Ellie Harrison goes on a journey along the Lleyn Peninsular in North Wales, climbing up to the mysterious remains of an ancient civilisation.
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Today I'm on a wild Welsh journey across a strip of land
that points out towards Ireland.
That is the Lleyn Peninsula.
My journey starts on the far east of the peninsula with a climb up
to the mysterious remains of an ancient civilisation.
'Then it's a stunning drive north to the granite quarries
'and the village of Nant Gwrtheyrn, abandoned, but now reincarnated as a Welsh language school.'
'After that, I'll be travelling from Pwllheli to the very tip of the peninsula with Iolo Williams
'in search of some very special birds.'
They circle around, they bounce up and down. I'm convinced that they do it just for fun,
just because they can.
'I end my journey at Aberdaron, the last village west before Ireland,
'a place of travellers and pilgrims.
'And Dr Alice Roberts descends into a Bronze Age world.'
I've just taken my helmet off so I can get through this hole.
I'm not looking forward to it!
It's really, really narrow.
Along the way, I'll be looking back at the best BBC rural programmes from this part of the world.
Welcome to Country Tracks.
The Lleyn Peninsula is a remote region in north Wales of great wilderness and beauty.
It extends 30 miles into the Irish Sea.
And for most of its length, it's only eight miles wide.
'This is Garn Bentyrch. It commands great views over the landscape
'and it's a physical link with our ancient ancestry.
'It's a bit of a climb, so thanks to a very kind farmer we've hitched a lift.'
This wild corner of Wales may appear isolated,
and I can't see a lot of houses, let alone villages and towns,
but it hasn't always been the case.
'Around 2,500 years ago, during the Iron Age,
'the Peninsula was hot property.
'Enormous hill forts were built on its peaks and anything from a few hundred to a few thousand people
'made their homes in this harsh, windswept terrain.
'You can still see the remains of these fascinating settlements.
'It may not reveal much to you or I, but archaeologists like Kate Waddington and Prof Raimund Karl
'can learn a lot from what's left.'
And here it is.
-What is this remains here?
-OK, it's a settlement,
a very large, monumental settlement from the first millennium BC.
We do know they were really important places to communities
and they were continually inhabited for over 1,000 years, which reveals how important this place was.
That brings me on to this question. It's not huge, the Peninsula.
Why was it so heavily settled?
It does control a very important area,
very good land for agriculture.
And it sits in a very dominant position, so it controls the area,
both strategically and also economically.
It's an important area to control. There was a lot going on in the Iron Age.
-The higher the better, was it?
-Yeah. And the bigger the better.
-It's also about being seen.
You're also being seen from below so you're a constant visual and physical presence in the landscape
so the people know, "We belong together, this is our big site."
OK, let me show you this because this is very interesting here.
-Oh, what's this?
-As you've seen, much of this has tumbled,
but this bit shows how the original fort might have looked like.
You can see that this is a well-preserved dry-stone facing.
Quite well built and nicely laid out. That is how one needs to imagine the whole inner stone ring
looked like on the outside when it originally was built.
Kate, it feels so cold up here. How would they have made it feel cosy and homely?
We've got to imagine that in the Iron Age period this was not just an enclosure,
but inside was a settlement inhabited by people.
They would have built roundhouses made out of timber or stone.
And within the centre of the roundhouse would be a hearth
so people would be burning a fire.
Why would a settlement like this have been abandoned?
Many of these sites are mainly, chiefly abandoned towards the end of the Iron Age,
roughly when the Romans come here.
So there might be a shift of communities.
Many of these sites, presumably, were associated with some kind of social elite.
The elite basically became Roman, Romanised, and moved to, effectively, Roman villas
or Roman towns or to the Roman forts.
There are Roman forts in the area. Caernarfon isn't that far away.
That might have been a reason for them to basically say,
"Let's leave these old things now and move to these new Roman things."
This is an amazing site. Not many people, I imagine, know about it or get to see it.
-Is that a good thing?
-Well, I'm a bit split about this.
It is, in a sense, very good for its preservation.
The fewer people that come up here, the less it's damaged.
It is a lot of tumble, so stones can get further dislocated quite easily.
