The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Harlech

Leaving Portmeirion and its mysteries behind, we drove across the estuary to Harlech in search of lunch. Stuart and I had parked beneath the Norman castle that morning when we were in search of breakfast. The imposing bulk of the walls, towering high upon the castle mound, still makes a powerful statement today. I was glad we had seen it from beneath in the grey morning mist, with the remnants of its curtain wall enclosing the rock, as it allowed us to get a true impression of its scale and erstwhile might.

We had lunch in its shadow, looking back across the estuary to the mountains. Snowdon dominates the skyline here, almost everywhere you go, and I was torn between the desire to wander those hills and a need to get close to the sea. The hills make my heart sing…they always  do, no matter where they are. There is something about the high places that calls and always will. I can understand that; the hills were my first love, a place where I first learned the stories of the old ones from my grandfather and mother …and where I learned a sense of wonder that is with me still.

The sea is a different thing. I have always lived far from the shore yet the waves have always whispered in my veins. I suppose it comes of being island-born… although we tend to forget that our country is, after all, no more than a small island in a big world. The song of the waves touches something primal in most people.  Life arose in the oceans and so the waves sing of home. Although most of the ancient gods of the sea are male, they live within her ever-changing body and, like to like, she calls to us.

For the moment, though, we were poised between the hills and the sea, looking out at both and yet our attention was drawn, inevitably, by the vast stone presence of the castle. It was built by Edward I towards the end of the thirteenth century when he invaded Wales. There had been an impromptu Shakespearian theme running through the morning, though, and so, for me, it was the figure of Owain Glyndŵr, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, who caught my imagination. Glyndŵr had taken the castle in 1404 and it ecame his base thereafter. I had first come across him when reading Shakespeare’s Henry IV and, although I knew little about the man, the power of the name and character had stuck in memory and imagination. He could ‘summon spirits from the vasty deep’ and was described as ‘profited in strange concealments; valiant as a lion, and wondrous affable; and as bountiful as mines of India. ‘

There were those who were for knocking the castle down and restoring the hillside to its natural and more appropriate state as a holy place. It was here, so tells the Mabinogion,  that Bran the Blessed, high king of the Island of the Mighty, was petitioned for the hand of his sister, Branwen. When the marriage ended in tragedy, betrayal and war and Bran was mortally wounded, he instructed his companions to cut off his head and carry it home. It was here too that the severed head of the king entertained his court with stories for many years before being finally buried beneath the Tower of London on White Hill…. but that is another story.

Even though I was glad to have seen Glyndŵr’s castle, I had no real desire to walk its walls. To be honest, I would have struggled to climb its turrets… especially in the noon heat. I was fine on the flat, but slopes were still knocking me for six and the thought of the inevitable spiral staircase to the top of the tower was just too much. While most of our party explored the castle, a symbol of armed might and power, Stuart and I wandered off to the house of a Higher Authority… the parish church of St Tanwg.

St Tanwg is the patron saint and founder of the little church of Llandanwg, whose beach we would later visit. It is thought that the medieval church that remains there is built on the site of the original church dating back to the 5th or 6th century, when Tanwg, son of Ithel the Generous, came over from Armorica to assist King Vortigern in re-establishing Christianity in the area. There are several unusual carved stones in Llandanwg church dating back at least fifteen hundred years.

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About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com
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8 Responses to The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Harlech

  1. Thank you for the great sightseeing tour and the wonderful explaination. Have a nice day. 😉 Michael

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  2. Widdershins says:

    I’ve always found Yemaya to be a wonderful Goddess of the Sea. 🙂
    Funny story: I grew up away from the sight and sound of the sea and was well into my teens before I first set eyes on the wonders of the Pacific Ocean relentlessly breaking against Australia’s south-eastern shore.

    In my late 20’s I was on my way home from a women’s music festival and the group of women I was travelling with decided we’d stop off at a secluded cove for a few days and soak up some sun, sand, and surf. (this is where I discovered the joys of eating mangos naked in the sea – the combination of mango juice and salt was intoxicating. 🙂 … also where I realised that sand, gets, everywhere, especially when you’re naked!) … anyway, being an inexperienced only-recently-transplanted country girl, I had no idea how ocean waves worked, swimming in rivers and lakes is a completely different experience.

    I swam out beyond the breakers with the others and we all body-surfed back to shore – the most amazing experience of my life to that point … but alas, there’s always a price for inexperience. I’d drifted a little away from the main group, and thinking nothing of it, caught another wave and surfed it almost all the way back into shore. Unfortunately a rip had developed right where I was heading for. A rip is when waves return to the sea with a great deal of force and tend to drag the unsuspecting swimmer under the water and pound her into the gravelly beach from which all cushioning sand has been scoured. I banged around under there until I feared for my life when I broke the surface enough to gasp a lung-full of breath. The water finally pushed me out of the rip and I was able to make it to shore with a gravel rash from my knees to my nose.

    After some negotiation, Yemaya and I came to an agreement. I would never get out of my depth in the water (out of my depth being where I didn’t feel safe) and she wouldn’t drown me.

    It seemed a reasonable bargain. 😀

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      Mangoes and saltwater sound a divine combination… I haven’t tried that, but I’m with you on the omnipresence of sand 😉

      In Corsica, I used to swim as the dawn came up… a secluded cove with rocks from which you could dive deep. I like diving… You could dive to the bottom then swim back around the headland.
      The water was crystal clear… and you know how distance is warped underwater… so I had no idea how big or small the sharks were that were watching when I hit bottom…. or if mum was around….
      I have never swum as fast in my life… 🙂

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