Myths & Legends
It won’t take you long to realise, especially after a night in one of our wonderful pubs, that here in Mid Wales we like to tell stories. The taller the better.
Some of them are scary, some heart-warming, some impossibly romantic. Some go all the way back into the mists of our Celtic past and help remind us who we are. Some may even be true. You’ll have to make your own mind up about that. We’re pretty convinced that the legendary bard Taliesin was born in Llanfair Caereinion, that the holy well of Llanfyllin had magical healing properties and that they really did dunk witches at Pwll-y-Wrach nature reserve.
The last dragon in Wales may well still be asleep in Radnor Forest, guarded by four churches all dedicated to St Michael.
The Robbers Grave at Montgomery church probably did lie bare for a century thanks to a curse by a wrongly-hanged man.
To be perfectly honest, we’re less sure that a water nymph called Sabrina lives in the River Severn. Or that the Bronze Age monolith of Maen Llia wanders off for a drink every time a cock crows.
But we’re right behind Gorsey the Afanc of Llangorse Lake. Part crocodile, part creature of nightmare. Our very own Loch Ness Monster, and every bit as real – honest.
A pilgrims’ church with visitors from all over the world, St Melangell’s church at Pennant Melangell has been a focus of pilgrimage for over a thousand years.
Sited at the head of the Tanat valley, St Melangell’s is beautifully positioned where, according to local legend, a nunnery was founded in the late 8th Century.
Lost deep in in the Berwyn Mountains the church is in the peaceful and idyllic Pennant Valley.
The main part of the church is medieval, with a 19thC tower and an 18thC porch. You will also find a 12thC font and a delightful 15thC rood screen with carvings depicting the legend of St Melangell.
The church also houses the restored shrine to St Melangell which is believed to be the earliest surviving Romanesque shrine in Northern Europe.
The legend of St Melangell tells the tale of the saint who was said to have been a hermit who lived in the valley at the time of the 7th century. Legend describes how she was given the Pennant Valley as a place of sanctuary by Prince Brochwel Ysgithrog who was impressed by her bravery and sanctity. The Prince, who was hunting in the valley, was in pursuit of a hare who took refuge under Melangell’s skirts. While the Prince’s hounds were fearful and fled, she bravely protected the hare – and has since become the patron saint of hares.
Inside the church you will find a 15thC oak screen with carvings telling the story of Melangell and Prince Brochwel. Other treasures include a series of stone carvings of the hare by the sculptor Meical Watts, forming a frieze of carvings detailing the earliest representation of the legend of St Melangell and Prince Brochwel.
The beautiful 12thC shrine of Saint Melangell was dismantled following the Reformation, when its beautifully carved stones were built into the walls of the lych-gate and church itself. They have now been reassembled and the shrine has been erected once more for all to see its stunning blend of Romanesque and Celtic motifs.
Excavations have found the site to have ancient links with nearby Bronze Age burials and an earlier graveyard.
St Melangell’s church can be found close to the nearby village of Llangynog, on the B4391. There are toilets and drinks available at the nearby Melangell Centre, with parking, shop and exhibition to visit at the church.
You’ll also see a large bone on display at the church which you will find mounted on the wall of the nave of the church. The bone is known as both Asen y Gawres (Giant’s rib) and Asen Melangell (Melangell’s rib). This perhaps links to the local myths and legends of giants living in the Berwyn Mountains.
The legend of Melangell has far reaching powers. A rock ledge, several hundred metres to the south of Melangell’s church, is also known locally as Gwely Melangell (Melangell’s Bed).
For more information about this walk and many others download Trails Mid Wales here:
St Nicholas’ church in the historic town of Montgomery contains a wealth of interesting and beautiful artefacts from the town’s past. With its original formation dating from the early 13th century, the church can be found on a low hill on the eastern part of the town. With later additions, including a four-storey battlemented tower and large corner buttresses, the church is an impressive example of a number of architectural styles and ages.
Inside you will find a 15th century rood screen, previously located in Chirbury Priory along with evidence of the town’s close association with the Herbert family from the nearby Montgomery Castle. You’ll also find a tomb, in the form of a memorial to Richard Herbert of Montgomery Castle. Richard’s son, George, who was born in Montgomery, was an Anglican priest and poet, whose work was associated with the Metaphysical poets of the 17th century.
The large and rectangular churchyard has a number of ancient trees and an interesting range of memorials. A walk around the churchyard will also uncover the war graves of two soldiers of World War I and a soldier and two airmen of World War II.
