In the burst of sunshine before autumn and winter we have opted for outdoors and walking. Hard not to walk with history here; the hills are steeped in it. Hill forts ring the coast like a necklace; craggy outcrops with flat tops, fortified walls, sometimes with the remains of hut circles. Local names convey confusion as to exact dates or perhaps confirm that these forts have been in existence for a very long time: ancient, iron age, Roman; perhaps having been all three.
We walked through the nature reserve converted for and by the community. Once a tip, once a salt marsh used by the monks from Cymer Abbey to graze their sheep, the name of the road, Mynach Road, the only lasting legacy. A willow arch marks the entrance to an outdoor classroom used by the local school and a wooden pirate’s ship sets the tone for the children’s play area. Bees hum in the wild flowers and wild clematis rampages through blackberries. Along the prom, waves hit the breakwater, turn back on themselves and could teach a thing or two about physics as they explode with spume and ‘get’ us. White arms of a competent swimmer windmill through the treacherous looking waves and leave the feeling that we have imagined him till we see the rest of him, muscled and glistening, cross the prom behind us at a run back to his car. A section of shaly beach brings us to the railway bridge at Llanaber and up through the church yard of St Mary’s, also known as St Bodfan, St Bodfan and St Mary the Virgin and just St Mary.
Bodfan was a monk on Bardsey, and founded the first church at Llanaber, probably wooden originally, lost without trace and replaced by the 13th Century church that remains.
Inside are the Llanaber Stones, two Early Christian stones found locally fording a stream and believed to be from the churchyard . Reportedly Romano British from the 5th or 6th century the inscription is a mixture of Latin and Welsh. Both dedicated to St Bodfan; one is inscribed Calexti Monedo Rigi, a mythical king of Mona or Anglesey; the other inscribed Aeterna and Aeternus, brother and sister perhaps, names common in Roman Britain, they say.
There is no note to explain a gravestone that lies just outside the church whose inscription looks Runic
Churches also ring the coast line in plain view of Bardsey, the island of a thousand saints, whence the saints came to found or give names to the churches. Perhaps, once cast off from the safety of the shore, candles in the church windows guided through the buffeting sea, or. as today, when the sea, except for the breakwater, is so flat calm it is eery, kept spirits alternately up or at bay.
As we leave the little chapel the sea mist gathers as the temperature plummets for evening reminding us that this sunshine is just a reprieve.