Trem y Mor terrace, Nant Gwrtheyrn

This most extraordinary of places is Nant Gwrtheyrn, the National Welsh Language Centre, and I spent last week there on a Welsh course.

For those who have never been, Nant Gwrtheyrn has a long and haunted history, from its days as the last refuge of Kentish King Gwrtheyrn, who lent his name to the valley, and on through its days as a fishing community, a farming village, and more recently as a granite quarry – the two rows of cottages hosted up to 22 people each in the heyday of the quarrying, making the most of the (for those days) great wages on offer.

After a spell of abandonment, after tarmac became popular and granite setts were no longer needed to pave the world’s roads, the village had a short encounter with a hippie group (the New Atlantis commune), who managed to destroy a substantial chunk before they moved on a couple of years later.

Nowadays, Nant Gwrtheyrn has been fully and wonderfully restored as a language centre for that most ancient and challenging of languages, Welsh.

Getting there is a challenge in itself – the road is for the most part single track, with the odd passing place, garnished by a scattering of hairpin bends and a breathtakingly steep segment heralded by a magnificent view of the deep-green bay beyond.

In the village, finding a mobile phone signal is not easy. I found that if I stood on one leg leaning into the window of my bathroom that I could phone home, and did at one point consider renting the room out to others desperate to make outside contact.

Aside from the course, which was excellent and the food (also great), the other learners were grand company and the school thoughtfully organised evening events and an afternoon out at the Slate Museum in Llanberis.

The remoteness of the site also lends itself to legends, and there are two in particular associated with it – one, the tragic tale of Rhys and Meinir, two ill-fated lovers, and the other the dark story of the Monks’ Curse… Of which more in another blog, I think!

The village, surrounded as it is by steep ravines and cut off from the rest of the Lleyn peninsula by the dramatic sweep of Yr Eifl, is a natural focus for drama and mystery. Sudden, enveloping mists sweep in from the sea and fill the little basin, masking the stone terraces and bathing the trees in an eerie glow. Then they are gone again, as suddenly as they came.

If you are ever in the vicinity of Llithfaen, on the Lleyn peninsula, do pluck up your courage and dare the road – the Nant is an unforgettable experience, like walking back in time. I know I will carry it in my heart always.

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