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.