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14 Strange, Creepy, And Surprising Welsh Myths And Legends

Is there any story more heartbreaking than Gelert?

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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

Flickr: wwilmes / Creative Commons

The Welsh landscape is so beautiful that it attracts gawping visitors from all corners of the globe, including, apparently, the underworld.

Legend has it that in the 11th century Satan himself visited Ceredigion to see what the fuss was about, and while he was there he met a woman whose cow had become stranded across a river. He offered to build her a bridge in exchange for the soul of the first living thing that crossed it. After mulling it over she agreed, and once the bridge was built she lobbed a loaf of bread across it, which her dog dutifully ran after. Smart.

3. Gelert

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.

4. Angelystor

Emgaol / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Angelystor is the name of a foreboding supernatural figure that allegedly appears in the village of Llangernyw twice a year, on Halloween and 31 July, under the churchyard's 3,000-year-old yew tree. The spectre will announce, in Welsh, the names of the local parish members who will soon meet their end.

According to folklore, a tailor named Shon ap Robert was particularly sceptical about the legend and was challenged by villagers to prove their fears wrong. He went to the church on Halloween and – what do you know – there was Angelystor, speaking Shon ap Robert’s name, and he duly died later that year.

5. Branwen

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

Flickr: kristiherbert / Creative Commons

There’s an area of land in Cardigan Bay that, until recently, lay unperturbed save for the legend surrounding it. It's said that in the year 600 a storm blew up from the southwest, and the woman in charge of the sluice gates was too busy being chatted up by the King’s pal, Seithennin, to close them before the huge waves reached land. The sea rushed in, flooding the land of Cantref and drowning 16 villages.

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

Flickr: rockcatch / Creative Commons

Directly translating to "Idris’s Chair", Cadair Idris in Snowdonia is one of Wales’ most recognisable peaks, named after the mythical giant who used the mountain as a throne. Hey, giants have gotta sit somewhere. It’s said that those who dare to sleep on Idris’s mountain will lose their minds, or worse, never wake up from their slumber.

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

Flickr: theogeo / Creative Commons

King March ap Meirchion heads up a feel-good tale of acceptance and tolerance. The king, whose name meant “stallion son of stallions” had a big secret – he had the ears of a horse.

Only his barber knew, but despite being sworn to secrecy he had to tell someone, right? So he went to a nearby bog and whispered the news to the reeds. Passing pipers then cut the reeds to make new pipes, and when they later played for the king, instead of music the pipes whispered: “The king has the ears of a horse.” The secret was out and the king was mortified, but no one minded because the king was a nice guy and the internet hadn’t been invented yet.

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

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St David was born in 520 CE on the cliffs of Ceredigion, allegedly the illegitimate son of King Sanctus and a nun named Nonnita. He was known for executing all kinds of amazing miracles, such as restoring a blind man’s sight and bringing a dead boy back to life by splashing his face with tears.

His most impressive feat, however, came during a sermon he was preaching near the village of Llanddewi Brefi – yep, that of Little Britain fame. He’d drawn a large crowd – so large that those at the back couldn’t hear him. Then a white dove landed on his shoulder, and as it did, the ground beneath David’s feat rose up to create a hill so that everyone could see and hear him. The hill remains today, with a church at its peak.

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.

14. Dinas Emrys

Flickr: waltjabsco / Creative Commons

Wales is synonymous with the red dragon, but not many people actually know where the legend comes from. In the fifth century the Celtic king Vortigen decided he quite fancied building a castle on the lofty mountain of Dinas Emrys. Every day his men would tirelessly work to build the towers, but every morning they’d arrive onsite to find their hard work reduced to rubble.

The king sought the advice of young Merlin, who revealed that beneath the castle’s proposed site was a hidden lake that was home to two dragons. The king demanded that the lake be uncovered and drained, and once it was, the two dragons – one red, representing the Welsh, and one white, representing the English – started to fight. The red dragon emerged triumphant and the castle, eventually built, was named in its honour. The red dragon has been an iconic symbol of Wales ever since.

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