On the other hand, it's a brilliant site and there are many here,
so in a sense it's a shame that not more people come up here. In a sense, it's a hidden gem.
'And it wasn't just the people of the Iron Age who saw great potential in the landscapes here.
'1,000 years before this hill fort was built, a huge discovery was made further up the coast in Llandudno.
Over there on that headland is the Graig Lwyd axe factory,
a Stone Age axe factory whose axes are found all over the UK and northern Europe.
And then one morning about 4,000 years ago, everybody wakes up and it's the Bronze Age,
so they put down their stone tools and they start making sophisticated bronze tools instead.
Or did they?
When we talk about the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age,
it's as though we're meant to think of these people as being different,
that suddenly they forgot their skills, trade routes and beliefs.
But one thing is clear - something extraordinary did happen 4,000 years ago.
It's quite difficult to think about what a huge imaginative leap it was
to think that you can take a rock, heat it up and get metal out of it.
And it's not just that. If you take malachite and get copper out,
in order to make bronze, you have to add tin. Copper and tin aren't found in any old rocks.
These people are travellers and traders. They get their tin from, probably, Cornwall 200 miles away.
For copper, they came here to the Great Orme, the biggest prehistoric copper mine in the world.
'Just a few years ago, vast underground caverns were discovered below the Orme's surface.'
Just come and have a look at this.
Oh, that's amazing!
-It's not a natural cave.
-It's all been dug out by people.
It is absolutely massive.
'My guide is Nick Jowett, one of the handful of people who excavated the ancient mines.'
-This is what it was all about.
-The green we can see is malachite. Malachite is copper ore.
We don't find much of it as they were so good at mining.
These are the bits they discarded.
What was in this chamber must have been phenomenal.
'To give me a real sense of what Bronze or, should I say, Copper Age mining was about,
'Nick's kindly offered to take me where the public can't go.
'There's an estimated five miles of tunnels down here,
'each hand dug in search of the miraculous green copper ore.
'And Nick has recently discovered a new tunnel that no one has entered for 4,000 years.
'Just as well he's an expert pot holer and member of a cave rescue team.'
I've just taken my helmet off so I can get through this hole.
I'm not looking forward to it.
It's really, really narrow.
It defies belief that people were doing that 4,500 years ago down these caves, these tunnels.
That was a pretty narrow squeeze. They must have really wanted that ore.
-Over all the years they were doing it, how much ore do you think they mined out?
-The estimates so far
suggest that perhaps around 1,700 tonnes of copper metal came out of this mine.
That quantity would be enough to make around 10 million metal axes.
-An incredible quantity.
'But in the days before dynamite, what technology did Bronze Age miners have to extract the ore
'to create tunnels as well as the vast open-cast mine? The answer lies firmly back in the Stone Age.'
-This is a piece of a rib bone.
-We can clearly see if we look at the end that it's worn and rounded.
-That's the evidence we have that these were used as tools.
-So that's been rounded by digging away...
-..at the ground here. So all of that was dug out using implements like this?
'Mining using metal tools would have been like using the family silver to dig the garden,
'so stone hammers and bone picks filled the toolbox,
'but the sheer quantity of tools found is staggering.'
This is one of our store rooms where we keep bones that we found.
Well, we've found about 37,000!
-If you want to have a look at them...
'37,000 fragments of bone tools! I'm curious to know what they can tell us about the miners.'
It's rather small, but the idea is the scapula is used as shovels.
It's a nice sort of shovel shape.
'Is there any human material here?'
It's not quite right, the curve of that.
I can see a tooth in here.
This is the tooth of a pig.
Oh. I was excited for a minute.
Most of these bone fragments are actually from cattle.
So domesticated species. We've also got sheep and goats.
So we know that they're farmers,
we know that they're pretty organised in what they're doing and getting a huge amount of ore out.
And we know what sort of tools they're using, what sort of animals they had living around them.
Is there any evidence of the people themselves? I got quite excited
because... there are some human bones.
This is a jaw, a mandible.
Some of the teeth have dropped out of their sockets. A few are still here - the canine and pre-molars.
He's got a very jutting out chin. Probably male.
This bone here is a collar bone or clavicle.
