This beautiful little church is based on the site of an ancient Llan attributed either to St Beuno or to a little known Saint Cuwch who may have been female. It fell into disuse and disrepair but is now under the care of the friends of Carnguwch church and the occasional service still takes place there.
The Treasurer of the friends of the church (and the key-holder) lives at Penfras Uchaf farm, Llwyndyrys. He is very friendly and happy to give the key for the church and to point people to the standing stone in his field.
According to the treasurer (because of local old place names and house names) is that the church belonged to St. Engan (or Einion) who was king of the Llyn peninsula, descendant of Cunedda and brother of St. Seriol.
St. Engan is credited with granting St. Seriol the land for Penmon priory and to have a hermitage on Puffin island. He is also said to have brought St. Cadfan across from Tywyn to Ynys Enlli to establish the monastery there. There was a gilded and crowned statue of him at Llanengan church until the reformation. The church also claims to hold his relics.
The Treasurer believes that the site was probably a sacred pre-Christian site due to its natural features being a flat raised area above a river. It certainly seemed to have goddess qualities as well as Christian ones.
The pulpit in the church has 3 tiers and (according to the Treaurer) the warden would sit at the bottom with a stick, one end of which had feathers. His job was to nudge sleepy men with the hard end of the stick and women with the feathered end!
The Church and surrounding cemetery has a very peaceful feel and I would say one that is similar to that of St. Tudwen’s church. A sense of the feminine and a deep sense of love and compassion. Sitting in the churchyard, looking up to Mynydd Carnguwch and listening to the sounds of the river Erch below is a wonderful place to meditate. The church sits above the valley of the river Erch.
This remote site is on the far side of Mynydd Carnguwch which can only be reached on foot, either from the B4177 or from Lwyndyrys. Grid reference SH374418.
Huw Llwyd is a legendary figure in Welsh history and literature. He is is known to have lived between 1568 and 1630. His house – Cynfal fawr still stands in the Cynfal valley near Llan Ffestiniog.
He lived through the reign of James 1st, Charles 1st and the first decade of Elizabeth 1st. He was apparently the 7th son of a 7th son and feasted on eagle meat to ensure his descendants had powers for a further 9 generations. He was renowned as a mercenary soldier, a bard, harpist, writer, magician, alchemist, healer and for his ability to see into the future.
People travelled from far afield to hear him preaching and to seek his help. He served in France and Holland in a Welsh regiment in the role as chaplain and doctor. As a self -styled preacher he convinced local Christian clerics that sorcery was invaluable in the battle against evil and witchcraft.
He was visited by John Dee (alchemist and mathematician of the Elizabethan court) and they exchanged ideas and knowledge of magic.
Within the deep and narrow Cynfal gorge ( Grid reference: SH705412) a fast-flowing river plunges around a tall pillar of rock. It was on this rock pillar in the middle of the river that Huw meditated, gave discourses and used his magic to cast out evil spirits.
His sermons were powerful and miraculously could be heard above the sound of the rushing water. He only used his powers to combat evil and to punish those who misbehaved.
In Welsh the word to describe his meditation is synfyfyrio which literally means sudden or startled meditation. He would dress in a long cape with magical symbols, wear a special sheepskin crown with a pigeon feather in it and hold a whip made of eel skin with a bone handle.
A powerful wizard, he would heal through exorcism and the demons would be cast as dark shadows into the ravine below. The waterfall downstream from his pulpit is called Rhaeadr Ddu, the Black Falls.
He was called upon to deal with anything weird and “witchy” and there are many stories of his taming of local negative forces and bandits.
In one tale Huw is called in to solve a case of serial theft at an inn in Betws y Coed. The inn is run by 2 beautiful sisters who are also witches and can transform themselves into cats at night to then steal from their customers. Huw rests that night with his magic sword by his side and when he notices the 2 cats stealthily sneak into his room and to his pockets he strikes one a blow on their paw.
The next morning one of the sisters has a bandaged hand and he knows for sure they are the criminals. He warns them and they deeply apologise for their actions. Instead of reporting them to the witch-finder for trial he tells them the inn is now under his protection and there will be no more stealing. The inn thrives and the sisters earn a good virtuous living.
In another story Huw mesmerises a group of bandits at a tavern in Pentrefoelas who were planning to kill him. He causes the table they are sitting at to grow antlers which they are unable to look away from. He gets a good nights sleep and in the morning they are arrested by the sheriff. In another story Huw leaves a spell on an unscrupulous and extortionate innkeeper by causing everyone to dance and sing until they are nearing terminal exhaustion. He then sends instructions for how to find the spell and throw it into the fire thus releasing everyone. These three tales show how he was just, effective and humorous!
He was married with children and on his death bed he told one of his daughters to throw all his books on the ‘black arts’ into a lake where they were received by a pair of ethereal hands. There is no record of his death, no will was ever executed or probate granted for his estate… some say he lives on!
