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2017 will see the mythical tales of the past brought vibrantly to life as Wales’ national heritage is brought to the fore as part of its Year of Legends. Through a host of exciting events throughout the year, mythical Welsh tales will be told and a spotlight will put also on some of Wales’ modern-day legendary people and places, in order to celebrate its rich culture, inspire people, and create a foundation for future legends to emerge.
Almost every rock, lake, hill and tree in Wales has some fantastical folklore associated with it, so it’s really no wonder myths and legends have been an integral part of the fabric of Welsh culture stretching way back into the mists of time.
With so many spectacular fabled places to choose from across Wales, we’ve narrowed it down to a list of our 5 absolute favourite locations that have their own fascinating legends to tell.
Meaning ‘the Chair of Idris’, this iconic mountain is named after a mythological, Welsh giant. According to tradition, the lofty, chair-shaped impression atop the mountain is the result of Idris creating a colossal seat for himself from which he could study the heavens.
It’s claimed that, if you were to sleep on Cadair Idris overnight, you’d wake up either a poet or a madman – or never wake at all.
Other tales tell that Cadair Idris is the hunting ground of Gwyn ap Nudd, the Lord of the Celtic Underworld. The piercing howls of the supernatural, red-eared hounds that accompany him are said to be an omen of death and it is believed they will ruthlessly drive the doomed souls that hear them into the nether realm.
It’s also said that Llyn Cau, the glacial lake located in the seat of the “chair”, is bottomless and home to a terrifying monster.
The views from the mountain are undoubtedly some of the best in all of Wales. Just keep a sharp eye out for any red-eared dogs or strange ripples in the lake’s water whilst you’re there!
Getting here: Cadair Idris lies to the south of Snowdonia National Park, near the town of Dolgellau.
Practical information: The Minffordd Path (level: challenging) up the mountain starts on the southern slope near the Tal-y-Llyn lake, and there is a car park behind the Minffordd hotel. The less challenging Pony Paths starts to the north, from the car park at Tŷ Nant. Don’t forget to dress appropriately for the changeable weather and wear your walking boots.
One of Wales’ most popular folk legends is the tragic tale of a faithful dog.
The story goes that the 13th-century Welsh prince, Llewellyn the Great, owned a palace in Snowdonia. He had a loyal hound, named Gelert, who followed his every footstep; one day, Llewellyn went hunting and left Gelert behind to guard the cradle of his infant son.
When Llewellyn returned from the hunt, he was horrified to find his son missing and Gelert’s muzzle drenched in blood. Thinking the hound had mauled the sleeping child, he drew his sword and killed Gelert in a blind rage. It was only then that he discovered his little son hidden away, unharmed, and found the bloody body of a wolf nearby. The savage beast had crept into the house and tried to devour the infant, but brave Gelert had fought and killed it to protect his little master.
Ashamed of what he’d done and full of grief, Llewellyn buried valiant Gelert and placed a stone above the grave, supposedly giving the nearby town its name: Beddgelert – “Gelert’s Grave” in Welsh.
The grave is a popular tourist attraction and sees thousands of people visiting it each year to read the story of ‘Brave Gelert’ written at the graveside.
In reality, though, the grave was thought up by a clever local pub landlord in the 18th century who had heard the tale somewhere and had the mound built to drive tourists to the area. If nothing else, his plan certainly worked and droves of people pay a visit to Gelert’s Grave each year.
Nevertheless, whether fact or fiction, Gelert the dog has gone on to win the hearts of the Welsh and people across the world. His imaginary grave can be seen as a monument to all the real-life faithful and loving hounds that visit the area with their owners.
Getting here: Starting at the footbridge over the River Glaslyn in Beddgelert, turn right and follow the signs to Gelert’s Grave along the footpath. After visiting the grave, be sure to carry on a little way along the path to the ruined cottage, inside of which is a bronze statue of Gelert. For more information on the Gelert’s Grave walk, click here.
Wanting to bring along your own faithful four-legged family members on your next Welsh adventure? Don’t forget to check out our fantastic selection dog-friendly cottages in Wales. You can also check out some of our properties in Beddgelert here.
Ever wondered why the Welsh flag has a dragon on it? Legend has it that it all began on a hill near Beddgelert, way back in the Dark Ages.
King Vortigern wanted to build a mighty castle on top of the hill so as to defend against the English Saxons. This, however, began to prove impossible: each morning, his workmen would arrive to find that all the stones that had built up the previous day had tumbled down.
This went on and on until Vortigern was forced to ask some magicians for help. They told him that sprinkling the ground with the blood of a child whose father was not of this world would stop the nightly destruction from happening.
Eventually hunting down this child, Vortigern brought him to the hill and was about to sacrifice him, when the boy revealed that the real reason the castle kept tumbling down was that two monstrous dragons had awoken in a lake within a chasm beneath the hill and were fighting together.
