Picture of Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book II, Ch. 6: Lleyn and Bangor

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Passage of Traeth Mawr and Traeth Bachan, and of Nevyn, Carnarvon, and Bangor

We continued our journey over the Traeth Mawr,141 and Traeth Bachan,142 that is, the greater and the smaller arm of the sea, where two stone castles have newly been erected; one called Deudraeth, belonging to the sons of Conan, situated in Evionyth, towards the northern mountains; the other named Carn Madryn, the property of the sons of Owen, built on the other side of the river towards the sea, on the head-land Lleyn.143 Traeth, in the Welsh language, signifies a tract of sand flooded by the tides, and left bare when the sea ebbs. We had before passed over the noted rivers, the Dissenith,144 between the Maw and Traeth Mawr, and the Arthro, between the Traeth Mawr and Traeth Bachan. We slept that night at Nevyn, on the eve of Palm Sunday, where the archdeacon, after long inquiry and research, is said to have found Merlin Sylvestris.145

Beyond Lleyn, there is a small island inhabited by very religious monks, called Caelibes, or Colidei. This island, either from the wholesomeness of its climate, owing to its vicinity to Ireland, or rather from some miracle obtained by the merits of the saints, has this wonderful peculiarity, that the oldest people die first, because diseases are uncommon, and scarcely any die except from extreme old age. Its name is Enlli in the Welsh, and Berdesey146 in the Saxon language; and very many bodies of saints are said to be buried there, and amongst them that of Daniel, bishop of Bangor.

The archbishop having, by his sermon the next day, induced many persons to take the cross, we proceeded towards Banchor, passing through Caernarvon,147 that is, the castle of Arvon; it is called Arvon, the province opposite to Mon, because it is so situated with respect to the island of Mona. Our road leading us to a steep valley,148 with many broken ascents and descents, we dismounted from our horses, and proceeded on foot, rehearsing, as it were, by agreement, some experiments of our intended pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Having traversed the valley, and reached the opposite side with considerable fatigue, the archbishop, to rest himself and recover his breath, sat down on an oak which had been torn up by the violence of the winds; and relaxing into a pleasantry highly laudable in a person of his approved gravity, thus addressed his attendants: "Who amongst you, in this company, can now delight our wearied ears by whistling?" which is not easily done by people out of breath. He affirming that he could, if he thought fit, the sweet notes are heard, in an adjoining wood, of a bird, which some said was a woodpecker, and others, more correctly, an aureolus. The woodpecker is called in French, spec, and with its strong bill, perforates oak trees; the other bird in called aureolus, from the golden tints of its feathers, and at certain seasons utters a sweet whistling note instead of a song. Some persons having remarked, that the nightingale was never heard in this country, the archbishop, with a significant smile, replied, "The nightingale followed wise counsel, and never came into Wales; but we, unwise counsel, who have penetrated and gone through it." We remained that night at Banchor,149 the metropolitan see of North Wales, and were well entertained by the bishop of the diocese.150 On the next day, mass being celebrated by the archbishop before the high altar, the bishop of that see, at the instance of the archbishop and other persons, more importunate than persuasive, was compelled to take the cross, to the general concern of all his people of both sexes, who expressed their grief on this occasion by loud and lamentable vociferations.


141 The Traeth Mawr, or the large sands, are occasioned by a variety of springs and rivers which flow from the Snowdon mountains, and, uniting their streams, form an aestuary below Pont Aberglaslyn.

142 The Traeth Bychan, or the small sands, are chiefly formed by the river which runs down the beautiful vale of Festiniog to Maentwrog and Tan y bwlch, near which place it becomes navigable. Over each of these sands the road leads from Merionyth into Caernarvonshire.

143 Lleyn, the Canganorum promontorium of Ptolemy, was an extensive hundred containing three comots, and comprehending that long neck of land between Caernarvon and Cardigan bays. Leland says, "Al Lene is as it were a pointe into the se."

144 In mentioning the rivers which the missionaries had lately crossed, our author has been guilty of a great topographical error in placing the river Dissennith between the Maw and Traeth Mawr, as also in placing the Arthro between the Traeth Mawr and Traeth Bychan, as a glance at a map will shew.

145 To two personages of this name the gift of prophecy was anciently attributed: one was called Ambrosius, the other Sylvestris; the latter here mentioned (and whose works Giraldus, after a long research, found at Nefyn) was, according to the story, the son of Morvryn, and generally called Merddin Wyllt, or Merddin the Wild. He is pretended to have flourished about the middle of the sixth century, and ranked with Merddin Emrys and Taliesin, under the appellation of the three principal bards of the Isle of Britain.

146 This island once afforded, according to the old accounts, an asylum to twenty thousand saints, and after death, graves to as many of their bodies; whence it has been called Insula Sanctorum, the Isle of Saints. This island derived its British name of Enlli from the fierce current which rages between it and the main land. The Saxons named it Bardsey, probably from the Bards, who retired hither, preferring solitude to the company of invading foreigners.

147 This ancient city has been recorded by a variety of names. During the time of the Romans it was called Segontium, the site of which is now called Caer Seiont, the fortress on the river Seiont, where the Setantiorum portus, and the Seteia AEstuarium of Ptolemy have also been placed. It is called, by Nennius, Caer Custent, or the city of Constantius; and Matthew of Westminster says, that about the year 1283 the body of Constantius, father of the emperor Constantine, was found there, and honourably desposited in the church by order of Edward I.

148 I have searched in vain for a valley which would answer the description here given by Geraldus, and the scene of so much pleasantry to the travellers; for neither do the old or new road, from Caernarvon to Bangor, in any way correspond. But I have since been informed, that there is a valley called Nant y Garth (near the residence of Ashton Smith, Esq. at Vaenol), which terminates at about half a mile's distance from the Menai, and therefore not observable from the road; it is a serpentine ravine of more than a mile, in a direction towards the mountains, and probably that which the crusaders crossed on their journey to Bangor.

149 Bangor. - This cathedral church must not be confounded with the celebrated college of the same name, in Flintshire, founded by Dunod Vawr, son of Pabo, a chieftain who lived about the beginning of the sixth century, and from him called Bangor Dunod. The Bangor, i.e. the college, in Caernarvonshire, is properly called Bangor Deiniol, Bangor Vawr yn Arllechwedd, and Bangor Vawr uwch Conwy. It owes its origin to Deiniol, son of Dunod ap Pabo, a saint who lived in the early part of the sixth century, and in the year 525 founded this college at Bangor, in Caernarvonshire, over which he presided as abbot. Guy Rufus, called by our author Guianus, was at this time bishop of this see, and died in 1190.

150 Guianus, or Guy Rufus, dean of Waltham, in Essex, and consecrated to this see, at Ambresbury, Wilts, in May 1177.

Gerald of Wales, The Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997)

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