As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Llŷn, Paul Bloomfield picks out a selection of beaches, nature reserves and visitor centres in this wonderful Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in northwest Wales.
Whether you're looking to immerse yourself in Welsh history and culture, or to admire some of the finest coastal scenery in the country, you won't regret a visit to the Llŷn peninsula.
From a cute little country house with pretty gardens to the best preserved Iron Age hill fort in Britain; from a Victorian gothic mansion with exhibitions of fine art to a community of green pioneers constructing buildings from cob, hay and stone; the range of attractions on the Llŷn peninsula spans more or less the whole of human history and society.
Bardsey Island nature reserve
In the middle ages, three pilgrimages to Bardsey chalked up as many brownie points as a trip all the way to Rome. In Welsh, the island is known as Ynys Enlli, sometimes translated as island in the current and other times as island of the Saints. It is said that 20,000 Celtic Christians are buried in ‘the porch of heaven’. Today it’s much easier to make a pilgrimage to the island, usually to worship Mother Nature. Bardsey is famed for birds, including a breeding colony of 16,000 Manx shearwater, choughs, and a small number of puffins. Around the shores, Atlantic grey seals breed. Harbour porpoises and Risso’s dolphins are frequently spotted. Heaven indeed. There are eight rustic holiday cottages to rent. bardsey.org
This ancient stone church, dating from the 12th century, teeters on the cliff at Aberdaron, its cemetery slipping over the edge. For centuries before the stone building was constructed, there was a place of worship for Celtic Christians here, with close connections to the community on the Island of Bardsey, known as the island of the saints. A 20th century priest at the church, RS Thomas, wrote poetry. As well as his poems being on display in the building, there are regular readings and meditations of his work on the theme of pilgrimages. Books and postcards are for sale in the church shop. st-hywyn.org.uk
Pen Llŷn a'r Sarnau
The sea around Llŷn thrives with varied sea life thanks to its many different habitats. There are sandbanks, estuaries, reefs, lagoons, sea caves, mud flats and more – where endangered species such as Atlantic seals and bottlenose dolphins make their homes and otters and visiting basking sharks and leatherback turtles feed. It’s no wonder that the area, known as Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau – from the Llŷn peninsula to the Sarnau reefs – is one of Britain’s largest ‘Special Areas of Conservation.’ You can help by recording any interesting marine sightings – whether it’s dolphins or jellyfish – and by keeping the seas and beaches free of litter that not only looks unsightly but can kill. penllynarsarnau.co.uk
There are dozens of beaches along the nearly 100 miles of coast on the Llŷn peninsula. From vast expanses of sand perfect for exploration to bays only accessible by steps down the cliff face (Porth Ysgo), from calm waters (Llanbedrog) to barrelling surf (Porth Neigwl also known as Hell’s Mouth), from sand so fine it squeaks (Porth Oer) to shingle and pebbles, there is something for everyone and every activity. Some beaches, such as Porth Dinllaen, have picturesque cafes or pubs, others have no facilities at all; some allow dogs, others don’t.
Llŷn's Towns and Villages
It’s not just wildlife and beaches on the Llŷn peninsula, there are towns and villages to visit too, linked with regular bus services. Aberdaron was the last stop for medieval pilgrims on their way to Bardsey Island. This former fishing village is still a stop-off for visitors on day-trips. Take time to explore the ancient church on the cliff top. Another former fishing village, Abersoch, on the south coast of the peninsula, is popular with the sailing community. There are cafes, bars and, in the height of summer, a music and wake-boarding festival, Wakestock. Nefyn is a little town on the north coast, with a small but pretty harbour away from the urban area. The market town of Pwllheli is the main urban centre of the peninsula and the site of the westernmost train station. The weekly Wednesday market draws crowds from all over the peninsula.
Llŷn Maritime Museum, Nefyn, Wales
The Maritime Museum, based at St Mary's Church that was founded in the 6th century, was the brainchild of locals who were keen to showcase the area's rich maritime history. There is an exhibition space, a cafe and a shop and entry is free. Find maritime artefacts and many stories of the shipbuilders and sailors that were based in and around Nefyn. Did you know that Nefyn was once called 'Penwaig Nefyn' (Nefyn herring), as over 100 years ago it was famous for its herring industry. llyn-maritime-museum.co.uk
Porth y Swnt, National Trust Visitor Centre, Aberdaron, Llŷn
Llŷn is an area rich not only natural beauty but in culture and history, too, and the National Trust has created an interactive learning centre for those wanting to learn more about the area and get the most out of their visit. There's stacks on information on the peninsula and activity ideas for all ages. The centre is in the Aberdaron fishing village so there's plenty right here to explore, too, including the church that was the last stopping off point for pilgrims on the way to Bardsey Island. Porth y Swnt translates as the 'gateway to the sound'. nationaltrust.org.uk/porth-y-swnt
In a secluded valley on the north shore of the Llŷn peninsula, this former quarrying village has had a £5 million makeover to become a centre for the Welsh language. 580,000 people speak Welsh and several hundred more learn to speak it each year at courses held here, beside the sea (môr). There is comfortable group accommodation in former terraced houses (tai), now refurbished with underfloor heating from air-source-heat pumps. If you don’t have time to attend even a three-day course, you can visit for a day to look at the heritage centre and learn about the life of a quarryman before stopping for tea and bara brith in the licensed café (caffi). nantgwrtheyrn.org
This spectacular Grade II* listed Victorian gothic mansion on the south coast of the Llyn peninsula was built in 1857 to house the private art collection of one Lady Elizabeth Jones Parry. It is still a venue for art, with work displayed by local artists in ten original gallery spaces. The tall hammerbeam ceiling, impressive Jacobean staircase and stained glass all make for a perfect backdrop for concerts too, such as an annual acoustic guitar festival. There’s a bright, airy café serving homemade food, with further seating in a pretty garden with views across to Snowdonia and Cardigan Bay. For classy souvenirs, the gift shop sells handicrafts – woodwork, textiles - by local artists. A private wing of the house has been converted into a holiday let, sleeping ten. oriel.org.uk
Plas yn Rhiw
This unpretentious 16th century manor house, with Georgian additions, has spectacular views over Cardigan Bay from its exquisite gem of an (organic) ornamental garden: flowerbeds of hydrangea and unusual yellow clematis are framed by neatly trimmed box hedges. It all looks superb, whatever the weather but even if it’s raining, the unusual two-seater garden loo will make you smile. The property is now owned by the National Trust which has added some 150 acres of adjoining woodland. The previous owners, the Keating sisters, bequeathed their much-loved home to the Trust, after having spent many years restoring it from dereliction in the 1930s. nationaltrust.org.uk/plas-yn-rhiw
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