The King had his men dig deep into the earth and, sure enough, they found the two dragons – one white, the other red –locked in mortal combat and making the ground quake. Suddenly, as they stood watching, the red dragon defeated the white and returned to his slumber. Afterwards, King Vortigern was able to build his fortress without any further trouble.
And as for the mystical child? It turns out he was none other than a young Merlin the wizard, known as Emrys in Welsh. The castle was gifted to him and the hill was afterwards known as Dinas Emrys.
Merlin prophesied that the defeat of the white Saxon dragon by the Red Welsh one was a sign that the Welsh would one day defeat their English enemies. As a result, the red dragon continued to be seen as a symbol of Wales and was eventually immortalised on the country’s flag.
Getting here: Dinas Emrys is located 1 mile from Beddgelert along the A498. There is car parking space at the adjacent Craflwyn Hall.
Practical information: It is about a 45-minute walk to the top. The hill is steep and a little slippery, so be sure to bring your walking boots. Dogs on a lead are allowed to come and enjoy the walk too.
In the small village of Llangernyw, within the churchyard of St Digain’s stands a yew tree. This is not just any yew tree: at over 4,000 years-old, it is, in fact, the oldest known living thing in Wales. This fact alone is impressive enough, but the tree itself is also famous for a far stranger and more sinister reason.
Local folklore believes that each year, on Halloween Night, a supernatural entity that lives beneath the roots of the tree rises up and speaks the names of all the parishioners who will die in the coming year.
Known in Welsh as Angelystor, meaning ‘the Recording Angel’, this odd mythological character may hint at the ancient history of the place in which it lives. Although the church itself is medieval, its location is thought to have been a sacred site for many thousands of years. The 31st of October is the date of Samhain (the Celtic Festival of the Dead) and yew trees have associations with the underworld, so perhaps Angelystor is a mysterious, mythological relic of the ancient past…
Getting here: the yew is located at St Digian’s Church, in the centre of the village of Llangernyw. Walk through the gate and along the path, and you’ll see the yew growing amongst the graves to the left of the church.
One of the most famous legendary characters of all time is undoubtedly fabled King Arthur. The tales of his chivalrous Knights of the Round Table at Camelot, his lady love, Queen Guinevere, his dealings with the Wizard, Merlin, and the battles he fought are known right across the globe.
Although many parts of Britain are full of all manner of caves, castles, stone circles and more that bear names associated with Arthurian legend, one of the places with the greatest claim to the Once and Future King is unquestionably Wales. Many Welsh lakes are believed to be the ones into which Arthur threw his magical sword, dozens of places are associated with his quest for the Holy Grail, and the landscape is strewn with natural features that supposedly came into being because of his him. In fact, the earliest known mention of King Arthur is in a Welsh manuscript.
A tale is told around the Iron Age hillfort of Craig y Ddinas in the Brecon Beacons that a man was once lead deep below the rocky outcrop by a wizard. With the touch of his hand, the wizard made a tree on Craig y Ddinas lift its roots, moving aside the earth and revealing an entrance.
Descending below, the man was shown a glimpse of a chamber where a host of sleeping knights in shining armour lay sleeping beside two large piles of coins – one of gold, one of silver. Amongst the knights, one wore armour even finer than the rest and a golden crown rested beside him. The wizard explained that this was King Arthur and that, when the need was dire, his he and his army would awaken to defend the land from Wales’ enemies and reclaim his kingdom.
Nearby, you’ll also the remains of a 19th-century gunpowder workshop and a mine, as well as one of the area’s most famous waterfalls, Sgŵd yr Eira. Because of its rocky overhang, you’re able to walk behind the cascading waters of this 18-metre-high waterfall and admire the view from inside out without getting wet!
Getting here: Located just outside Pontneddfechan. There is a car park at Craig-y-Ddinas, along with a centre for refreshments and some toilets. The clearly signposted path from Craig-y-Ddinas to the waterfall is around 4 miles long. There is also a Waterfalls Centre with facilities too, at the end of the route, in Pontneddfechan.
Fancy searching for the elusive treasure chamber of the sleeping knights? Check out our selection of cottages near Pontneddfechan.
Why not relive the heroic tales of the legendary king for yourself at King Arthur’s Labyrinth on the border of Snowdonia National Park? Ride your boat along the dark waters of the Dragon River, journeying deep into the earth and back into the past to discover the epic stories as they come magically to life, with your Dark Age boatsman leading you through the winding tunnels and caverns of this adventure-filled former slate mine.
If you love the idea of knights in shining armour and wondrous wizards why not go along to this year’s Merlin Festival in Carmarthen? Taking place on March 24-25th, this street festival aims to fill the town with medieval magic and will feature jousting knights, a fairytale fair, a magician’s content, and a local produce fair, in the very town in which many believe Merlin was actually born.
We hope you’ve been inspired to explore the many Welsh myths and folk tales as you head out and #DiscoverWales. Start a legendary Welsh holiday of your own today, and browse our handpicked selection of cottages in Wales.
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