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Description

Criccieth - Ystumllyn Lake and Ynyscynhaearn Church.
Two miles to the east of Criccieth is a long shingle and pebble bank called The Heraig or sometimes Neraig. Behind the bank is a low lying marshy area known as Llyn Ystumllyn (Oxbow Lake). Four hundred years ago this was a salt water lagoon open to the sea. This can be seen on the John Speed map of 1610 (2). Slowly, the eastward movement of shingle blocked off the inlet. In the 18th century the landowners diverted the river Cedron, that meanders through the marsh, and made a start draining the lake though sometimes winter storms would breach the bank. The forming of the shingle bank and finaly the building of the railway embankment resulted in moving the natural outlet of the river from the bottom of Caerdyni fields to the other side of Rhiwforfawr. Anecdotaly, sewin (sea trout) still loiter here waiting to ascend an imaginary estury. The railway bridge over this stream collapsed in November 1938 thirty minutes after the school train had passed over it. At the end of World War One, German Prisoners of War, were employed to cut a tunnel through the headland to the east side of Black Rock and this is where Ystumllyn Lake empties to the sea. It is an important wetland and is the habitat for several varieties of wild fowl, other birds and rare fauna and is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It is a lonely and tranquil place.

On what would have been an island in the lake at one time, stands a church dedicated to Saint Cynhaiarn/Cynhaearn (3). This served the parish of Ynsycynhaearn which extended from Criccieth to the River Glaslyn apart from the small isolated parish of Treflys that lies in between. The earliest part of the church dates from the 12th century. It was added to in the 16th and 17th century. Most of the interior fittings date from 1832. As Porthmadog developed, during the 19th century, the centre of the parish moved there and the church fell out of use. In the graveyard, amongst the seafarers, pilots, harbour master and farmers, are buried some notable persons.

Perhaps most famous is David Owen of “Garreg Wen” farm who was christened on 27 January 1711 at Ynyscynhaearn church. He attained fame both as harpist and as the composer of the airs called ' Dafydd y Garreg Wen ' ('David of the White Rock'), ' Codiad yr Ehedydd ' ('The rising of the lark'), and ' Difyrrwch gwyr Criccieth ' ('The delight of the men of Criccieth'). He died on 2 August 1741.

Also buried nearby is John Ystumllyn, reputed to be the first man of colour in the district. It was possibly Ellis Wynn who brought John to Ystumllyn Hall from Africa, when he was aged about ten - though his gravestone says India - in the early part of the 19th century. He became the gardener at the Hall and was a popular young man. He married Margaret Gruffydd, who was a maid at Ystumllyn. For a time he was employed as land steward at Ynysgain Fawr near Criccieth. Eventually, John was offered his old place back at Ystumllyn. Towards the end of his life Ellis Wynn gave him a small cottage near Pentrefelin named ‘Nanhyrra’ where he died in 1786. In 2021 Harkness Roses Ltd in England named a John Ystumllyn Rose in his honour; the first ever rose to be named after an individual from an ethnic minority in the UK.

Listen to the full story of Dafydd y Garreg Wen told by poet and broadcaster Twm Morys from the programme “Pethe” produced by Cwmni Da https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Af5IR_vbn4Y
The painting of Ystumllyn Lake is by Criccieth artist William Cadwalader 1878-1962.

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