Folklore & Tradition

Folklore & Tradition

...Weird & Wonderful Welsh Myths

Places Of Interest

  • Aberbach Beach, Granston

    Aside from Arianrhod's son, Dylan Eil Don, in the Fourth Branch (section) of The Mabinogion, mermaids are rare in Welsh folklore. However, a local story tells of a farmer who came across a sea spirit curled up on the rocks on Aberbach Beach. He managed to get close enough to touch her, carrying her off to Treissyllt Farm where he imprisoned her. That night he awoke to her mournful singing, calling to her fellow people to rescue her. She escaped as a shadow of grey resembling the local seals and pronounced that no child would be born in the farmhouse - a prophecy which held true until the middle of the 20th century. Aberbach Beach is managed by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and can be found at the end of the lane which passes Melin Tregwynt - the famous woollen mill which produces Welsh blankets stocked around the world. The mill is open to visitors and has a gift shop. 

    Photo of Aberbach Beach - copyright Alan Hughes / Geograph

  • Sycharth Castle

    Sycharth Castle was the home of Owain Glyndŵr (1359-c.1416), an iconic heroic figure in Welsh history, and the last Welshman to hold the title of Prince of Wales. A descendant of Llewelyn the Great and a former soldier for the English Crown, Glyndŵr led the 1400-1410 rebellion against English rule following disputes over the loss of lands and power. Stories of the Prince include the sight of a great comet in 1402, thought be a foretelling of Glyndŵr’s eventual victory. Unfortunately, this never came true, and after escaping capture, his burial place is unknown. However, one legend tells of his eventual resurrection at a time when Wales is facing another great threat. Sycharth is a fine example of a motte and bailey and the subject of a praise poem by Iolo Goch (1320-1398), written before the beginning of the Glyndŵr revolt. Owain Glyndŵr remains an enduring inspiration to many contemporary Welsh writers.

  • Grassholm Island

    Around eleven miles from Pembrokeshire’s shore, Grassholm is a RSPB reserve and the only gannet colony in Wales - no landing is allowed on the island due to the large number of nesting gannets. Grassholm has been identified with Gwales, a mythical island featured in The Mabinogion. In the Second Branch (section), Gwales is the site of a magnificent castle where the severed head of the giant Bran is kept miraculously alive for eighty years whilst his companions, the sole survivors of the terrible battle in Ireland, feast in blissful ignorance of their losses. You can travel around Grassholm by boat and marvel at this mystical place of otherness.

    Photo of Grassholm - copyright Dave Challender

  • Pennant Melangell

    In the 7th century, Saint Melangell, daughter of an Irish King, fled from an unwanted arranged marriage to live in secret in Cwm Pennant (‘Pennant Valley’). Living as a hermit for fifteen years, she sheltered a hare from the hunting dogs of Brochwell Ysgithrog, Prince of Powys. The dogs retreated and Brochwell, transfixed by Melangell's beauty and piety, granted her the valley as a permanent refuge. She established a community of holy women and the church, built in 1160, still holds her relics and flourishes as a centre for healing and counsel. Explore the church and centre, and follow the footpaths in the woods where you’ll find the same streams familiar to Saint Melangell.

  • Twmbarlwm

    Twmbarlwm (or The Twmp) near Cwmcarn is 500 metres above sea level with glorious views of the Severn Estuary. Packed with history and folklore, it sits at the end of Mynydd Henllys (‘Old Court Mountain’) ridge, which probably refers to a Llys (‘Court’) located in the Iron Age hillfort before the Norman motte and bailey castle was built. Head to the Early Bronze Age cairn, near the summit and the motte, where a buried giant (possibly the body of Bran from The Mabinogion) and some buried treasure are supposedly guarded by a swarm of bees. In fact – during the 1860s, a huge swarm of battling bees and wasps was reported above Twmbarlwm. Strange and alluring subterranean music is sometimes heard emanating from the hill. A guided trail of the Twmp is available from Cwmcarn Forest Visitor Centre. 

  • The Royal Oak, Fishguard

    The historic coastal town of Fishguard was home to Jemima Nicholas (1750-1832), a formidable local woman who in 1797, armed only with a pitchfork, reputedly single-handedly rounded up a dozen invading French soldiers. They surrendered shortly afterwards and the peace treaty was signed in The Royal Oak pub, where Lord Cawdor, commander of the British forces, had his HQ at the time. This rather bizarre Battle of Fishguard (part of the last invasion of Britain by a foreign power), is recalled in a wonderful 30-metre-long tapestry in the Town Hall. Jemima became a Welsh heroine and was awarded a lifetime pension - her grave is in the churchyard over the road. Jemima's story appears in the novel Heroine of the Fishguard Invasion by Sian Lewis (b. 1945).

  • Castell Coch

    Before Castell Coch was transformed into the fairytale castle you can explore today, it was a medieval fortress reputedly built by nobleman Ifor Bach. When Ifor died, he was said to have been buried deep within the castle in a secret chamber. Worried about being disturbed in the afterlife, he supposedly turned two of his men to stone eagles, positioning them by his burial chamber entrance to guard him for eternity. When two thieves attempted to break into his chamber, they were chased off as the two stone eagles suddenly sprang to life. Ifor’s legacy continues to live on in Cardiff today, with the popular music venue Clwb Ifor Bach ('Ifor Bach's Club') bearing his name. Castell Coch is managed by Cadw.