His grandson (or perhaps nephew) Morgan Llwyd (1619 – 1659) was a Christian mystic and renowned welsh bard with numerous works still in print. He was a puritan preacher in Wrexham but his views were unorthodox being influenced by the German mystic Jacob Bohme. For some people he is considered a Welsh Nation builder.
The water of the river Cynfal is rich in fish and eels. Elfyn’s grandfather caught a snake once while fishing in the river. It has a powerful feel to it – a Guru Rinpoche place and a home to nagas?
There is little to be said about the history and myths of this sacred site. Fortunately, this bronze aged stone circle (ring cairn) speaks for itself. It is simply spectacular!
In an area well known for megaliths and stone circles Bryn Cader Faner stands out as unusual and wonderful place to visit on pilgrimage in Wales.
A dramatic stone circle above Harlech with stones all sloping outwards like a crown of thorns. Situated in a remote high moorland looking up into Snowdonia.
Bryn Cader Faner translates as something like “the hill crowned with the throne of the flag”. Which implies a place of great power and prestige.
Originally a burial site (disturbed in the 19th Century), the stone circle consists of fifteen thin stone slabs of about 2 metres in length, unusually arranged so as to lean outwards. The original monument may have consisted of about thirty such stones.
To reach the site drive to Talsarnau and then take the upper Harlech Road and the first left up a steep narrow road to Eisingrug. Take the second right hand turn in this hamlet and follow the small road till its end where there is space for 3 or 4 cars to park. Go through the right hand gate and follow the track which bends around to the left. After about 10 minutes bear left onto a footpath which leads up to the circle. It takes about 45 minutes.
These photos show Lama Shenpen Hookham, some of the community residents and visiting retreatants of the Hermitage of the Awakened Heart near Criccieth. These show a puja (ritual) carried out to celebrate the New Year at the start of 2017.
It was a cold morning and it felt like Autumn/Winter had arrived as we walked up the hillside to a more sheltered spot, but we were very lucky as there was no rain despite the overcast skies.
We stopped next to a very interesting looking tree, where the ground naturally flattens out a little, next to a large stone that’s perfect for our outdoor shrine.
We set out the shrine with Guru Rinpoche at the centre, with our offerings, while Jayasiddhi built the small, self-contained fire from wood we brought with us as well as sacred ash from our previous smoke puja rituals to continue the connection (read more about Smoke Puja ritual here.)
While we made the offering of smoke to the sacred landscape of North Wales, we read Guru Rinpoche prayers, recited the mantra OM AH HUM and sang songs.
The Awakened Heart Sangha is part of a yogic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism of singing songs of realisation, as taught by Khenpo Rinpoche, Lama Shenpen‘s teacher. Khenpo Rinpoche was a wandering yogin in his youth and in later years would often sing profound extemporaneous songs, so is likened to the great yogin Milarepa.
We regularly sing songs composed by Milarepa and Khenpo Rinpoche as part of our practice, and on a pilgrimage in the beautiful sacred Welsh countryside is no exception!
Following on from our successful pilgrimage to Carn Fadryn, Lama Shenpen and the Hermitage team took our German guests on to the nearby church dedicated to St. Tudwen.
This beautiful little chapel is located off of a farm track about one mile south of Morfa Nefyn. Take a good map, the turning is easy to miss. There is parking near the entrance to church, just outside of the farmyard.
There was a legend of a Holy Well being associated with this site, although it had been lost for many years. This was recently rediscovered in one of the fields adjoining the Church grounds.
The entrance to the church begins with a narrow pathway encompassed by two traditional welsh stone walls. These walls inspired Lama Shenpen to build our walled entrance leading up to the Stupa of Enlightenment at the Hermitage.
At the end of the pathway is a traditional covered stone gateway (lych gate) leading into the graveyard. Traditionally, coffins would have been left overnight in this gateway before burial the next morning. I had not heard of this tradition before and wonder at its meaning and origin. Perhaps something to do with purification at the boundary to sacred ground – reminiscent of entering a mandala boundary in the Buddhist tradition.
Tradition records St. Tudwen as being an Irish Saint, and sister to the grandmother of St David. She fled to the Llyn Peninsula to avoid persecution and abuse. Later began to teach the local people about her love of God.
A church was built over her grave on this site in the 5th Century. This was rebuilt in in 1595 – the current church – in the “hammer head” shape is a Grade II listed building.
The church is very beautiful and extremely well preserved. The stained glass windows are very modest and include the alpha and omega symbols. On the day we visited the doorway was surrounded with mistletoe, giving a somewhat pagan feel.
We spent some time sitting inside the church in silence, absorbing the atmosphere and meditating. As we had the church to ourselves we chanted the Green Tara mantra and our retreatants sang some of their Dharma songs in German. We had been enjoying these all week, the sweet melodies and wonderfully tuneful voices! By Jayasiddhi
Carn Fadryn (Garnfadryn) was the sacred destination for the second group of German retreatants on our Discovering the Heart of Buddhism retreat this August. We could not have chosen a better day to explore the Welsh sacred landscape, the skies were clear and the sun was hot – an auspicious day to initiate out ten German guests to the practice Welsh Pilgrimage.