That's two human bone fragments among 37,000 fragments of animal bone.
'Looking back at what we've discovered, an extraordinary picture emerges.
'It's really odd to be up here on a rocky outcrop on the northernmost tip of Wales.'
Pretty much deserted today. Occasionally tourists,
but 4,000 years ago, this was at the centre of a revolution,
an industrial revolution. And this was a new society, the beginning of a new age.
Dr Alice Roberts on Great Orme.
I'm travelling along the Lleyn Peninsula in north Wales, through a vast expanse of open country.
The Peninsula just gets wilder as I drive along its northern coast to the village of Nant Gwrtheyrn.
I'm told that it's a tiny place hidden from view at the bottom of these really towering mountains.
So it's perhaps no surprise that Nant Gwrtheyrn was almost forgotten forever.
'It was built to house quarry workers in the late 1800s
'when Welsh granite was in high demand. Thousands of tonnes were quarried from these hillsides
'and shipped off to pave the streets of Manchester and Liverpool.
'But when the granite quarries closed, so did life in Nant Gwrtheyrn.
'The quarry men and their families moved away, their cottages were left at the mercy of the elements
'and the future of this place looked bleak.
'That was until 1971 and the arrival of a determined doctor
'who set about the reincarnation of Nant Gwrtheyrn.
'It's now a Welsh language school as well as a cultural centre.'
Carl, it's 40 years since you started this project. What made you take it on?
Well, I suppose my wife and I arrived in a nearby practice
in 1970 and we had one young child at the time.
We wanted to make our home in this very Welsh-speaking community, wanted my children to be Welsh-speaking.
Within the practice itself, day in, day out, one saw the consequences of severe depopulation.
This area supported all these granite quarries along the coast, which employed 2,000 men at its peak.
And as the quarries closed, the population moved away.
All the villages were in decline and that decline led to a lack of confidence in the community
and that manifested itself then in problems with health -
high blood pressure, depression and so on -
so it was an attempt in many ways to recreate the economy of the area.
It requires incredible vision to bring that together and, I imagine, an awful lot of work.
A huge amount of work. People questioned my sanity, as you can imagine.
"Why don't you do it somewhere else, far easier?" This village was in total ruin.
There were no roofs on many of the houses, no windows, no water, no electricity,
no road into the valley. It was in an extremely bad state.
And over a period of time, the word went out that we were serious,
people held their coffee mornings and their sponsored walks, corporates got interested.
It's a tribute in many ways to a lot of hard work by many thousands of people
throughout Wales and beyond who gave us the support we needed.
And had you not come along, can you imagine what it might be like?
I guess without the determination that we were able to show as a Trust at the time,
it could well have just disappeared into oblivion.
If I were to wander round these cottages back in 1890 and bump into one of the quarry workers,
the chances are we wouldn't have been able to have a conversation.
They were native Welsh speakers and many spoke no English at all.
'The Lleyn Peninsula remains a stronghold of the native language.
'More than 70% of people speak Welsh here, compared to 11% down in Cardiff.'
Nant Gwrtheyrn is now a Welsh language school for adults. 25,000 people have been students here
and since I've still got quite a way to go on my journey, I ought to at least learn some of the basics.
'Anwen Jones is my teacher. Welsh is her first language
'and she has family ties to the village.' Hello, Anwen. I don't even know how to greet you.
-It's terrible. So your great-grandfather worked here?
My great-grandfather and grandmother lived down in the village
and he worked in the quarry.
My grandfather was born in the village, so I feel quite privileged to be working here with my heritage.
-Yeah, it's a special relationship, knowing the family circle.
-And the Welsh language hasn't always been celebrated, has it?
My grandfather used to tell me stories of how if you spoke Welsh in the classroom at school
they were made to stand in the back of the class, wearing a sign.
It was completely prohibited in the classrooms at that time.
-They really tried to beat it out of the children.
-Why is it so important to keep the language alive?
-To be honest, it's part of our identity.
It's something you might not even question. We just speak Welsh.
It's something you may not realise the importance of until it's gone.
And it's all the cultural background of it as well in our society.
We're proud of our heritage and culture.
