The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Legends in the landscape

We found a main road. That can mean very little in rural Britain except that there is a single lane going each way, but there are bound to be road signs eventually. We had no immediate plans beyond finding lunch, so it didn’t really matter where we found ourselves. We would go wherever the road led and, as luck would have it, it led to Criccieth. Steve had mentioned it earlier as a pretty, seaside town… which sounded perfect.

We parked below the 13th century castle that dominates the town. Built high upon a rocky peninsula that juts out into Tremadog Bay, the castle is perfectly sited. Impregnable from the sea and having an easily defensible and distinctive double gatehouse, even its ruins give an impression of solid strength. Yet, somehow, in spite of the steep slopes down to the beach, the castle seems more ‘approachable’ than the one at Harlech. Perhaps it is the scale… or something in the lay of the land. Whatever it was, you had to think that this spot must have been seen as a perfect location by our oldest ancestors…

…except, oddly enough, it hadn’t. Or not according to the archaeology. No hillfort or settlement, no trace of prehistoric habitation have been found and yet, this would be a perfect place, with a clear line of across Tremadog and Cardigan Bays, and inland as far as the mountains of Snowdonia. It is not as if the old ones were not active in the area; had we but known their location at the time, a number of ancient burial sites remain close by, including Caer-Dyni, a chambered tomb covered in cup-marks, close to the town’s beach.

But, we had not intended to visit Criccieth and were only looking for a brief stop for lunch… only later research would throw up the anomaly. The little peninsula seems too perfect a site to have been ignored altogether; perhaps what the ancients did there left no trace in stone or artefacts…

We left Criccieth to the blazing sun and the holidaymakers and headed for the hills, stopping to look at a profile in stone that watches eternity. Coming from the silence of Cwm Pennant, even the quiet, pretty town had seemed too noisy and crowded, an assault on the senses. We were taking the mountain roads back towards Llandudno, passing through Beddgelert, which means ‘Gelert’s Grave’.

The folk-legend tells of Gelert, the hound of Prince Llewellyn the Great. When the prince returned from the hunt one day, he found the grinning hound covered in blood, standing over his infant son’s cradle. The babe was nowhere to be seen. Beset by grief, Llewellyn slew the hound with one angry strike of his sword… then heard his son cry. He found the babe beneath the bloodied coverlets, under the cradle… and beside him the dead wolf Gelert had slain to protect his master’s son. Striken by remorse, the prince buried the dog beneath a stone at Beddgelert and was never seen to smile again.

Gelert’s grave is, in fact,  more likely the work of a local innkeeper David Prichard, landlord of the Goat Hotel, who, in order to encourage tourism set about propagating the tale in the late eighteenth century. The village is probably named after the martyred Saint Celert, a hermit who watched over a holy spring. We would have liked to stop there, but the Sunday visitors filled the narrow lanes and the hills spoke of peace.

We paused beneath Snowdon’s slopes. The train to the top of the mountain, constructed in the late 1800s,  passes through some truly spectacular scenery on its way to the summit. The views from the top are incredible on a clear day…I had been there decades before the new visitor centre opened and have never forgotten the experience. From that perspective, it is worth every penny of the fare… but the fare for the two of us would also cover a night’s hotel and a further day exploring. There was no contest…

We stopped briefly by the cold, crystal waters of Llyn Cwellyn. The lake, now as reservoir supplying most of the drinking water for the region, is a glacial moraine that has reflected the mountains and skies of Snowdonia since the last ice age. It is  beautiful place, rich in wildlife, with otters and rare fish swimming in its waters. It is huge, on the same scale as the mountains at over 215 acres and 120 feet deep. Had there been anywhere better to park than the tiny curve in the road that we had found, the otters would not have had the water to themselves… although the lake has other dangers. Not only do such stiff winds descend from the mountains, making rowing or sailing impossible when they blow, you might encounter more eldritch creatures…