St Nicholas’ churchyard is also home to the legend of the ‘robber’s grave’. Here you will find the grave of John Davies of Wrexham who, in 1821 was sentenced to death by hanging for highway robbery. During his trial, and later after his sentence, Davies professed his innocence and prayed that God would not allow the grass to grow on his grave for at least a century. His grave can still be seen in the churchyard, and although it is now grassed, it remained uncovered for at least a century after his death.
Pistyll Rhaeadr is a beautiful and magical waterfall in the Berwyn Mountains. With Lake Vyrnwy nearby, and close to the village of Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant, this waterfall is a very special place to visit. Its name, meaning ‘Spring of the waterfall’ gives you an idea of what to expect, as the waterfall’s dramatic drop takes in a 240ft cliff-face to the Afon Rhaeadr below.
Discovering this beautiful place for yourself is a thrilling experience, especially after rain when the sound of the waterfall is a steady thundering noise that fills the gorge.
George Borrow, a 19th century author famous for his travelogues, came to the waterfall and described it in his book ‘Wild Wales’. He explained that he had “…never seen a water falling so gracefully, so much like thin, beautiful threads as here…”
This waterfall has become so well-known and admired that it has been known as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of North Wales’ inspiring the 18th century poem by an anonymous poet who lists:
‘Pistyll Rhaeadr, and Wrexham Steeple,
Snowdon’s mountains without its people,
Overton’s yew trees, Gresford bells,
Llangollen bridge and St Winifrid’s Well’.
Local folklore talks of the giant, Cawr Berwyn, who is associated with the valleys of Cwm Blowty and Cwm Pennant. Legend tells how three large boulders at the foot of the famous waterfall, Pistyll Rhaeadr, were said to have been thrown there by the giant, his wife and his maid as they were crossing the waterfall on the route to Pennant Melangell nearby.
These boulders, known as Baich y Cawr (Giant’s Burden), Baich y Gawres (Giantess’ Burden) and Ffedogaid y Forwyn (Maid’s Apronful) stir up their own mythical stories in our imaginations. Perhaps you’ll be able to pick them out if you visit the waterfall!
This enchanting spot lured many visitors to the falls in the 18th and 19th centuries due to its picturesque and magical scenes. The spray from the waterfall hangs in the air and creates a unique eco-system with rare and unusual plants.
At an impressive 240ft (80m) the waterfall has boasted being one of the UK’s tallest, single drop waterfalls and is the perfect starting point to plenty of walks and adventures in the Berwyn Mountains and the nearby Lake Vyrnwy.
For more details on how to get there and walks to take once you arrive, please visit: http://www.pistyllrhaeadr.co.uk/where.html
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (ap means son of)
Llewellyn was the Last Prince of Wales: he rebelled against the King Edward I of England and became a wanted man.
Llewellyn burned Edward’s castles and fought Edward’s troops in North Wales. Edward was furious. Llewelyn left his brother Dafydd in charge of North Wales and gathered an army on his journey to Mid Wales where he planned to join with other rebels and attack the English on a second front.
Mystery surrounds his last days in December 1282, there are several slightly different versions of the story. You can visit one secluded place where he is said to have sheltered before his last battle.
There is a tiny cave near Aberedw with a doorway and a small lookout window where local legend says he spent the night before his last battle. There is another story that says he asked a local blacksmith to put the shoes on his horse to face backwards, to confuse his enemies.
The next day the Welsh army faced the English near Builth, near the village of Cilmeri. The English attacked quickly, they used archers to attack the Welsh army on the flank. The English had more heavy horse Cavalry than the Welsh and were able to scatter the Welsh forces. Llewellyn was separated with a band of 18 loyal retainers. He was attacked in woodland near to the battle: some chronicles say this was near Aberedw; others say it was near Cilmeri. The legend says he was wounded by a knight who did not recognise him. As he lay dying he asked for his loyal priest and this gave away his identity. The knight beheaded him. This is all marked by a large standing stone near Cilmeri.
Local legend says 3,000 Welsh were slaughtered, and the rest put down their weapons – then the English slaughtered them. Some people believe the bodies are buried under the course at Builth Wells Golf Club.
Llewellyn’s head was taken to be displayed on a pike on London Bridge.
There is a longstanding tradition that the mangled body of Llewelyn was buried by the Cistercian Monks at Abby-Cwm-Hir. A modern slab has been placed at the east end to remember Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (Llewelyn the Last)
Brychan Brycheiniog was a legendary 5th-century king of Brycheiniog (Brecknockshire,) and father to Dwynwen, The Welsh Patron Saint of Lovers
The legend of St Dwynwen is not a particularly happy tale, but one of heart break and strength.
