To the Isle of Dwynwen, Welsh Saint of Lovers

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Christmas morning and we find ourselves in a general pilgrimage of families and dogs. We have all had the same idea: to trek along Anglesey’s Newborough Beach to Ynys Llanddwyn, the island sanctuary of Dwynwen, Welsh patron saint of lovers.

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As you can see, the day was brilliant, but down on the shore the wind was bitingly cold. It was a challenge to take photos, but taken they must be. For one thing, the views across the Menai Strait to the mainland’s Llŷn Peninsula were mesmerizing, and had to be captured.

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For another, there were some rather shocking scenes of coastal erosion. I promise, though, when we reach the island I will tell you the story of Dwynwen.

First things first. Newborough Beach is some two miles long and ends at the promontory that forms Llanddwyn Island. It is famous for its dunes which apparently arrived there in the great storm of 1331. It was the Feast of St Nich0las (December 6) when the disaster struck, and on that day the wind and sea rose to such a pitch that they drove, from the shores across the Strait, great mounds of sand and deposited them on the once fertile fields and dwellings of the medieval Newborough.

Ever since, many of the dunes have continued to shift, although there have been various strategies to stabilize them. In the sixteenth century marram grass was planted, and this gave rise to a successful local industry wherein the grass was cropped to weave into mats and baskets. Far more recently, in the 1940s, the Forestry Commission planted the promontory with conifers. The small forest that has thrived there since is home to ravens and red squirrels.

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Now, though, there are new threats from the weather. Last winter severe storms lashed the Welsh coast, causing great damage and much local concern about a future where rising sea levels and erratic storms are likely to figure more prominently.

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It is a simple demonstration of the power of weather, and instead of arguing about its precise causes we should perhaps be wondering what is best to be done. At the present, the people of Newborough are doing just that. There is an on-going public consultation as to how the forest and nearby salt marsh may be protected. This whole corner of Anglesey is a much treasured resource to locals and visitors alike.

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Meanwhile, sister Jo’s labrador Molly is hardly concerned with matters of coastal erosion. Nothing a dog likes more than sand in its paws, wind in its ears, some smelly crabs and dead fish to nose, and also to lay claim to everyone else’s stick.

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She always wins. ALWAYS. Bad luck, Graham.

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When we reach the crossing place to the island, the tide is still too high to walk across. So we ponder the rocky deposits of pillow lava, that were apparently blown up from undersea volcanic eruptions in the Precambrian era, and wonder if Dwynwen really did choose this exposed promontory for her sanctuary some fifteen hundred years ago. There is no doubting the elevating beauty of the place.

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And so, as I promised, to Dwynwen’s story. She lived in the fifth century CE, and was one of Prince Brychan’s twenty four daughters. She fell in love with a young man called Maelon Dafodrill who apparently returned her feelings. Yet in a fit of caprice, Dwynwen refused his proposal of marriage. Some say it was because she wished to remain chaste. Others say it was because her father had arranged for her to marry another man. For his part, Maelon made his displeasure at the refusal known by spreading tales that cast doubt on Dwynwen’s honour.

In a frenzy of anguish, she thus took herself off alone to a wood where she prayed to be cured of her passion. And so it was that an angel appeared to her in a dream and gave her a potion that not only erased her feelings of love, but also transformed the spurned lover into a block of ice. Heaven also granted her three wishes. Dwynwen thus asked that Maelon be unfrozen. She then requested that if any true-hearted lover invoked her name, they should be granted their heart’s desire or relieved of their painful emotions. Finally, she sought never to be married, and thence withdrew from the world, founding a convent on Llanddwyn Island which, after her death in 465, became a place of pilgrimage. Her feast day is 25 January, and is celebrated by many in Wales with cards and flowers in the same way Saint Valentine’s Day is marked in many European countries.

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And so unable to complete our own pilgrimage and reach the island with its ruined church, we retraced our steps, thinking more profanely of a turkey to be roasted, presents to be opened, and a glass of champagne to drink.

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And it was under this patch of marram grass, as we left the beach, that my Kodak EasyShare gave up the ghost. You could say, then, that this post is its last post. Just as well I still have the memory…

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk

See her latest post and other bloggers’ walks at Roker Pier

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37 thoughts on “To the Isle of Dwynwen, Welsh Saint of Lovers

  1. The ocean giveth and the ocean taketh away. I have lived on the Atlantic coast my entire life, except for the years I was overseas. Beaches disappear. Human attempts to interfere usually make everything worse. American attempts to stabilize the delta of the Mississippi River in Louisiana produced massive erosion of the bayous. They will be gone in a matter of years, along with all the wildlife supported by that ecosystem. No matter how well intentioned are our attempts to improve on nature, they are always disastrous.

