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Lleyn Peninsula

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Lleyn Peninsula

The Llŷn Peninsula (Welsh: Penrhyn Llŷn or Pen Llŷn, Welsh pronunciation: [ɬɨːn]) extends 30 miles (48 km) into the Irish Sea from north west Wales, south west of the Isle of Anglesey. It is part of the modern county and historic region of Gwynedd. Much of the eastern part of the peninsula, around Criccieth, is technically part of Eifionydd rather than Llŷn, although the modern boundaries have become somewhat vague. The area of Llŷn is c. 300 km2. with a population of at least 13,000.

Historically, the peninsula was used by pilgrims en route to Bardsey Island (Welsh: Ynys Enlli), and its relative isolation has helped to conserve the Welsh language and culture, for which the locality is now famous. This perceived remoteness from urban life has lent the area an unspoilt image which has made Llŷn a popular destination for both tourists and holiday home owners. Holiday homes remain a bone of contention among locals, many of whom are forced out of the housing market by incomers. From the 1970s to the 1990s, a shadowy group known as Meibion Glyndŵr claimed responsibility for several hundred arson attacks on holiday homes using incendiary devices, some of which took place in Llŷn.


The name Llŷn is also sometimes spelled Lleyn, although this spelling is now less common and is generally considered to be an anglicisation. The name is thought to be of Irish origin, and to have the same root – Laigin (Laighin) in Irish – as the word Leinster and which also occurs in Porth Dinllaen on the north coast.[1]


Bardsey Island is steeped in religion and holy traditions. The first monastery on the island was established before 542 AD, and it became a major centre of pilgrimage during medieval times. There are numerous wells throughout the peninsula, many dating back to the pre-Christian era. Many have holy connotations, and they were important stops for pilgrims heading to the island.

The most rural parts are characterised by small houses, cottages and individual farms, resembling parts of south west Ireland. Small compact villages, built of traditional materials, are squeezed into the landscape. The only large scale industrial development was quarrying and mining, which has now largely ceased. The granite quarries of northern Llŷn have left a legacy of inclines and export docks, and were the reason for the growth of villages such as Llithfaen and Trefor. Copper, zinc and lead were mined around Llanengan, while 196,770 long tons (199,930 t) of manganese were produced at Y Rhiw between 1894 and 1945. Shipbuilding was important at Nefyn, Aberdaron, Abersoch and Llanaelhaearn, although the industry collapsed after the introduction of steel ships from 1880. Nefyn was also an important herring port, and crab and lobster fishing was carried out in most coastal communities.

Farming was originally simple and organic, but underwent major changes after World War II as machines came into widespread use. Land was drained and fields expanded and reseeded. From the 1950s onwards, extensive use was made of artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, leading to drastic changes in the appearance of the landscape.

Tourism developed after the construction of the railway to Pwllheli in 1867. The town expanded rapidly, with several large houses and hotels constructed, and a tramway was built linking the town to Llanbedrog. Following World War II, Butlins established a holiday camp at Penychain, which attracted visitors from the industrial cities of North West England and the West Midlands. As car ownership increased, the tourist industry spread to the countryside and to coastal villages such as Aberdaron, Abersoch, Llanbedrog and Nefyn, where many families supplemented their income by letting out rooms and houses.[2]

Pwllheli was the administrative centre of Llŷn for over 700 years. It was a royal maerdref of the Kingdom of Gwynedd, and became a free borough following the English conquest. By the 1770s it was described as "the best town in this county", and in the 18th and 19th centuries over 400 ships were built there.[3]


Llŷn is an extensive plateau dominated by numerous volcanic hills and mountains. The largest of these is Yr Eifl, although Garn Boduan, Garn Fadrun and Mynydd Rhiw are also distinctive. Large stretches of the northern coast consist of steep cliffs and rugged rocks with offshore islands and stacks, while there are more extensive sandy beaches on the southern coast, such as Porth Neigwl and Castellmarch Beach. North of Abersoch a series of sand dunes has developed. The landscape is divided into a patchwork of fields, with the traditional field boundaries, stone walls, hedgerows and cloddiau, a prominent feature.