Dwynwen fell in love with a man named Maelon Dafodrill, she presented this man to her father and asked for his permission for them to marry.
King Brychan had already arranged for his daughter to marry another suitor, so declined that the two should be wed.
Maelon was filled with rage at the Kings refusal and attacked Dwynwen, finally leaving her alone and walking away from the woman he claimed to love.
Dwynwen beside herself with grief took to the woods nearby where she prayed to God for him to rid her of her feelings.
In answer to her prayers an God appeared to her in a dream and presented her with a potion that would ensure that she would forget Maelon and then turned her ex lover into a block of ice.
God then granted Dwynwen three requests.
The first request was for God to thaw Maelon, the second was that God would look kindly on the hopes and dreams of all true lovers, and the third was for herself never to marry.
Dwynwen then spend the rest of her life as a nun devoting her life to God and living her days on Llanddwyn Island in Anglesea
Maen Llia is a massive Bronze Age monolith standing in a mystical and isolated spot in the Brecon Beacon National Park. A legend says that whenever a cock crows, the stone moves off to drink in the River Nedd. According to another story, the stone visits the River Mellte on Midsummer morning.
Another Legend says the stone goes down to the river, the Afon Llia to drink sometimes. This story seems likely to hint at the fact that the stone’s shadow is cast across the hillside as far as the river when the sun is low in the evening sky.
Whatever time of day you are inspired to visit Maen Llia you will be mesmerised by the impressive standing stone which is twelve foot high and diamond shaped. It is relatively easy to find and visit being a short distance from the minor road leading from Ystradfellte in Waterfall country to the village of Heol Senni and then on to Brecon.
Some people describe it as a Goddess Stone, it is certainly elegant. Formed from Old Red Sandstone with a scattering of moss you are drawn by its legendary energy to touch it. You cannot properly judge its scale until you approach its feet; then you wonder at the incredible willpower of the people that put it there. It is 3.7m (12ft) high, 2.8m (9ft) wide, but only 0.6m (2ft) thick. It points north to south along the Llia Valley. It is likely that at least a quarter to a third of the stone is below ground, so it has managed to stand up to thousands of years of wild Welsh weather.
It stands alone at the junction of two valleys and its visibility for some distance suggests that it may have been a territorial marker. It could also mark an ancient trackway across the Beacons guiding travellers safely over the watershed, in a similar way to the stone north of the Maen Mawr circle just over 2 miles to the south. In the 1940s, some faint Latin and Ogam inscriptions were still visible on the stone's surface. At a legendary altitude of 573m it is thought to be the highest standing stone in South Wales.
Another set of drinking stones are the Four Stones near Walton, near the A44. Locals say they mark the graves of four knights and the stones go the nearby Hindwell Pool to drink at night.
Hafren is the Welsh Goddess of the river Severn and her Latin name is Sabrina
Like many mythical stories Sabrina's legend contains: kings, battles and a wicked stepmother.
Her story was even legendary and ancient when it was written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his chronicle: History of the Kings of Britain, c.1138.
There was in ancient times a warrior called Brutus, who Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote, was leader of a band of Trojan exiles from Italy who had fled to and settled in ancient Britain. He ruled Britain for twenty-four years. When he died, his lands were divided into four parts. His eldest son, Locrin, took the part which is now England, the second son, Camber, took a part, which is now Wales and the youngest son, Albanact, took a part, now known as Scotland. Corineus the king's champion was given Cornwall. Corineus had a beautiful daughter called Gwendolen and she became engaged to King Locrin in a diplomatic agreement.
Before Locrin and Gwendolen could be married, Britain was invaded by the Huns, under their chief Humber. The young King Locrin of England, led the fight against these invaders and succeeded in beating Humber, who was eventually killed by drowning in the river which is still named after him.
The Huns had a princess, Estrildis, who after the battle was captured and King Locrin fell in love with her. Locrin was then threatened by Corineus with a battle axe and was forced marry his fiancé Gwendolen.
King Locrin couldn't give up his love for Estrildis and secretly kept her in an underground cave. She and Locrin had a daughter, Sabre (or in Latin Sabrina). Locrin and Gwendolen had a son called Madan.
After the death of his father-in-law Corineus of Cornwall, Locrin divorced Gwendolen, made Estrildis his Queen and their daughter Sabre, a princess.
The furious Gwendolen raised a Cornish army against the King and Locrin was killed in battle. Gwendolen then declared herself ruler of Britain for her son Madan.
