Welsh Pilgrimages

Summer Solstice in Sacred Wales

Welsh Summer Solstice Ritual

The solstice is regarded as a special time in many spiritual traditions. At the Hermitage, a Buddhist retreat centre in historic Gwynedd, Wales, we marked the occasion this week with a celebratory smoke puja, called a Lhasang.

Welsh Buddhist Lhasang

Solstice Lhasang in full swing

Our Buddhist summer solstice ritual was attended by Lama Shenpen Hookham, the Hermitage staff and a bevy of local Sangha (Sanskrit: Buddhist Community) members.

Solstice Ritual

Some members of our Gwynedd, Welsh Buddhist Community

Tara Dew was master of ceremonies and produced a beautiful shrine and some wonderful offerings to be consumed by our Lhasang fire. Jayasiddhi built the fire and piled on heaps of dampened juniper to produce large clouds of white smoke.

Welsh Buddhist shrine

Summer Solstice Buddhist Shrine

The Lhasang litrugy was chanted during the solstice offerings. This is a text produced by Rigdzin Shikpo and was originally written for the Longchen Foundation.

The afternoon had started wonderfully sunny and hot. As our chanting reached its crescendo, accompanied by Garuda Mudras (Garuda = an Indo/Tibetan mythical bird/person, Mudra = ritual hand gesture), the skies clouded over and we enjoyed a wonderful purification in the form of large drops of warm rain! The rain stopped as soon as the chanting finished!

Welsh Solstice

Lama Shenpen and friends with Buddhist Liturgy at the ready

Tibetan Buddhist Smoke Offering

The smoke from the Lhasang is thought to provide a ritual purification for the local environment, local beings (human and non-human) and for the participants. Pure substances such as torma ( a kind of Tibetan ritual cake), herbs, oils and flowers are added to the fire as an offering and therefore incorporated in the clouds of white smoke which rise up to the heavens. It is normal to wear the smoke infused clothes worn at a Lhasang for a number of days as a blessing.

Buddhist flower offering

Flower Petals Offered into the Fire

Thin Places and Liminal Times

Certain places are thought to be liminal, a “thin place” in the ancient spiritual traditions of Wales and the British Isles. They behave as boundaries between two realities or ways of being. Similarly, In Tibetan Buddhism, certain times of day and year are also thought to be liminal or “thin”.

At these times of transition there is a greater opportunity for forces to manifest in the world – for good or for ill. For this reason, Tibetan monasteries chant liturgies invoking the wrathful protective Buddhist deities as the day transitions into night. Changes of moon, season and New Year, also have their own special Buddhist rituals to mark these phase changes.


Dinas Emrys – Merlin & the Dragons

Dinas Emrys Sacred Site North Wales

Dinas Emrys near Beddgelert, Snowdonia, North Wales is an Iron Age hill fort. It features in several legends as being the strongest place in Britain. This sacred site is associated with the Welsh Wizard Merlin (Welsh: Myrddin), so is of interest and a sacred place of pilgrimage to those interested in the legend of King Arthur.

To find the site, from Beddgelert turn right on the A498 heading towards Capel Curig. After one mile turn left into the Craflwyn Centre (National Trust) and park here. You will find a visitors centre and toilet. The walk to Dinas Emrys should take 30 – 40 minutes and includes a special waterfall.

Sacred Site of Dinas Emrys North Wales

As the legend goes, Vortigern (a 5th Century ruling warlord) had fled into Wales to escape Anglo-Saxon invaders. He decided to settle at Dinas Emrys as this site would prove good to defend against the enemy. Day after day his men would work hard building the first of several proposed towers; but the next morning they would return to find the masonry collapsed in a heap.

