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Myths, Legends, and Our Very Own Atlantis

March 2021

They call Pembrokeshire Gwlad Hud a Lledrith, which means Land of Magic and Enchantment. This land of rugged and beautiful landscape has inspired many myths and legends in its time.

The best known is probably that of Cantre'r Gwaelod (the Lowland Hundred), our own version of the tale of Atlantis set right here in Cardigan Bay. The story goes that there was once a beautiful and properous low-lying land off the coast, consisting of 16 cities and teaming with markets, communities and princes. This land had a complicated system of embankments, and dykes which were opened and closed as necessary to allow the fields to be irrigated. Consequently, however, flooding was a permanent concern.

This land was ruled by Gwynddno Garanhir, and he set a prince of the realm called Seithenyn to be in touch of the sluices. Some reports say that Seithenyn wasn't too keen on this role, and preferred to spend his time partying and having fun; others that he was normally fastidious and just had the one, fatal mishap. In any case, one evening, a birthday celebration was being held for Gwynddno's daughter, Mererid, and Seithenyn decided to go along in hopes of wooing her. That night a storm rolled in and the guards rushed to tell Seithenyn, who was the only person who could operate the gates, but he was nowhere to be found. The floodgates weren't closed and the sea came rushing in, drowning people and livestock and destroying the land forever.

Despite Seithenyn's responsibility for the devastation, Mererid still married him and Gwnddno spent the rest of his days on the cliff top looking out to where his land had once been. There is some evidence of ancient forests, stone walls and causeways having been discovered and the waters of Cardigan Bay are shallow... so who knows, maybe this legend has some truth to it. If you stand on the cliffs above Cardigan Bay on a quiet night, and listen, you may hear the bells of Cantre'r Gwaelod pealing.

Other Welsh Legends and Myths

1. Twm Sion Cati, the Welsh Robin Hood

Yes, Wales has its very own Robin Hood! Thomas Jones, or Twm Sion Cati, was born in 1530 at Tregaron, Cardiganshire to Catherine 'Cati' Jones. He roamed West and Mid Wales as a highwayman and later as a conman, robbing the rich, er... but not really giving to the poor. But he didn't harm his victims and he also had an arch-enemy in the form of a Sheriff - of Carmarthen - so there are some similarities to the Nottingham Hood. You can visit the cave where Twm Son Cati would hide out at Dinas Hill - today, it's an RSPB nature reserve. The story ends with Thomas marrying an heiress and ending his life as a wealthy landowner and a respectable Justice of the Peace.

2. The Lady of the Lake

A farm boy grazing his flock around the dark waters of Llyn y Fan Fach was amazed one day when a lady emerged from the lake. She was beautiful and graceful, and told the boy that he would have great riches if he married her. The boy fell in love immediately and they married, with him receiving a dowry of the best sheep, goats, and cattle. They were happy for many years, and had three sons... but the boy forgot his vow to never strike his wife and after he had done so three times she left him and walked back into the lake, taking all the livestock with her and leaving him devastated and destitute. Their three sons grew up to be the famous Physicians of Myddfai.

3. Merlin and the Dragons' Lair

You won't be surprised to know that Wales also its own claim to the fame of Merlin... This is the story of the red Welsh dragon, also set in Beddgelert. King Vortigern chose Dinas Emrys, an ancient hill-fort near Beddgelert in Gwynedd as the place to build his castle in the fifth century, in an effort to escape the Saxons. However, every morning the the masons would get up to find their tools stole and walls fallen, so no progress was made.

The King eventually decided he needed some help with this problem, and he consulted the local sorcerers and magicians who recommended he sprinkle the ground with the blood of a child with a human mother and a father from 'the other world'. A child was found in Carmarthen (Caer Myrddin) and preparations made to sacrifice him... but this was no ordinary child, no, this child was Merlin (the Merlin from the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table) and he had another story. Merlin said that two dragons, a white one and a red one, lay sleeping under a lake inside the mountain and they were the ones responsible for the problem. The labourers dug deep and found the underground lake as Merlin had described. The lake was drained and the two sleeping dragons awoke and started fighting. As you might predict, the red dragon won the fight, the white dragon was banished, and the fortress was able to be built. The Welsh red dragon has been celebrated ever since.

4. Gelert's Grave

The sad tale of Gelert, the faithful dog of Llewelyn the Great can be read on Gelert's grave, also in the gorgeous village of Beddgelert: "In the 13th century Llewelyn, prince of North Wales, had a palace at Beddgelert. One day he went hunting without Gelert, ‘The Faithful Hound’, who was unaccountably absent.

On Llewelyn's return the truant, stained and smeared with blood, joyfully sprang to meet his master. The prince alarmed hastened to find his son, and saw the infant's cot empty, the bedclothes and floor covered with blood.

The frantic father plunged his sword into the hound's side, thinking it had killed his heir. The dog's dying yell was answered by a child's cry.

Llewelyn searched and discovered his boy unharmed, but nearby lay the body of a mighty wolf which Gelert had slain. The prince filled with remorse is said never to have smiled again. He buried Gelert here".

5. Mari Lwyd, or Grey Mare

Between Christmas Day and Twelfth Night, a hobby horse is made with a horse's skull mounted on a pole, lights or baubles as eyes, and a mane of brightly coloured streamers or trails of ivy. The person carrying the horse hides under a sackcloth and controls the horse's face, creating its character and working its jaw. A group of people go round the local houses with the horse, knocking on doors and singing songs. The evening concludes with much food and drink!

6. Daughters of the Sea

This tale is also set in Cardigan Bay, and it's a sorry story. It is said that Dylan, the sea God, was jealous of an old man's three daughters so he sends a storm to Cardigan Bay to steal them. The father is heartbroken, and Dylan soon regrets his actions. However, instead of sending them back, he turned them into seagulls so that they could be at sea or on land. Whenever the father would walk on the beach and call his daughters' names, they would come to them.

There are many, many more myths and legends said to have taken place in this ancient land, if you want to read more:


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