The geology of Llŷn is complex, the larger part of the peninsula is formed from volcanic rocks of Ordovician age. Rocks of Cambrian age occur south of Abersoch. Numerous granite intrusions and outcrops of rhyolite are responsible for prominent hills such as Yr Eifl whilst gabbro is found at the west end of Porth Neigwl. The western part of the peninsula (northwest of a line drawn from Nefyn to Aberdaron) is formed from Precambrian rocks, the majority of which are considered to form a part of the Monian Complex and thus closely related to the rocks of Anglesey. Numerous faults cut the area and a major shear zone - the Llyn Shear Zone - runs northeast to southwest through the Monian rocks. In 1984 there was an earthquake beneath the peninsula, which measured 5.4 on the Richter Scale and was felt in many parts of Ireland and western Britain.[4]

The area was overrun by Irish Sea ice during the ice ages and this has left a legacy of boulder clay and of meltwater channels.

Protected sites

Llŷn is notable for its large number of protected sites, including a National Nature Reserve at Cors Geirch, a National Heritage Coastline and a European Marine Special Area of Conservation, and 20 Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Much of the coastline and the characterful hills are part of the Llŷn Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Llŷn Coastal Path, a long distance footpath, enables walkers to fully explore both coasts of the peninsula.

Lleyn Sheep

The peninsula is the original home of the Lleyn breed of sheep. This is a hardy and prolific breed that has become much more prominent over the last 20 years due to its excellent prolifacy and mothering ability. The sheep are white faced with ewes approx 70 kg and rams 90 kg.

Welsh language

Prior to 2001, there had been a decline in Welsh speakers in Gwynedd, which includes the Llŷn Peninsula.[5] According to the 2001 census the number of Welsh speakers in Wales increased for the first time in over 100 years, with 20.5 per cent of a population of over 2.9 million claiming fluency in Welsh. Additionally, 28 per cent of the population of Wales claimed to understand Welsh. However, the number of Welsh speakers declined in Gwynedd from 72.1 per cent in 1991 to 68.7 per cent in 2001.[5] By 2003 however, a survey of schools showed that just over 94 per cent of children between the ages of 3 and 15 were able to speak Welsh, making Llŷn one of the foremost heartlands for the language, though, as in the rest of north west Wales, many people are concerned that the influx of English speakers is damaging the standing of Welsh and threatening its future as a living community language in the area.[6] The Welsh Language and Heritage Centre of Nant Gwrtheyrn is situated on the north coast.

Tân yn Llŷn 1936

Concern for the Welsh language was ignited in 1936 when the United Kingdom government settled on establishing a bombing school at Penyberth on the Peninsula. The events surrounding the protest became known as Tân yn Llŷn (Fire in Llŷn).[7] The government had settled on Llŷn as the site for its new bombing school after similar locations in Northumberland and Dorset were met with protests.[8] However, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin refused to hear the case against the bombing school in Wales, despite a deputation representing half a million Welsh protesters. Protest against the bombing school was summed up by Saunders Lewis when he wrote that the British government was intent upon turning one of the "essential homes of Welsh culture, idiom, and literature" into a place for promoting a barbaric method of warfare. On 8 September 1936 the bombing school building was set on fire by Saunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine, and D.J. Williams, who immediately gave themselves up to the police and claimed responsibility. The trial at Caernarfon failed to agree on a verdict and the case was sent to the Old Bailey in London. The "Three" were sentenced to nine months imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs, and on their release they were greeted as heroes by 15,000 people at a pavilion in Caernarfon.[8]

Relationship with the property market

The decline in the use of the Welsh language in Llŷn has been attributed to a rise in property prices. Local Welsh-speakers are increasingly unable to afford housing in the area as the rise in house prices has outpaced average earnings in Wales. On the other hand, there has been an influx of non-Welsh speakers purchasing properties for retirement or holiday homes.[9][10] The issue of locals being priced out of the local housing market is common to many rural communities throughout Britain, but in Wales the added dimension of language further complicates the issue, as many new residents have not learnt the Welsh language.[11][12][13][14]


The whole of Llŷn is governed by Cyngor Gwynedd, a unitary authority established in 1996. The area had traditionally formed part of Caernarfonshire, for which an elected county council had been formed in 1889. Caernarfonshire was abolished in 1974 and incorporated into the new county of Gwynedd, which became a unitary authority under the 1996 reorganisation.[15]