  • Nant Gwrtheyrn

    This secluded coastal cliff plain is the setting for one of Wales’ most tragic love stories. Rhys and Meinir, who both grew up in the Nant, were childhood sweethearts. On the morning of their wedding at Clynnog Church, Meinir followed tradition and hid from the guests. However, the fun turned sour, as friends, family and Rhys searched frantically for Meinir but to no avail. Rhys’ search lasted months, until one stormy night lightning split the oak tree he sat under to reveal Meinir’s skeleton in her wedding dress. Rhys died of a broken heart. Nant Gwrtheyrn, a language and heritage centre, now occupies the former quarrymen’s village which was built in the Nant. You can drop in for the day to enjoy an exhibition and a café with sparkling sea views, or join a residential course to learn Welsh. 

  • Llyn Nantlle

    Dyffryn Nantlle (the ‘Nantlle Valley’) is famous for the volume and breadth of folklore associated with Tylwyth Teg (‘fair folk’ or fairies). One story tells of an island which floated on Llyn Nantlle ('Nantlle Lake'). This magical place became a meeting place between a fairy and her human husband after she was banned from walking on land. Over the years, poets have praised Nantlle Valley for its natural beauty. More recent encounters are struck by the scars of the slate industry. R. Williams Parry (1884-1956), born in Talysarn, captures these contrasts in his sonnet Ddoe a Heddiw (‘Yesterday and Today’), which you can explore on the footpaths around the lake. Dyffryn Nantlle also features in the Fourth Branch (section) of The Mabinogion, and is where Gwydion finds Lleu transformed into an eagle in an oak tree.

  • Devil's Bridge

    At this remarkable site are three bridges, built where the River Mynach cascades 300 feet to the River Rheidiol below. According to folklore, the first bridge was constructed by the Devil himself, who tried to trick old Megan of Llandunach into giving her soul in exchange for a route to her stranded cow. Devil’s Bridge’s hauntingly beautiful caves and waterfalls have attracted generations of tourists, including William Wordsworth and JMW Turner, and can be explored on many local footpaths. More recently, it has appeared in the television series Hinterland - a detective series so good, it was filmed twice. The Welsh version, Y Gwyll, was shot for S4C simultaneously alongside the English language version for the BBC. Y Gwyll tours are available via Cambrian Safaris, and themed walks are offered by Twm's Treks.

  • Dyfi Biosphere, Machynlleth

    Aberystwyth and the Dyfi valley is a UNESCO designated Biosphere – an unique place celebrating environmental diversity. It is the setting for one of Wales’ most tragic love stories. ‘The Welsh Juliet’ Lleucu Llwyd, from Dolgelynen Farm near Machynelleth, fell in love and was betrothed to the young poet, Llywelyn Goch. When the poet travelled south, Lleucu’s disapproving father convinced her that her lover had married someone else. She died of a broken heart before Llywelyn returned, who immortalised her through poetry and song. This folklore may be based in truth - nearby St Peter Ad Vincula church records that Lleucu was buried under the altar in 1390. Tales of the lovers are still popular throughout Wales today. The Biosphere can be explored through various walks, and Dolgelynen Farm is now a B&B.

  • Cader Idris

    Climbing Cader Idris (‘Idris’ Chair’) is a challenging but rewarding walk, not just because of the legend associated with the mountain but also because it’s such an adventure. Idris was a giant, poet, astronomer and philosopher who once used the mountain as his throne. It is said that the huge boulders at the bottom of the mountain were stones he shook out of his shoe. Idris may have actually been a hero linked with King Arthur who was killed in battle by the Saxons in around 630 AD. Legend has it that those who sleep on the mountain will awake as either a madman or a poet, or else never wake again. Cader Idris was the inspiration behind contemporary Welsh artist Bedwyr Williams’ award-winning entry to the 2016 Artes Mundi Prize. The site is managed by Snowdonia National Park Authority.

  • Llantwit Major

    Llantwit Major is a fascinating place rich in history - a trail from the town hall leads you around 13 buildings marked with blue plaques. It is the site of Cor Tewdws, a monastery college founded by Saint Illtyd in the 500s AD which was probably Britain's earliest place of learning. The candlesticks in St. Illtyd’s Church are dedicated to resident cult folklorist Marie Trevelyan (1853-1922). Writing about a range of stories from Arthurian tales to Quaker romances, she collected and recorded oral folklore. This included the strange Glamorgan tradition of vampire chairs dating from the 16th century, which bite anyone - and particularly ministers - who sit in them. The bites are attributed to displeased dead men, who are destined to join Arawn (King of the Otherworld from The Mabinogion), but locked to their old furniture. 

  • St Fagans National History Museum

    Explore countless Welsh legends at St Fagans National History Museum, taking in millennia of Welsh history while you stroll around the buildings in the grounds, all of which have been painstakingly restored and moved from their original locations. One of the most well-known and unusual legends that comes to life here is the Mari Lwyd (‘Grey Mare’), also called Y Wasail ('The Wassail') and Y Gynfas-farch ('The Canvas Horse'). Possibly dating to the 18th century, this south Wales tradition involves a horse figure, complete with horse skull and decorations, walking from house to house in midwinter, exchanging light-hearted rhyming insults with the occupants before being invited in for drinks and food. The tradition inspired the Ballad of Mari Lwyd by poet Vernon Watkins (1906-1967).

  • National Library of Wales

    The Nanteos Cup has an incredible history. It came into the hands of the Powell family when Strata Florida Abbey was dissolved in 1539. Its origins are shrouded in mystery: some say the cup is made from the True Cross, whilst others believe it is the Holy Grail. Since the late 19th century, locals have claimed it possesses supernatural healing powers, drinking from it to cure themselves from various ailments. Over time, the humble relic has been damaged and had its authenticity scrutinized. All that remains is a curved fragment of fragile, decorated wood. Stolen in 2014 and recovered in 2015, it was subsequently placed in the care of the National Library of Wales, where visitors can see the mysterious object for themselves. The National Library of Wales is running an 'Arthur and Welsh Mythology' exhibition from 22 July - 16 December 2017, and a series of associated events throughout the year.