We leave Pwllheli at 1230 so that we can arrive at Bardsey Sound at slack water at 1630 and take advantage of the north flowing tidal stream beyond that. A few other boats seem to have the same idea, and for a while we form an orderly procession as we proceed down St Tudwal’s Roads and sail between St Tudwal’s Islands. I read later that St Tudwal was a monk from Brittany who retired to one of these islands to become a hermit. The remains of his monastery are still on one of the islands.
We pass Porth Ceiriad and then the broad sweeping bay of Porth Neigwl, and Bardsey Island comes into view. Porth Neigwl translates as Hell’s Mouth, and we wonder what terrible events must have happened for it to earn such a name. All seems tranquil at the moment though, so much so that the wind dies right off and we have to motor to reach Bardsey Sound in time for slack water.
We drift slowly through the Sound, carried by the current just on the turn. Two other boats follow us. On our port side, we pass Bardsey Island, or the Island of Currents, which has been an important religious site since St Cadfen built a monastery there around 500 A.D. There seems to be something about the islands off the Lleyn Peninsula that is conducive to religious contemplation more than some of the other islands we have seen on this voyage. In medieval times, pilgrims would come from far and wide to worship there, catching a boat at Aberdaron on the mainland and braving the often turbulent waters of Bardsey Sound to reach the island. Apparently three pilgrimages to Bardsey were the same value as one to Rome! Through the binoculars we see the Celtic cross commemorating the 20,000 saints that are reputed to be buried on the island. It is even claimed that King Arthur is buried there. It would have been interesting to stop, but we must press on.
Once around the point, the wind, such as it is, comes directly from behind us, so we rig the sails to goose-wing. There is so little force, however, that the sails barely fill and we are carried along at the majestic speed of one-and-a-half knots, mostly the effect of the tidal current. The only consolation is that the other two boats following us are doing the same speed. One, called Charisma, is also goose-winging.
We fill the time reading, each in our own world. I find my favourite spot again in the sun on the foredeck.
I think of the many pilgrims that had made their way to Bardsey Island. What had made them do it? Were they just mindlessly following tradition in some massive groupthink, or did they find what they were seeking, or a bit of both? And was it the journey or the destination that provided the eventual fulfilment? I suspect for the pilgrims to Bardsey Island that it was the latter; it was where they were heading for that was more important than the getting there, although perhaps the rigours of the journey were an important part of the process in preparing them for the destination.
For ourselves, it is the journey that is more important than the destination, at least for the moment. We do have a physical destination in that we aim to be back in Scotland by the end of the summer, but within that we decide on the spur of the moment where and when we want to go, how long we want to stay in each place, and what we want to see and experience there. At the moment we see our fulfilment coming from not actually having a destination, but keeping ourselves open for seeing new places, meeting new people, and having new experiences and ideas. From that, fresh insights may gel and become the destination in themselves. I decide that until then we are travellers more than pilgrims. But not tourists, I hope wryly.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see another boat between us and the coast gradually overtaking us. It is Charisma. I wonder how she has suddenly managed to find a little bit more energy than us – perhaps the tidal stream is a fraction of a knot faster closer in to shore. No matter. I rejoin the others and put on the kettle for a cup of tea.
We arrive in Porth Dinllaen around 1930 and find a place to anchor opposite the small village of Morfa Nefyn. Charisma is already there. We cook dinner and sit and watch the last of the sun’s rays reflecting off the white-washed houses.