Llŷn Rural District, based in Pwllheli, was created under the Local Government Act 1894 from the area of Pwllheli Rural Sanitary District. At the time it covered 91,449 acres (370.08 km2) and consisted of 30 civil parishes, although the number was subsequently reduced. At the 1901 census it had a population of 16,816. Under a County Review Order in 1934, 18 parishes were abolished with their areas distributed among other parishes; a new parish of Buan was formed by the merger of Ceidio and Llanfihangel Bachellaeth; and the parish of Dolbenmaen was transferred from Glaslyn Rural District. Five years later, in 1939, Edern was abolished and incorporated into Nefyn.[16] The rural district was abolished in 1974, with its area being included in the Dwyfor District of Gwynedd, which was itself abolished in 1996, when Gwynedd became a unitary authority. At the time of abolition, the rural district covered 114,232 acres (462.28 km2) and had a population at the 1971 census of 15,190.[16]

Pwllheli Municipal Borough was the successor to a free borough which was granted a charter by Edward, the Black Prince in 1355. The Corporation was abolished by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, and replaced by an elected council, which existed until Pwllheli was included in Dwyfor in 1974, as a result of the Local Government Act 1972.[17] At the 1841 census Pwllheli had a population of 2,367.[18] By the time of abolition the borough covered 1,211 acres (4.90 km2) and had a population at the 1961 census of 3,647.[19]

Criccieth Urban District was created under the Local Government Act 1894,[20] and covered the area of the former borough, which had been abolished in 1886 by the Municipal Corporations Act 1883.[21] The borough charter had been granted by Edward I in 1284.[22] The urban district covered 472 acres (1.91 km2) and at the 1901 census had a population of 1,406.[23] By the time of abolition and incorporation into Dwyfor in 1974, it covered 1,721 acres (6.96 km2), and had a population at the 1961 census of 1,672.[20]

List of former civil parishes

Image Name Period Population
County Community Refs
Aberdaron 1894
1,161 Gwynedd Aberdaron [24]
Abererch 1894
Gwynedd Llannor [25]
Bardsey Island 1894
17 Gwynedd Aberdaron [26]
Bodferin 1894
Gwynedd Aberdaron [27]
Botwnnog 1894
1,176 Gwynedd Botwnnog [28]
Bryncroes 1894
Gwynedd Aberdaron
Buan 1934
619 Gwynedd Buan [30]
Carnguwch 1894
Gwynedd Pistyll [31]
Ceidio 1894
Gwynedd Buan [32]
Urban District
1,672 Gwynedd Criccieth [20]
Dolbenmaen 1934
1,447 Gwynedd Dolbenmaen [33]
Edern 1894
Gwynedd Nefyn [34]
Llanaelhaearn 1894
1,242 Gwynedd Llanaelhaearn [35]
Llanarmon 1894
Gwynedd Llanystumdwy [36]
Llanbedrog 1894
883 Gwynedd Llanbedrog [37]
Llandegwning 1894
Gwynedd Botwnnog [38]
Llandudwen 1894
Gwynedd Buan
Llanengan 1894
2,116 Gwynedd Llanengan [40]
Llanfaelrhys 1894
Gwynedd Aberdaron [41]
Llanfihangel Bachellaeth 1894
Gwynedd Buan [42]
Llangian 1894
Gwynedd Botwnnog
Llangwnnadl 1894
Gwynedd Aberdaron
Llangybi 1894
Gwynedd Llannor
Llaniestyn 1894
Gwynedd Botwnnog
Llannor 1894
2,039 Gwynedd Llannor [47]
Llanystumdwy 1894
2,056 Gwynedd Llanystumdwy [48]
Mellteyrn 1894
Gwynedd Botwnnog
Nefyn 1894
2,164 Gwynedd Nefyn [50]
Penllech 1894
Gwynedd Tudweiliog [51]
Penllyn 1894
Gwynedd Criccieth
Penrhos 1894
Gwynedd Llannor [53]
Pistyll 1894
599 Gwynedd Pistyll [54]
Municipal Borough
3,647 Gwynedd Pwllheli [19]
Tudweiliog 1894
1,003 Gwynedd Tudweiliog [55]


External links

  • - Information sites for the communities of Llŷn
  • - Your online guide to the Llŷn Peninsula
  • Old postcard views and aerial views of the area
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