That went into the making of the wild sky,
Dyeing the immaculate rivers
In all their courses.
It is to be aware,
Above the noisy tractor
And hum of the machine
Of strife in the strung woods,
Vibrant with sped arrows.
You cannot live in the present,
At least not in Wales.
The paths and byways leading to the tip of the Llyn peninsula in north Wales were trodden by hundreds of pilgrims in years gone by. The mystery of their ultimate island destination, Ynys Enlli or Bardsey Island, where St Cadfan founded a Christian community 1500 years ago, remains just as intense today. The reasons for their journeys were no doubt varied, but their goal was to reach Pen draw’r byd. The edge of the known world, and to learn and understand as they travelled.
The North Wales Pilgrims Way has been mapped and waymarked for a new generation of pilgrims. The pilgrimage is, of course, about the journey just as much as the destination.
And what a journey!
As it weaves its way across north Wales, following footpaths, old drove roads, and quiet lanes, it passes ancient places - prehistoric burial mounds, stone circles, sacred springs and strangely worked Celtic crosses. It calls at ruined monasteries, cathedrals, churches, and chapels, some quiet, some steadily thriving. Each will make the pilgrim consider not just the beauty of the architecture, and the craftsmanship, but also the poetry of each building, the historical context, and the passion that led to their creation.
The Pilgrims' Way passes areas of bygone industry. Slate quarries, old mines and lead workings; harsh and strong places to have worked. Mostly immersed in farmland and coast, the Way draws you back to nature in all its glory, the woods bubbling with birdsong, the hedgerows exploding with new life, and the skies everchanging. The weather may be stunning, with shimmering seas, soft breezes, noisy bluebells, and luminous leaf colours. But it may also be slightly moist. You need to prepare for all possibilities.
There is time to think, to absorb, to reflect and to discuss with your walking companions, or with those you will meet on your way. Conversation may be philosophical, mundane, or scurrilous. There is time to be silent, and time to discover.
You will not forget it, we promise.
An unforgettable exprience
Through woodland and over rivers, up mountains and along coast paths, through wilderness and into villages : photos by Duncan Cameron
North Wales Pilgrims Way
Discover 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 the beauty and wonder of nature, still echoes with us today.
A little aside from the main road,
becalmed in a last century greyness,
there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by,
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds, too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass.
But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.
A Cistercian Abbey that was abandoned during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It’s soft stone ruins set in quiet grass inspire admiration for those that dreamt it, designed it and built it. It’s a fitting place to start the pilgrimage. You are rooted in the past immediately.
The smallest Anglican cathedral in Great Britain, with a simple and delightful style. It is associated with the translators of the Bible into Welsh through Bishop William Morgan, and thence playing a part in the survival and flourishing of Welsh.
Nestled in the folds of the hill high above Rowen, at the top of the 'Coffin path' of the hills, this ancient church is a secret and special place, infused with the prayers of countless generations, and tended still with great care.
Founded by St Beuno as a clas, or college in the 6th or 7th century, it became a true pilgrims’ church, vast and lofty, whitewashed and chill, with extraordinary seat carvings in the sanctuary. Pilgrims would sleep here on their way to Ynys Enlli.
St Beuno, Pistyll
The floor of the church is strewn with rushes and sweet herbs as a long held local tradition. Parts of this small and atmospheric church date back to the 12th century, although the roots go even further to the 6th century.
This ancient church sits salt sprayed and stubborn. A restful destination for pilgrims, almost at the end of their journey but gathering strength to cross treacherous currents to the island of 20,000 saints. Associated more recently with the powerful poetry of RS Thomas.
The North Wales Way
This walk includes some of the the North Wales Way.
Taking you to some of the finest sacred places in Wales, where impressive medieval churches with rich art and architecture abound. But, in some of the remotest spots you’ll be transported to another place entirely. From the mountainous wilds to a church cut off by the high tide. Stunning landscapes and little known pilgrim churches brimming with atmosphere.