    Storms change the shoreline. That is how the beach arrived and that is how it will leave. I’ve seen harbors wiped out by hurricanes as well as various beaches, homes and sometimes entire villages.

    Good luck!

    1. yes, you are absolutely right of course, Marilyn. The sea gives and the sea takes. And probably in the end people will simply have to accept the change. What we most need to learn, then, is how to best adapt to changed circumstances.

      1. It’s sad to lose a beach we love. I remember when two of my favorite beaches were swept away by Hurricane Carol. One storm, two beaches. Every year, a beach or two is swallowed up along Cape Ann. Garry used to cover the storms when he was a working reporter. Yet people determinedly rebuild on the same vulnerable spits of land where their previous homes have washed away. I never understood the mindset. There are places nature decrees are temporary. What’s a few hundred years in the life of a continent? It really isn’t up to us and I don’t see anything particularly heroic about daring the Atlantic to come and eat your home.

  2. Wonderful and dramatic images of an area which is so steeped in atmosphere and beauty.
    As for climate change and the ensuing problems around the globe which will only worsen unless we all wake up now – Mother Nature once again is being very clear about whose ultimately in charge.
    I love the story and the dog:) Thank you.,

  3. Tish, I greatly enjoyed the walk and I was bundled up, so I didn’t get cold. Enjoyed the story as well. I hope people will come up with a good plan to save the marshes if possible so they can continue to be a source of joy and peace.

    janet

    1. Yep. It’s a pretty weird tale, Bumba. A lot of the early Christian women seem to have similar yarns of spurned lovers or being ravished associated with them, followed by extraordinary miracles. Early PR job maybe.

  4. What a wonderful walk, Tish! You gathered me in and swept me along with you- just the way I like it 🙂 Poor little camera, but what a lovely farewell it left. It’s another breezy day here and we have scaffolders on the roof next door! Don’t envy them! I’m off out to blow about some more. 🙂 Many thanks to you!

    1. Even in Shropshire the wind has been quite something. I think you are right – to go out and FACE it. Once one has put on enough layers, walking in the wind is exhilarating isn’t it. Blow the cobwebs away, if not the roof tiles.

  5. the kodak did a great job of ending the year on such a positive note – perhaps it was Dwynwen who turned it into a block of ice. Chilly enough walk by all accounts but so refreshingly beautiful – the sands of time are always shifting – perhaps we just have to let them go

    1. Yes, I think that may be the only way. Ugly coastal defences mostly don’t seem to be the answer. All the same, we do need to wake up to climate change, and what it may mean for many.

  6. I agree with the other commenters, man’s attempts at harnessing and changing the course of nature usually ends in making it worse. One of the top surfing beaches here on the Goldcoast, has been totally ruined by the council trying to stop the erosion of sand only to destroy the surf breaks.

  7. I love the deep blues against the sandy browns, this time of year with us tilting on our sides, so to speak. And the Welsh names – reminds me of a band that made a record all in Welsh, The Super Furry Animals. My step-dad was born in Hook, and I do plan to visit that area sometime soon….our family will be relocating to Germany for a year, this summer. Thank you for the tips on where to visit! I can’t wait. In some, small ways it reminds me of the islands we have in the Pacific Northwest – the San Juans. You’re lucky to have clear weather, hence the winds.

    1. Glad you liked this, Bill. If you root around in my blog, you’ll find more on Wales – especially Dolgellau, and Cader Idris which are worth a visit. The Super Furry Animals passed me by 🙂

  8. Beautiful photos – we used to go to Anglesey on family holidays many moons ago but in summer fortunately when it was bit warmer! Fascinating story about Dwynwen she sounds a bit emotionally complicated! I’m not surprised at all the erosion – the winter storms last year were ferocious on the west coast of England and Wales especially from what we heard (here in Perth Australia). My mother in law lives in Somerset overlooking the moors (the flat low lying kind) and she effectively looked out onto a lake for weeks. We have sand erosion along the coast here in Perth and it is a very difficult problem to overcome! Best wishes Rosemary 🙂

    1. Thank you for your comments and visiting my blog, Rosemary. I agree with you about Dwynwen. These early Christian Saxon princesses were often sent off by their fathers to head religious houses as a rather different way of extending political control instead of making dynastic marriages. The stories that grew up around them seem to be an attempt to explain their unmarried status to the general populace, and give them saintly cachet of course.

  9. è magnifico lasciarsi condurre attraverso bellissime immagine, in luoghi sconosciuti, che sembrano anche essere familiari, le coste e le rive sabbiose, spesso si assomigliano, anche in luoghi così lontani, ti scrivo dalla Toscana, a Pisa e qui vicino ci sono ampie spiagge, bellissime
    felice giorno Ven

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