Not far away is Dinas Emrys, where Nennius tells us, in the ninth century  Historia Brittonum, that Vortigern sought to sacrifice the young Merlin to appease the forces that were throwing down his tower. Instead, Merlin prohesied and showed him the Red and the White Dragons… y Draig Coch and y Draig Wen…. battling for supremacy. Swimming in the mountain lakes of Wales might bring you face to face with the afanc, a lake monster said variously to look like a crocodile, a beaver or a dwarf-like demon, like the one captured at Betws-y-Coed and relocated to Glaslyn on the flanks of Snowdon. Below Glaslyn is Llyn Llydaw which lays claim to be the place where the Lady of the Lake caught the sword of King Arthur before he and his knights were taken to the cave where they sleep, awaiting the land’s need.

And then there are the fairies; Llyn Cwellyn hides an entrance to their realm. One man who found the way in stayed only moments yet came home to find seven years had passed and his love had married another man. They are called the Tylwyth Teg... the Fair Family, and the Bendith y Mamau , the Blessing of the Mothers and are often seen to dance at these lakes or on the floating islands that appear within them.

There are many tales of their encounters with humans and their behaviour is uncertain and capricious, yet they always repay human kindness. Give them your shirt in which to wrap their child and they may give you silver until you are rich. Rescue one of them from under a rock and they may gift you a staff that ensures all your lambs are twins.  But fall in love with one of the fae and you risk heartbreak…

A young shepherd of Moel Eilio fell in love with and abducted a fairy woman. Eventually, the two were wed, but only after the shepherd had agreed never to let his wife feel the touch of iron. The years passed happily together and she bore him children but inevitably, tragedy struck. As he threw the bridle over the head of a mare he was taking to market, the iron bit touched his wife’s cheek and the fairy bride disappeared. Some say he never saw her again but the once, when she returned to plead that he care for their two children. Others say he saw her only from afar as she danced on the shores of the floating island.

There is always magic in the land and the Otherworld is always close… but here, amid the lakes and the mountains, it comes very close, whispering in the mist and laughing in the sunlit sparkles of the waters. But then, what can you expect from a place where even the mountains wear the faces of the Fair Family?

Brenhines yr Wyddfa, the Lady of Snowdon. Image: Eric Jones

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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32 Responses to The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Legends in the landscape

  1. Ana P. Rose says:

    Wonderful. Love this especially: “There are many tales of their encounters with humans and their behaviour is uncertain and capricious, yet they always repay human kindness.” 👍 🌹

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Helen Jones says:

    Reblogged this on Journey To Ambeth and commented:
    Sue recently spent some time in Wales, my favourite place in the world. Head over to her blog to read more, and see her beautiful photographs 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Helen Jones says:

    When I opened your blog I just saw the top of the castle photo and I knew… Love love love this, Sue, such lovely photographs and all the legends – my favourite part of Wales 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Henrietta Watson says:

    Reblogged this on All About Writing and more.

    Like

  5. jenanita01 says:

    Although I have never been to Wales, it feels like home when I look at all your photographs, Sue. I will have to go there one of these days and see if what I feel is real…

    Like

  6. Mary Smith says:

    It’s really beautiful. I’ve only ever been to Llandudno on a day trip many years ago so I’m seeing a totally different country through your photos and words.

    Like

  7. Another place to add to the list…I think perhaps I’d never leave 😉

    Like

  8. Love this! 3 Everything about it. I’ve only been to Caldicot Castle (which I LOVED and will return to someday) so have to add this to my list of places to visit. 🙂

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Caldicot is almost a fairytale castle 🙂 All the ‘bits’ you would expect 🙂 There are so many castles in Wales, I doubt I could choose a favourite of the ones I have seen so far, but Criccieth has one of the most stunning locations.

      Like

  9. Widdershins says:

    Do you ever forget which world you’re in and go to talk to a fairy and find yourself in conversation with the butcher? 🙂

    These are truly wonderful adventures.

    Like

  10. Beautiful. Love Wales & Snowdonia, hadn’t heard about the fairy tales, lovely read 😊

    Like

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