I'm going to be on a journey along the Lleyn Peninsula.
I feel like I ought to learn a few words. Can you help me with the basics?
-I can, indeed!
We could try...sut ydych chi? Which is, "How are you?"
-So sut... I got that bit.
-Sut ydych chi?
-If you find that a struggle, just say, "Sut mae?"
-That's more colloquial.
And that's, "How are you?" OK.
How would I say a greeting like, "Hello," or, "Good afternoon"?
-You could say...bore da for good morning.
-I think I've heard that one before. Bore da.
-And you could say, "Good afternoon." Prynhawn da.
-Bore da. Prynhawn da.
-Now manners - please and thank you.
-Please is os gwelwch yn dda.
-That's long for please!
-Maybe we should go to "thank you"!
-No, I must know my pleases.
-My parents will insist. So it was an os...
Os gwelwch yn dda.
-It's not easy, though, is it?
-No, but very good.
-Now my "thank you".
Or thank you very much - diolch yn fawr iawn.
-Just say, "Thank you"!
-I'll just wave. Diolch... Sorry.
Diolch yn fawr iawn.
My Welsh lesson with Anwen is going to come in handy now as I'll have a travelling companion.
He's a very proud Welshman and a pretty well-known face around here.
-'His name is Iolo Williams.
'He's the David Attenborough of Wales and I'm off to meet him now.
'I've lived in Wales all my life.
'Through my work with wildlife, I've been lucky enough to have visited every part of the country
'and seen pretty much everything there is to see.
'But for me what makes Wales unique is that it's small enough to get to know it intimately
'yet big enough to always have a few surprises in store.
'Iolo loves this part of Wales and he's going to be my guide for the next part of my journey.'
Here we go, then. Prynhawn da. Sut mae, Iolo?
Hey, Ellie! Very, very good!
Well done. I understood all of that. Fantastic.
Because Welsh isn't easy to learn.
You're not kidding! It's really difficult.
If you're born into it, it's simple, but if you have to learn it,
with all the "ll" and "wr" and everything, it's very difficult.
-Well done, you.
-Thank you. As an English girl, I'll take my two words as semi-fluent.
Now if you take a left here, go down that lane over there, well, across over there,
the first port of call is the town of Pwllheli.
I want to show you something quite spectacular here.
'Pwllheli is a seaside town on the south coast of the Peninsula.
'At the height of the summer season, it's crawling with holidaymakers
'and I have my doubts about seeing much wildlife here.'
It doesn't scream beauty spot.
No, it's not, admittedly,
but this is the best place I know to come and see grey herons.
-There's a pair up on a nest.
-Oh, straight out of the car!
Straight out the car and there they are. Big, big birds.
What I really like about this place is you're in the middle of a town.
-A really busy road.
-Very busy road. The herons pay no notice whatsoever so they're used to people.
And the other big advantage is that usually herons nest right up in the tops of the tallest trees.
It's the only place I know where you can watch the whole heron breeding cycle as it goes on,
like sitting at home in an armchair turning on the TV and watching them.
-You didn't even have to leave the car!
-No, you don't.
-It is a veritable soap opera.
They are stunning birds and very prehistoric-looking birds, like from thousands of years ago.
They look like they don't belong so high up because they're so big.
It is odd. Huge nest, huge bird, surely they're ground-nesting? But they're not.
They nest right up in the tops of the tallest trees.
Their courtship displays are quite impressive, too. Dancing, a lot of noise...
A lot of noises. They do this cronking noise, a real coarse noise.
And then when one arrives back on the nest, they greet each other with a little bit of billing,
-almost like a head dance.
-And nest building at the moment.
Yeah, he'll bring back sticks for her. Great big sticks in the beak.
It looks like a metre rule.
He'll come back with that, hand it to her and she adds it to the nest and gets it just so,
-just as she wants it.
-Very important, that, that he makes her a very happy lady.
Other than herons in "Porth-heli"...
It's Pwllheli. Pwll means pool, heli means salt.
So salty pool, Pwllheli.
OK. So other than herons here, what else can we see, wildlife-wise?
Well, it's got a vast array, fantastic array of all kinds of wildlife, coastland, inland.