Lama Shenpen and Rigdzin Shikpo had once asked H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche about the possibility of finding holy places in Britain. He asked for a map of the area and identified a number of sacred places in North Wales. The one he felt stood out as being particularly special was Carn Fadryn.
Khyentse Rinpoche was one of the foremost Tibetan Buddhist teachers of his generation and was highly respected as a Terton – or Treasure Finder. He had found many sacred objects and Buddhist texts (Termas) hidden in the landscape of Tibet and the surrounding Himalayas. His naming of Carn Fadryn as a place of strong spiritual significance should therefore be taken very seriously.
H.H Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Carn Fadryn translates as something like “mother mountain” and has strong feminine associations, a fitting destination for an all female retreat from the German Sangha (Buddhist community) Tara Libre. Some sources link the mountain with Modrun, the grand daughter of Vortigen, the Welsh hero and famous Celtic King.
There is also a legend linking the mountain to King Arthur. There is a cromlech (a standing stone burial site) named “Coetan Arthur” (Arthur’s Quoit) at Trefgwm. It consists of a great stone resting on three smaller stones. The legend states that Arthur “the Giant” threw the largest stone from Carn Fadryn – a distance of several miles. His wife then picked it up and propped it on three smaller stones from her apron!
We parked at the handy lay-by at the foot of the mountain in the village of Garnfadryn and began our ascent under the glorious sunshine. The mountain has a height of 371 metres, but has a well trod track through heather slopes and is a relatively easy walk (approx. 45 minutes) with a few high steps in places.
The summit marked by ancient cairns and a modern trig point, was the sight of at least three ancient hill forts. The earliest dates from around 300 BC. The most recent was recorded in 1188 as “newly built” and referred to as “the castle of the sons of Owain”.
We performed our Smoke Offering Puja (ritual) with chants and mudras (ritual hand gestures) before tucking in to our well deserved feast. The feast was accompanied by many yogic songs – in both German and English. Afterwards, we enjoyed a spot of sun-bathing – almost unheard of on our Welsh pilgrimage outings!
The views from the summit were amazing. We had a complete panoramic view of the whole of the Llyn Peninsula from one coast to the other. Nearby, we could see the two small twin islands of Ynys Gwylan-fawr and Ynys Gwylan-bach; further out we could see the popular pilgrimage destination of Bardsey Island and the Isle of Angelsey (Ynys Mon) with its Druidic associations. The mountains of Snowdonia could be seen brooding in the far distance. Although a fine day, we were unable to see the Wicklow mountains of Ireland, which can sometimes be spotted.
As we made our descent back to the cars our minds slipped from holy sites and legends of old to the more mundane – beaches and ice cream! A great way to end a pilgrimage. By Jayasiddhi
Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia was the pilgrimage destination for 23 German students visiting us for a Discovering the Heart of Buddhism retreat. At the end of their week of meditation, study and discussion, they were more than ready to stretch their legs and explore the sacred and holy sites of Wales.
Tara Anne Dew (our resident pilgrimage expert) had chosen Dinas Emrys as the destination for this pilgrimage as our guests had travelled a long way to be here and Dinas Emrys is regarded by many (including Rigdzin Shikpo) as the “most powerful location” in Wales.
Associated with Celtic King Vortigern and Merlin (Myrddin Emrys), this is where Merlin discovered the red and white dragons (representing the Welsh and the Saxon peoples) were buried under the hill. Merlin released the dragons and the subsequent fight led to a victory by the Welsh red dragon over the white Saxon dragon. This event is commemorated on the Welsh flag.
The previous few days had been quite rainy and so the waterfall at the foot of the hill was in full flow and quite invigorating to watch. We spent some time there chanting the Green Tara mantra.
On the ascent we were treated to a wonderful view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The heather was very bright and colourful and the whole place felt very lush.
By the time we arrived at the remains of Vortigern’s hill fort, the rain began to fall and we all donned our waterproofs before starting the smoke offering puja. As is often the case, once we had lit some incense and started our chanting the rain stopped completely and sun broke through the clouds. We were able to enjoy the rest of our puja and the feast that followed in comfort.
The German ladies were in fine form and sung us some beautiful and stirring songs. Lama Shenpen and Tara sang and danced along the top of the tower foundation wall. A lot of fun was had by all.
On the return walk we stopped in a particularly atmospheric glade. I experienced a very strong sense of presence in this spot. Lama and Tara performed the Buddhist Tara dance for us, which I had not seen before. It was really wonderful to watch.
When we arrived back the National Trust Centre we appeared to have lost two German pilgrims. We searched the wonderful Cafes and ice cream shops of Beddgelert for them (at least this was our excuse!). Not finding them we retraced our journey to Dinas Emrys hoping that they had not been tempted off the path by the faerie folk! Happily we found them quite quickly – they had taken a wrong turn on the descent and were awaiting us in the very informative National Trust centre.