14 Strange, Creepy, And Surprising Welsh Myths And Legends
Is there any story more heartbreaking than Gelert?
1. The Lady of the Lake
It’s said that once upon a time, in northeast Carmarthenshire, a young farmer came across a beautiful woman sat on the surface of a lake called Llyn y Fan Fach – on the surface, so he probably should’ve guessed something was up.
He fell in love with her, but before she’d marry him he had to do two things: First, produce a perfectly baked loaf of bread – which is fair enough, because everyone likes bread – and second, tell her apart from her identical twin sister, which is quite important for a relationship, tbh.
Both of which he duly did, and on their wedding day she warned him that if he struck her three times, she’d return to the fairy kingdom beneath the lake. The couple lived happily for many years, but after three accidental and completely innocent bops on the arm, she did indeed return to the lake, leaving the farmer heartbroken.
2. Devil’s Bridge
Probably best skip this one if you’re a dog lover, because it ain’t a happy tale. There’s a village in Gwynedd called Beddgelert, which literally translates to “Gelert’s Grave” and is supposedly the final resting place of this famous doggo – as well as being home to a bronze statue in his honour. He belonged to Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd.
One day, the prince and his wife went out hunting, leaving their baby son at home with a nurse and Gelert for companionship. When the prince returned, Gelert came running down the path to greet his master, but he was covered in blood. Llewelyn rushed into the house for his son but couldn’t find him, and in grief believed he’d been eaten by Gelert. You can probably guess what Llewelyn did next.
But as soon as he put his sword back in its sheath he heard his son crying from behind his overturned cradle. He moved the cradle aside and found his son – unharmed – and the body of a huge wolf that courageous little Gelert had killed in order to protect the infant. Nice one, Llewelyn.
Siblings can be good for something, according to this Welsh legend. The goddess Branwen was trapped in an unhappy marriage to the king of Ireland, and in a bid to allay her misery she taught a starling to say her name.
She sent the bird over the sea to Wales where it landed on the shoulder of her brother, Bran. Fortunately, Bran also happened to be a giant, so off he waded through the sea to rescue her, but not before leaving a boulder from his pocket and a giant footprint on the beach of Harlech, North Wales.
6. Cantre’r Gwaelod
7. Nanteos Cup
Forget what you think you know about the Holy Grail and all its alleged splendour – the real deal might actually be the battered remains of a plain ol’ wooden bowl. Discovered in Ceredigion, the unassuming Nanteos Cup is thought to have a supernatural ability to heal those who drink from it and is believed to be made from a piece of the True Cross. It’s now on display in the National Library of Wales.
8. Cadair Idris
9. Merlin’s Oak
Carmarthen is said to be the birthplace of mythical magician Merlin, who apparently had a thing for climbing a particular oak tree as a child. So fond was he of said tree that he prophesied: “When Merlin’s Oak shall tumble down, then shall fall Carmarthen Town” – basically, “touch my tree and I’m gonna be pissed”.
The tree stood tall for many years but started to rot in the early 19th century. In 1978, the last fragment of the tree was removed from its original spot, and – true to Merlin’s words – the town fell victim to the worst flooding it had seen in years.
10. March ap Meirchion
11. King Arthur
There are lots of places in Wales that lay claim to a piece of the legend of King Arthur. The magical Excalibur has allegedly been seen in the lakes of Llydaw, Dinas, and Ogwen – while on the banks of Lake Barfog lies a stone that reputedly bears the hoof print of Arthur’s horse, Llamrai. The king is also associated with Mount Snowden, where he’s said to have killed the formidable giant Rhitta, who made a cape out of the beards of his victims.
12. St David
13. The Afanc
The Afanc is a Celtic water monster from Welsh mythology with ties to many of the country’s lakes. The creature is usually described as a crocodile, but some stories describe it as a giant, demonic beaver. In any case, the Afanc would demolish anyone who entered its waters, with one tale claiming its thrashings caused such severe flooding that all the people of Britain drowned.