-The further west you go, the better it gets. That's where we're going - going west.
'Iolo and I are heading off in search of wilderness and rare birds,
'but here in Pwllheli, every summer these roads are clogged with people.
'Pwllheli is home to one of Britain's most famous resorts.
'Thousands of campers have happy memories of Butlins. Comedian Les Dennis is one of them.'
I was born on 12th October, 1953, in Garston in Liverpool.
One of five kids. We were a typical working-class family.
In 1961, miraculously,
my dad won the pools. It was fantastic.
It wasn't exactly a fortune - £620 -
but it was enough for us to afford our first holiday,
out here at Butlins in Pwllheli in the beautiful north Wales countryside.
'Good morning, campers. Whatever the weather, every day is fine at Butlins.'
This is fantastic. Very luxurious, but it's not what I remember.
There were just lines of little chalets. Beautiful little chalets like prefabricated houses.
We were very close. It's important to know that in Liverpool, everybody is "our".
Our Marg, our Mandy, our Ken, and me mum and me dad.
For kids from Liverpool, this was so exciting. All the funfair rides were free. You could stay on all day.
The boating lake here, no one ever said, "Come in, Number Seven." You stayed out as long as you wanted.
And every year, without fail, our Ken, in his best holiday shirt,
on day one - splosh! Right into the pond.
'It was on this beach that I first saw the evidence of my dad as a sportsman.'
He was a really quiet guy. As a young man, he played for Blackburn Rovers, Tranmere
and my beloved Liverpool FC in 1936.
But although we knew that, we didn't really know how good he was until we played football here
and he was great, he was so nifty. He was an inside left and you could really see it.
He was a lovely, lovely man and he was great with us.
Although I loved the outdoor activities,
for me it was the theatre when the holiday really came to life.
And every night in the theatres there would be two shows. I came to see them both.
It was the first time that I saw real comedians live and I got that feel and love of stand-up.
My mum had had this chance as a teenager to be in a talent competition,
but she couldn't do it. She had to start in a factory the next day.
So she saw in me a talent that she'd had
and she encouraged me. She got me my first audition here at Butlins for the talent competition.
I went into it, didn't get through the first heat.
I was rubbish! But the next year I came back and got an act together and got third place.
I kept coming back every year. That's why we came back, so I could go into the talent competitions.
So for me the magic of being onstage began here, on this very stage.
As soon as I left school, I started in show business. I worked hard
and eventually I got what, to me, was a dream come true - a summer season with Jimmy Tarbuck.
And I was absolutely thrilled. The one person I wanted to tell was my mum,
but she'd died of cancer a few months before that and I couldn't tell her.
I know that she's there watching me now and saying, "You did it, lad."
And that's why it's lovely for me to come back here, to sit on this stage where it all began for me.
I can almost see my family out there, my mum and dad, sitting and clapping the loudest.
'Les Dennis remembering Butlins at Pwllheli.
'Iolo and I are making the most of low tourist season
'by taking a walk along a deserted Welsh beach.'
What was it that got you interested in wildlife in the first place?
As far back as I can remember, Ellie, I've been fascinated by all kinds of wildlife.
I remember as a lad of four finding a woodpigeon's nest with two eggs in it
and thinking, "Poor old bird needs more eggs." I got some hen's eggs,
and put them all around these eggs. The poor pigeon must have come back and thought, "What's going on?!"
From as far back as I can remember, I've just been fascinated by it
-and I love the fact that I can live to be 1,000 years old and still wouldn't know the half of it.
-Have you lived in Wales all your life?
-More or less, yeah. I left briefly to go to college in London,
but then came back. Wales means a lot to me.
It's where I was born, brought up, where I've got deep roots.
So I'll leave it in a box and even then be buried in the ground. I'm not going to leave Wales.
-A Welshman through and through. If I cut you in half, it'll say Wales!
-Like a piece of rock!
'Iolo's homeland has no shortage of landscapes
'and none are more imposing than Snowdonia.
'Here, high in the mountains, he has tracked down all kinds of flora and fauna.'
-It's very clear on a day like this.
You'll always see ravens high up on the mountains. It's their natural habitat.
