Pilgrims’ departure point, Porth Meudwy

Pilgrims’ departure point, Porth Meudwy, near Aberdaron

According to tradition, pilgrims sailed from here to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey island). After walking through North Wales to Aberdaron, they would rest and eat before the last leg of the journey.

Old photo of Porth MeudwyThe cove is closer to the island than Aberdaron and is more sheltered from the prevailing wind, making for safer embarkation in boats. It was said that three pilgrimages to Ynys Enlli equalled one to Rome. Some people went there to die. Legend has it that 20,000 saints (early Christians) are buried on the island.

More recently, Porth Meudwy was the arrival point of seven sailors in October 1917 who had survived the sinking of their steamship by a German submarine the previous week. They were weakened by hunger when they made landfall in the steamer’s lifeboat. They received hot food from local residents, who also dried their clothes. Then they went by bus to Pwllheli, heading for Liverpool.

After the Second World War, farmer and fisherman John Evans took visitors on boat trips to Ynys Enlli. In June 1955 he was hauling his boat up the slipway here when his tractor overturned, killing him.

Porth Meudwy means ‘Hermit’s Cove’. To hear how to pronounce Porth Meudwy, press play:

Place-name expert Glenda Carr has suggested that hermits centuries ago weren’t so committed to seclusion that they wouldn’t live beside pilgrimage routes, and that a hermit living here might have received occasional gifts from pilgrims in gratitude for praying for a safe crossing of the dangerous Swnt Enlli (Bardsey Sound), which separates the island from the mainland.

Another Welsh name for hermit, used by bards centuries ago, is ermid, derived from the Middle English eremite. Farms nearby are named Bodermid Uchaf and Bodermid Isaf. The name was recorded as Bodermitt in the 16th century, and probably denotes the residence (Bod-) of a hermit.

The islands you can see from Porth Meudwy are Ynys Gwylan-fawr and Ynys Gwylan-fach. Gwylan = gull. Mawr and bach denote the larger and smaller islands.

With thanks to Glenda Carr, of the Welsh Place-Name Society, and to Rhiw.com for information and the old photo

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