I made a pre-lockdown pilgrimage to Bardsey Island [pictured] in North Wales to follow in the footsteps of the ancient saints.
Here’s an extract from my latest travel-writing feature, published today.
When Pope Callixtus II decreed three pilgrimages to Bardsey to be equivalent to one to Rome, it sparked a pilgrim scramble to the remote Llyn Peninsula that lasted until The Reformation.
The medieval writer Gerald of Wales first noted the large number of pilgrims blazing a sandal-clad trail to Bardsey in 1188, many of them believing to die on the island idyll would guarantee them a place in heaven.
That’s why Bardsey is still known as the isle of 20,000 saints.
“Bardsey comes at you with all the senses: the sound of nature, the view west across the sea with the mountains behind, and the sense of ancient spirituality,” says Peter Hewlett, who arranges walking trips around the Llyn.
The only place to be right now is a small market in North Wales with a Grade I-listed castle.
The reason? Gwrych Castle on the edge of Abergele is hosting the ITV series I’m A Celebrity following a Covid-enforced relocation from the Australian jungle.
I was there just before the show launched to take the pulse on the streets of the small town anticipating a big tourist boom.
Here’s a sample of my feature:
Walking down Abergele’s high street [pictured above], I can sense the excitement building.
The former mayor started a competition for local businesses to dress their shop windows with a celebrity motif and the townspeople have really embraced it.
The barber shop, A Cut Above, has a grinning Ant and Dec with scissors above the catchy slogan:
“Who’s next for the chop?”
Across the road at The Veg Shop, the cheeky-chappie Geordies are sporting dinner jackets and holding aloft leeks, declaring:
“I’m a vegetable, get me out of here.”
The Ready Grass showroom (‘superior quality artificial grass at wholesale prices’), meanwhile, has installed a throne in its car park with two giant, inflatable figures of Ant and Dec, taking a bow in the bracing sea breeze.
We took a trip to Llandudno last weekend to write a postcard from the North Walian resort for Telegraph Travel.
But it was also something of a personal journey.
I used to go to Llandudno on family holidays as a child — that’s me aged around five with my mum on the prom at the North Shore [pictured above].
This time I was back with my own two daughters for a UK seaside break after our original holiday plans were cancelled under lockdown.
But how would an old-school seaside resort shape up for two Tick Tock teens?
Here’s a taster of my story:
The collapse of air bridges has led to the North Wales coast enjoying a post-lockdown bonanza.
We find Landudno’s pebbly North Beach busy with rockpool paddlers, despite some rather menacing clouds over the Great Orme, and the cafés along Mostyn Street bustling with al-fresco diners seeking Cymru-sur-mer vibes.
“People are hungry for good food they don’t have to prepare and clean up afterwards,” says Michael Waddy, Executive Chef at the Empire Hotel.
Local produce is a major draw for visitors to Wales.
Indeed, there’s a host of local suppliers and independent producers celebrated each year by the Great Taste Awards Wales.
In particular, the artisan food and drink sector has grown in recent years with a turnover of £4.8bn in 2018-19 and 78,000 people employed in the food and farming sector, according to figures from Food & Drink Wales.
This themed tour would be ideal for an autumn departure around the time of the annual British Food and Drink Fortnight, The Conwy Honey Fair or one of the smaller harvest festivals staged across North Wales.
This route is designed to form an overarching narrative on the theme of food and drink.
It describes the rise of independent businesses, highlighting the range and quality of local flavours, and the human story of our local food heroes.
It builds in rhythm from site visit in Llandudno, via a coach-based scenic tour in the Valley and lunch stop, to a town-centre walking tour of Cowny with time for souvenir shopping before departure.
Along the way we will enjoy product tastings, guest talks from local chefs and an opportunity to meet and sample the goods of local independent food producers in North Wales.
If your group would like to join this independent tour, then please do get in touch.