And these may well roost at night on Anglesey in Newborough Forest.
'But we haven't climbed up all the way here to see a raven.
'Hywel walks many miles on these dangerous slopes, looking for wildlife,
'and he's found something very special on a rock facing the sun.'
-This is it, the purple saxifrage?
Very bright colours, beautiful. The petals are a bright purple colour.
What you've got here as well is the tight clusters of leaves.
Do you know, of all of them, because you've got mossy saxifrage, starry saxifrage,
this is my favourite because this is the kind of skinhead of the Arctic alpines.
It comes out in February, March, when you've got ice and snow,
-so this is the real hard one.
-A tough guy, this one.
Of course, the term saxifrage itself means they're tough creatures.
They are literally breaking the rocks, rock breakers.
Here, where they're growing there's dark rock, which is slightly less acidic than the general rock
and there's just that little bit more nutrients there released into the rock, which they want.
The other thing Arctic alpine plants want is altitude and the right aspect for the cold.
They're relatively high up here, about 500 metres above sea level.
Today we're fortunate to be facing the sun, getting the best of it, so it's had an early start here.
Having said that, though, we are late in the year this year for it flowering,
a month to six weeks later because of the exceptionally hard winter.
And it's the only bit of colour here. If you look around you,
the grass has all died back from the hard winter
and the only bit of colour, of purple, is this one little flower.
-It is a gem.
-It's something to raise the spirits at the end of winter. Spring is here for me.
'This is Cwm Nantcol in the Rhinogydd Mountains and I'm tracking some even more elusive mammals.
'They're wild goats.
'You can spot them quite easily,
'but if you try and get near them, they keep on moving.
'It's thought that these uplands have the greatest wild goat population per hectare in the UK.
'That may be so,
'but it's hard work tracking them.'
I've been following these goats all morning.
They've given me the run-around, but I've finally caught up with them.
They're in rut, they're fighting. There are three big billies there.
They have the huge, flat horns. And they've got five or six nannies with smaller, spiral horns.
Every now and again, they'll stop, fight and the dominant billy will mate with all of those nannies.
But they're well-equipped for life out here. I'm here in my gear,
but they're much faster. The go over these rocks using their hooves
and they've got this thick coat to keep out the worst of winter, rain and cold. Amazing animals.
Superbly well-adapted for this mountain environment.
Wild goats are not true wild animals.
Some of the goats may be derived from domestic goats. The rest escaped during 19th-century land clearances.
Others may even be derived from much earlier stock and possibly date back to the Ice Age.
There may be as many as 500 goats on these mountains.
During winter, some can become a nuisance.
They move down the valley to browse and that's often in someone's back garden.
But here in the uplands, they're a wonderful addition to this rugged landscape
and during the autumn rut they put on an incredible show.
'I'm on a journey along the Lleyn Peninsula in north Wales.
'I started on Garn Bentyrch exploring an Iron Age hill fort.
'I drove through the stunning scenery along the northern coast
'and took a Welsh lesson at Nant Gwrtheyrn. I then headed south to Pwllheli to meet Iolo Williams
'before driving along the southern edge to the very end of the road.
'The tip of the Lleyn is a good place to find a beautiful coastal bird called a chough.
'Iolo is convinced we'll see some.'
-Does this look like a good spot?
-This should be ideal.
We're facing the sun here so it's all warmed up for them. They aim for the short turf,
these grassy bits between the gorse and the rocks. And they could come anywhere,
-all along this bank.
-There's a wide area!
-How are their numbers doing?
-Well, two stories in Wales.
Inland, not so well. We do have some inland pairs in mid-Wales. They're all gone now.
The few inland pairs we have are now confined to the high mountains of north Wales,
where they'll feed on areas like this - short turf, acid.
They'll nest in old mines, mine shafts, mind buildings, too.
But in coastal areas, they're doing very well. Particularly here.
This is one of the best places in the whole of the UK.
-I've seen flocks of 30, 40 birds here.
It is a really good spot. There are always, always choughs here.
-So we will see them, but keep your eyes and ears open.
-They've got this unique call. Kyee-ah!
-There you go. Hear that and you know it's chough!
-Will you hear them before you see them?
