These spiritual locations across the Celtic Routes combine religion, heritage and the great outdoors.
Constructed from the same Preseli Bluestones used on its ‘big brother’ at Stonehenge, Pentre Ifan, near Newport (Pembrokeshire) also shares the same sense of mystery about its true purpose. It’s generally considered to be a communal burial chamber, but no traces of bones have ever been found here. An alternative theory suggests it’s a more elaborate version of a standing stone and the builders were simply showing off their skill. Whatever the real answer, there’s no doubt Pentre Ifan is an impressive feat of ancient construction methods. The giant 5m-long, 15-ton capstone, precariously balanced on three uprights, has managed to remain in place for over 5,000 years.
The abbey of Strata Florida, Latin for ‘Vale of Flowers’, or ‘Ystrad Fflur’, as the locals call it, has stood in monastic tranquillity on the banks of the River Teifi since 1201. Established by Cistercian monks, it soon became the most famous church in Wales after St Davids and a keystone of Welsh culture. The ruins give clues as to the former wealth of the abbey, like the Romanesque carved doorway that once would have connected the nave to the high altar. The resting place of the 11 princes of Dinefwr and the poet Dafydd ap Gwilym, the abbey has been called the ‘Westminster Abbey of Wales’.
About 10km north of Llandeilo, the skeletal remains of Talley Abbey stand in an idyllic setting beside Talley’s twin lakes. It was founded in the 1180s by The Lord Rhys – a powerful Welsh prince - for the monks of the Premonstratensian order. This was the first and only abbey in Wales for this order and unfortunately, it never enjoyed the prosperity of the Cistercian monasteries that inspired it.
The tower, which still stands at almost its original height, is the abbey’s most impressive feature. The church was never fully completed due to lack of funds, although the outline of the footings gives an indication of the ambition of its design. It was eventually dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530s and large quantities of the stone were used to build the present-day village and chapel.
Three walking trails nearby will take you to a viewpoint where you can enjoy impressive views of the ruins and the Cothi Valley.
In the 5th century, St Declan came across the village of Ardmore – it’s said he was guided there by a stone carried on the waves - and founded a monastery. Its ruins are Ireland’s oldest Christian settlement. Today, a number of sites remain of his monastic city.
There’s an 8th-century oratory beneath which it’s believed the saint is buried and a 12th-century 29m-high round tower, which served as a belfry and place of refuge. There’s also the 12th-century cathedral, with Romanesque arcading with figures depicting scenes from both Old and New Testaments – very unusual in Ireland. Inside the cathedral are two Ogham stones featuring the earliest form of writing in Ireland.
The 4km cliff walk that starts and ends in the village is well worth taking to visit St Declan’s Well, where pilgrims have paid tribute for hundreds of years every 24th July, the saint’s feast day.
These 4 looped walks start from the trailhead at Tintern Abbey, and offer a combination of quiet woodland and coastline walks. The trails, which range from a 20-minute walk to a 2-hour hike, take you past some of the Hook Peninsula’s highlights: Tintern Abbey, Colcough Walled Garden and Saltmills Village. Wildlife lovers should look out for kingfishers, egrets, buzzards, red squirrels and bats on the inland trails and migratory sea birds like Brent Geese along the coastline.