These strange events continued for several weeks. Eventually Vortigern sought advice and was told to seek the help of a young boy not conceived by mortal man. The King sent soldiers out to scour the land for such a child. They found a boy who met this unusual description, called Myrddin Emrys (Merlin Ambrosius). Following the advice of his councillors, Vortigern planned to sacrifice young Merlin to appease the strange supernatural forces that were undermining his efforts to build a fortress. Merlin (not unsurprisingly) thought this was a terrible idea, and instead explained that the hill fort could not be built because of a hidden pool that contained two dragons. He told Vortigern that although the White Dragon of the Saxons was winning the battle at present, it would soon be defeated by the Welsh Red Dragon. Following Vortigern’s defeat, the fort was given to Emrys Wledig (Ambrosius Aurelianus), hence its name Dinas Emrys.

This legend has strong parallels with the building of Buddhist Samye monastery in Tibet. The king of Tibet had invited an Indian monk called Santarakshita to found the first Buddhist monastery in his country. Each day the workmen would make a good start on building the masonry walls. Each night, a local demon living in a nearby river would take down the work done during the day.

Santarakshita suggested that Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) be invited from Northern India to subdue the demons. Padmasambhava, a great tantric master performed a ritual dance that prepared the ground for the monastery and opened Tibet to the new religion of the Buddha.

On one of our pilgrimages to Dinas Emrys, it was blessed by Rigdzin Shikpo who performed a feast offering here.

Lama Shenpen, Tara, Kristina, Samten and Samshi on a Buddhist pilgrimage to the sacred site in August 2015:

Dinas Emrys Sacred Site to visit on pilgrimage in North Wales
A Buddhist pilgrimage to the sacred site of Dinas Emrys, Snowdonia, North Wales, by members of the Awakened Heart Sangha

St Cybi’s – The Healing Well

Llangybi Church site of the sacred St Cybi's Well

St Cybi’s Well, near Llangybi in Gwynedd, North Wales,  is a CADW listed historic, sacred site. It’s associated with the 6th century saint St Cybi who lived on the Isle of Anglesey. It’s a sacred place of pilgrimage and healing, made popular in medieval times, the continues to attract people up to the present day.

St Cybi's Well, a sacred place to visit on a pilgrimage in North WalesMedieval treatments may have lasted several days and would have consisted of both bathing in and drinking the well water – hopefully not at the same time!

It was said to cure a variety of conditions including blindness, lameness, scurvy, warts and rheumatism. An earlier legend attributes it to having a large eel deep in the waters which could surface and wrap itself around a pilgrim’s legs. This was thought to aid healing!

Next to the Well are the remains of a Pilgrim Shelter where those looking for healing would have slept and kept warm.

The hill behind St Cybi’s Well is an ancient hill fort. It is associated with a story about a local boy and his friendship with the fairies who played with him on that hill. The boy was called Guto Bach. He would disappear and play with his fairiy friend for long periods of time, but when he reappeared no time had elapsed for his family. His parents warned him not to go again on his own. Following this his family came to financial ruin after a ship was lost at sea.

There is a legend of treasure being hidden under a large rock on Garn Bentyrch and his father enlisted all the local labourers and horses to try and move the stone. It would not budge. Guto Bach asked his fairy friends for help. They told him he could move the stone himself and reveal the treasure beneath. With just a touch of his hand the vast bolder rolled away revealing the hidden treasure that restored his family to wealth again.

Garn Bentyrch a sacred site in Gwyned,d North Wales
Sacred hill fort of Garn Bentyrch, Gwynedd North Wales

You can climb the hill from the holy well through beautiful old woodland and up onto the fort. The climb is a little steep in places, but can be made easily enough in the region of 15 to 20 minutes.

Parking may be possible beside the beautiful old Llangybi church. Or you can park just outside the village on the verge near the footpath sign to the well. You can also access the well by walking through the church yard. Near the main entrance way to the church is an ancient inscribed stone.

This is a favourite and regular site of pilgrimage for us, being located just a 10 minute drive from the Hermitage of the Awakened Heart.

Cwm Pennant – Inspiration of Bards

Cwm Pennant a holy site of pilgrimage in Gwynedd, North Wales
Connecting to the sacred landscape through quiet contemplation, on a pilgrimage to Cwm Pennant in Snowdonia, North Wales

Cwm Pennant is a valley near our own Welsh sacred site, The Hermitage of The Awakened Heart in Criccieth.