Because although they're not shy birds, they nearly always tuck behind a little hill.
'Well, I've heard a chough, but still haven't seen one. Iolo won't give up easily, so we move on.'
-What a view!
-This should be a good patch. You can see again this short turf.
-It's used a lot by choughs. If we sit here and watch and wait...
-We'll surely see one.
I think we will. And probably around these rocks and maybe a little bit further down.
We should see some choughs.
'At last, there's a chough.'
They are fantastic birds, cracking birds.
When you see them in the air like this, they're just true masters of the aerial environment.
I always look at them and think scientists say when a bird goes from A to B there's got to be a reason.
If it's going to expend that energy, there has to be a reason, to feed.
But when you watch choughs up in the air, they circle around, bounce,
-I'm convinced that they do it just for fun, just because they can.
-It's not a good use of energy!
I'm sure there's no reason, other than the fact, "Hey, let's go and fly," because it's fun.
'Just two miles across the Sound lies the holy island of Bardsey.
'Known as the island of 20,000 saints, it's been a place of pilgrimage for centuries.
'Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel made his own musical pilgrimage,
'a piano not far behind him, to fulfil a dream of singing in the island's chapel.'
And a welcoming committee.
'Right up until the middle of the 20th century, the island had a substantial population,
'capable of supporting a school and a Methodist chapel,
'but there are now only a handful of permanent residents. Among them is the poet Christine Evans.'
Tell me about the name Ynys Enlli.
Ynys Enlli, in Welsh, can mean
"island in the current" or "island in the tide"
and it is a very difficult place to get to. Even with modern boats,
about a third of all crossings are cancelled for bad weather. You're lucky to be here!
In English, of course, it's called Bardsey and has been since at least 1188
when Giraldus Cambrensis wrote on his tour through Wales about it.
And that's taken to mean "the island of Barder" who was a Viking chieftain.
'Christine has brought me through the rain to the spiritual heart of the island -
'the ruins of the medieval abbey that once welcomed thousands upon thousands of pilgrims.'
-So are there really 20,000 saints buried on the island?
-I don't think anyone's ever counted them, Bryn,
but certainly over 1,000 years it doesn't seem too many.
I think it was partly because of the tradition that if you died here or on the way to the island,
and you lived a holy life, your soul wouldn't go to hell.
That was a great thing in the Middle Ages when they were tormented by visions of that place.
Even in the 21st century, there's a feeling of peace and tranquillity and spirituality.
We're surrounded by people who came here to die and to be buried. That gives it something extra.
'Ever since my first visit, I've always wanted to sing in the chapel on Bardsey.
'Franz Schubert's Litany for the Feast of All Souls could have been written for this wonderful island
'of saints and pilgrims.
'But first there was the small matter of getting a piano to the island!'
# Ruh'n in Frieden
# Alle Seelen
# Die vollbracht
# Ein banges Qualen
# Die vollendet
# Sussen Traum
# Geboren kaum
# Aus der Welt
# Alle Seelen
# In Frieden...
TRANSLATED FROM GERMAN:
Bryn Terfel bringing music to Bardsey, an island which remains of great spiritual importance.
And so does this place - Aberdaron.
It's a small village perched on a gusty extremity of Britain.
It's pretty wild and remote and played an important part in the religious life of Wales.
In a moment, I'll find out about the hazards of medieval pilgrimage
and why modern-day pilgrims come here in search of poetry, but first here's the weather forecast.
Today's journey has taken me down the length of
the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales.
From the Iron Age hill fort at Garn Bentyrch
to the Welsh-language school at Nant Gwrtheyrn,
south to Pwllheli and on to the cliff tops near Uwchmynydd.
I've now reached Aberdaron, one of Britain's remotest villages.
It's home to about 1,000 people but, at the height of summer,
there can be ten times that number.
It's been on the tourist trail for centuries.
During the middle ages,
Aberdaron was regarded as a bit of a service station.
For travellers heading over to Ireland.
It was the last village west
and for those making a spiritual pilgrimage across the water
to the island of Bardsey,
it was the last glimpse of secular civilisation.
I've just come across this sign on a building
which says "Y Gegin fawr", which apparently means "the big kitchen".
