When you visit Snowdonia you’ll find there’s a wealth of famous landmarks, beauty spots and other attractions to see. But Snowdonia also boasts many less-publicised gems which, if you can afford to make time to visit during your stay, are well worth exploring. In this article we reveal the charms of Clynnog Fawr – a tiny village on the Snowdonia coast which, despite its diminutive size, has a big history.
If you look at Clynnog Fawr on a map, chances are you’ll write it off as just another sleepy little village on the A499, stuck halfway between its better-known neighbours Caernarfon and Pwllheli. On most maps – the vague, online variety at least – Clynnog Fawr is just a dot next to a long, bare road, with no distinguishing features other than that it’s now off the main road, since a new bypass was completed in 2009. On a drive from Caernarfon to Pwllheli, if it wasn’t for the impressive outline of St Beuno’s church, you could miss Clynnog Fawr in a blink.
But for such a tiny place – you can walk from one end of the village to the other in under ten minutes – Clynnog Fawr has a surprising number of interesting things to see and do.
First of all there’s an expansive beach, which can be reached either by walking down the lane to the side of the church or by taking a ten-minute hike along a hedgerow-lined public footpath with spectacular views of Snowdonia’s mountains and coast. The beach is mostly pebbly, but when the tide goes out large areas of smooth, shimmering sand are revealed which, along with the many rock pools, make Clynnog beach an exciting place for children to explore. Apart from the occasional dog-walker, chances are you’ll have the whole beach to yourself… bliss!
If you’re feeling energetic, walk northwards along the beach – crossing a couple of fast-flowing streams as you go – towards the even tinier hamlet of Aberdesach. Along the way you’ll see many varieties of birds including shy ringed plovers, beautiful red-billed oystercatchers, and graceful herons. Keep an eye on the sea, too; seals have been known to pop by and say hello.
Take the church route back from the beach, and after the first gate by Bachwen Farm, turn to the right so you’re heading in the direction of the mountains (you’ll see Gyrn Ddu to the left on the horizon, and Yr Eifl to the right, dipping down into the sea). Keep going along the footpath and before long you’ll find yourself face to face with Dolmen Bachwen, Clynnog Fawr’s very own Neolithic burial chamber. It’s surrounded by a low iron fence – presumably to protect it from sheep-inflicted damage, as the dolmen is on farm land – but this won’t prevent you from reaching out and touching the stones, which were erected by our ancestors some 4,000 years ago.
Head back towards St Beuno’s church and pop in to see the beautiful architecture and the exhibition. Beuno was an important Celtic saint who founded a monastery in Clynnog Fawr which later became the church. St Beuno’s is on the old pilgrim route to Bardsey, where it is said that 20,000 saints are buried; tributes left by pilgrims paid for the medieval church to be built in such grand style, and these were collected in a special chest, carved from a single piece of ash, which is still in the church today. In the churchyard is a sundial which is said to date from the 10th century.
The church is very beautiful and its oldest surviving parts date back to the early 16th century, while some of the oldest gravestones in the churchyard commemorate parishioners who died in the early 1700s. The lychgate is also very old; look up into the roof and you’ll see graffiti dating back to the 1930s, though of course the building is much older than that.
St Beuno was said to have possessed miraculous healing abilities. There are at least two legends which tell of Beuno reattaching the heads of decapitated women; one of these miracles took place in Clynnog Fawr itself, and on the spot where the maiden was resurrected a spring appeared, which was henceforth known as Ffynnon Beuno, or “Beuno’s Well”. The well is contained within a small medieval stone walled enclosure, and it’s a lovely place to sit and read, or just enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. You’ll find Ffynnon Beuno on the old road (now a cycle path) on the way out of Clynnog Fawr – walk south out of the village and you’ll see the well behind an unlocked gate to your left.
Finish your visit to Clynnog Fawr with a refreshing pint of Welsh ale and a hearty home-cooked meal at the village’s 19th century coaching inn – named, appropriately enough, Y Beuno. Or, take refreshment at the nearby Bryn Eisteddfod country house hotel. If you’re keen to see more of Clynnog Fawr and the surrounding areas, both establishments offer comfortable accommodation that makes the perfect base while you explore the rest of Snowdonia’s mountains and coasts.