Cwm Pennant in North Wales is where revered Tibetan Buddhist teacher Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said was a special, sacred place to visit. Local legends say the people in the valley are intermarried with fairies – the tylwyth teg.

Once home to extensive slate quarries that were served by a narrow gauge railway, the valley has returned to peace and quiet.

We have performed many Buddhist rituals at Cwm Pennant, either by the river or further up at the head of the valley. Some stones from the river area were put into our sacred Stupa at The Hermitage site.

Welsh poet Eifion Wyn wrote of this place: “Why, Lord, did you make Cwm Pennant so beautiful,  And the life of the old shepherd so short?”

Sacred site of Cwm Pennant in North Wales
A pilgrimage to Cwm Pennant, one of the sacred sites we like to visit in North Wales

To visit the sacred site of the valley of Cwm Pennant, leave the A487 Porthmadog to Caernarfon road at Dolbenmaen and follow the narrow lane as it heads into the valley. Stay on this lane with its gates until you either park near Llanfihangel or reach the end of the tarmac where there is a small parking area (fee payable to the local farmer at Braich-y-dinas).

From the Llanfihangel parking spot walk a short distance up the road and then left over the bridge and up past a house, keeping it to your left. Then turn left through a gate and up a mining track to the valley side summit. Once at the summit you’ll find wonderful views and a very spacious feeling.

Garn Fadryn – A Tibetan Divination

Garn Fadryn a sacred site in North Wales. Lama Shenpen and Sister Kovida on the summit of Garn Fadryn on a pilgrimage there. July 2015

Garn Fadryn is an Iron Age hill fort in the centre of the Llyn peninsula in North Wales. It’s one of the places that Dilgo Khyenstse Rinpoche, a highly revered Tibetan Buddhist teacher, told us was special by carrying out a divination on a map of the UK, so the site has a sacred connection for us. His divinations are the reason our Hermitage of the Awakened Heart is based in North Wales.

From the summit there are views across to Bardsey Island and also to Snowdonia. Bardsey Island has been considered a very holy place for centuries, being associated with many Christian Saints. It attracts many pilgrims and tourists.

The hill fort is located near the village of Garn Fadryn and Llaniestyn, on the way to Aberdaron. From Pwllheli take the A497 to Nefyn. Turn left in Efailnewydd towards Aberdaron. Continue straight through Rhyd-y-Clafdy and in a couple of miles there is a turning right signposted “Garnfadryn”. Follow this lane until you come to another right turning, again signposted “Garnfadryn”. This lane will then take you into the village of Garnfadryn, and there is plenty of parking next to the chapel and telephone box.

We have made many pilgrimages to this sacred site and performed many Pujas (a general term for any ritual of worship such as prayers or offerings) on the summit.

sacred site in north wales Garn Fadryn
Tibetan Lama Drupbon Khenpo at Garn Fadryn, North Wales, visiting the holy Welsh site on a pilgrimage.

LLyn y Dywarchen – A Holy Isle

LLyn y Dywarchen sacred pilgrimage site
The holy Island at LLyn y Dywarchen

The sacred site of Llyn y Dywarchen, in Gwynedd, North Wales, is a lake with an island looking up to Snowdon. It has been blessed by the presence and prayers of Khenpo Rinpoche, Rigdzin Shikpo and Jamyang Tashi Dorje Rinpoche.

On a Buddhist pilgrimage to this sacred site in 2014, rituals and mantra were performed by members of the Awakened Heart Sangha, making a strong connection between this site and Guru Rinpoche. The Welsh word Dywarchen sounds remarkably similar to the Tibetan name for the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha – Dewachen.

LLyn y Dywarchen Sacred Pilgrimage Site North Wales
Rigdzin Shikpo, Lama Shenpen and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamsto Rinpoche visiting and blessing LLyn y Dywarchen, on a pilgrimage to the sacred site in North Wales

To visit this site turn right at Penygroes, through Nantlle and head towards Rhyd Ddu on the B4418. The lake is on the left hand side of the road just as you get to the summit of the pass. There is a small car park beside the road. The lake is used by fishermen.