..which says to me that only the saints
get a free meal with the voucher. Everyone else has to pay.
The village church of St Hywyn's may not be as famous as the old abbey on Bardsey
but it has developed a strong spiritual presence of its own.
Pilgrims often got stuck here due to the fierce winds howling around the peninsula.
There was no way a boat would make it safely to Bardsey,
so they stayed in Aberdaron, praying and waiting for a break in the weather.
They would have looked out to sea from this churchyard,
in the direction of the Island of 20,000 Saints,
eager to get to their final destination.
I think it must have been a pretty powerful feeling.
But modern-day pilgrims are in search of something quite different.
They come to pay homage to a poet.
There is an island
There is no going to but in a small boat
The way the saints went
Travelling the gallery of the frightened faces of the long-drowned
Munching the gravel at its beaches.
Those were the words of the late poet RS Thomas,
who was also vicar here at St Hywyn's.
They were read by the current reverend Jim Cotter,
who has inherited a parish from a poet.
Jim, who was RS Thomas?
RS Thomas was probably the greatest poet in Wales in the 20th century
writing in the English language.
I can't judge poetry in the Welsh language but certainly
he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature.
He didn't get it, but he was nominated
so he was very highly thought of in the literature world.
-And he kept on moving westwards throughout his adult life.
-He was brought up on Anglesey - Holyhead...
He started off near the English border at Chirk
and then, parish by parish, moved further west until he ended,
I think the last 12 years - 1967-1978 -
he was vicar of Aberdaron, here.
RS Thomas was obviously very well known and, to some, known as perhaps a bit of a grump or a recluse.
What did people think of him?
Er, yes, there's different feelings about him.
If you talk to people on the farms here, particularly,
I think you'll find people say he was a shy man
but he would come and do good by stealth.
He wore a huge...poacher's overcoat
with very capacious pockets inside.
He baked bread as a hobby and he would take loaves of bread and put them on the kitchen tables
-and visit those who were ill.
And he would sit with people quite companionably in the evening.
And there are a lot of people who remember that.
His more public persona was a bit grumpy and, rumour has it,
he would pretend not to speak English in August, so as not to speak to the tourists.
Are you a keen reader of his poetry?
I've always been attracted to his poetry and I read it...off and on,
-probably since...certainly since my 30s if not before.
-So how was it when you came to this church?
-That was a great gift.
It's interesting that, because now, 10, 11 years after his death,
there's beginning to be an RS Thomas industry - research students.
It's not a great flood of people but there's a continuous stream
of people coming down because of the RS Thomas connection now.
-Is that a good thing?
-Yes. I think it's very good.
In his poem Pilgrimage, RS Thomas describes the perilous crossing to Bardsey.
It's a journey that fascinates me, too.
There is no body in the stained window of the sky now
Am I too late?
Were they too late, also Those first pilgrims?
He is such a fast God
Always before us And leaving as we arrive.
I can imagine the pilgrims reaching this point and seeing Bardsey just across the water
and thinking, "Yes! We've nearly made it."
They'd have launched their little boats from this inlet down here,
which is essentially a windy, rocky, wave-battered cove of danger.
To end my journey, I just had to catch a ride and get out on the water.
I can't help feeling those determined pilgrims, on their way to Bardsey,
rushed past the beauty and tranquillity of the Lleyn Peninsula.
Had they climbed to the hill-fort homes of their ancestors,
or lingered a while longer on the pretty coastal roads,
or even spent an afternoon gazing at the choughs
rising and falling on the breeze,
I wonder if Bardsey would have had quite so many visitors.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Ellie Harrison goes on a journey along the Lleyn Peninsular in North Wales. She starts her journey on the far east of the peninsula with a climb up to the mysterious remains of an ancient civilisation.
Next, she takes a stunning drive north to the remarkable village of Nant Gwrtheyrn, once abandoned and now reincarnated as a Welsh language school.
Ellie travels from Pwllheli to the tip of the peninsular, with naturalist Iolo Williams, in search of herons and choughs. She ends her journey at Aberdaron, the 'last village west' before Ireland, a place of travellers and pilgrims.