In revenge Gwendolen commanded that Estrildis and her daughter Sabre be thrown into the mighty river and be drowned. She ordered the river to be named after Sabre hoping this would be a reminder of the infidelity of Locrin. Instead, the name later became Severn or in Latin Sabrina, making the damsel Sabrina immortal.
The great poet John Milton was inspired by Sabrina's story and turned her into a Water Nymph in his masque, “Comus”
When you next gaze at the river Severn think of the Water Nymph Sabrina.
Sabrina also features in Welsh folklore. Here is one version of the story, imagine the telling of it being passed down the generations, around a crackling fire:
Mother Plynlimon had 3 daughters, Rheidol, Wye and Severn. She told them all to make their best way to the sea. Rheidol obeyed her mother perfectly and forged her way to the sea by the shortest and most direct route reaching the sea near Aberystwyth. Wye became so enamoured with the loveliness of the country through which she passed, she kept wandering around to see so much beauty in Mid Wales and meandered for miles out her way before she reached the sea. Severn or in Latin Sabrina, cascaded through the spectacular Welsh mountains and glided across wide fertile valleys, before surging into the sea. She became serene, beautiful and was often feared for being too powerful.
Today her powerful waters are controlled and held back by two immense dams at Llyn Clywedog near the historic town of Llanidloes. The route to this captivating 6 mile stretch of water is one of the most scenic journeys in the Country.
You can also walk beside her on the legendary 224 mile Severn way and reach mother Plynlimon where she and her sisters are playful streams.
The Dragon of Radnor Forest
Think of a forest and you’ll picture dense woodland. However, Radnor Forest didn’t get its name from today’s meaning of the word – in medieval times the word ‘forest’ was used to describe an unenclosed area for hunting deer. Radnor Forest was given its name as it was once a royal hunting ground. Now though, it lives up to our understanding of a forest, and is largely covered in rich and diverse woodland.
The wooded part of the forest is now looked after by Natural Resources Wales (formerly the Forestry Commission Wales) and is available to enjoy on foot, horseback or mountain bike.
According to local legend Radnor Forest is home to the last dragon in Wales who sleeps undisturbed in the forest. A ring of churches built around the forest, each dedicated to St Michael, the angel who defeated the dragon, are said to contain the sleeping dragon. Churches located at Llanfihangel Rhydithon (Dolau), Llanfihangel Nant Melan, Llanfihangel Cefnllys and Llanfihangel Cascob form the ring. Local folklore suggests that should any of the four churches be destroyed the dragon would be woken!
Trails in the forest link up with the locations of Bleddfa, Llangunllo, Pilleth, Whitton and Cascob, home to the church of St Michael which is said to be one of the ring of churches offering protection from the last dragon in Wales who sleeps in the Radnor Forest!
A number of interlinking walks and numerous trails take you through the forest, giving you the opportunity to explore its valley bottoms, open plateaus, impressive trees and wildlife. It is also home to the beautiful ‘Water breaks its neck’ waterfall which is very much worth a visit.
The forest is home to diverse and interesting wildlife including roe deer who enjoy the forest’s quiet hideaways. Buzzards and goshawks take full advantage of the steep valley sides, while the crossbill and siskin also thrive in the woods.
The large spruce and larch trees offer cover and a woodland home to large populations of badgers, rabbits and foxes.
Keep your eyes open for signs of wildlife and you’ll be sure to see plenty of interesting creatures and their woodland homes.
There are plenty of opportunities to take part in an impromptu wildlife safari and quick game of wildlife detectives with the children, with places to explore and new animals and mini-beasts to discover. You might even find the Radnor Forest dragon if you look and listen hard enough!
Located on the A488 between Knighton and Presteigne but can be accessed from a number of different locations. Please visit: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/website/recreation.nsf/LUWebDocsByKey/WalesPowysNoForestRadnorForest for more details.
Droves of tourists every year drive to the shores of Loch Ness to catch an elusive glimpse of the monster that waits at the bottom of the Loch, but what you may not know is that you don't have to travel quite that far to be in the presence of a “water beast”
Cwtched in-between the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains is the beautiful village of Llangorse.
Llangorse boasts the largest fresh water lake in South Wales
The lake is famous for its fishing (the biggest Pike in the UK was caught in these very waters), for water sports and being the only place in Wales that you will be able to see a Crannog, it is a site of exceptional beauty and has a SSI designation, if that isn't enough deep within the dark waters awaits another hidden treasure “Gorsey”.
Gorsey is said to be an Afnac (if you’re not quite up to speed with your readings of the Mabinogion, an Afnac would be more commonly referred to as a lake monster)
One of the earliest descriptions of it is given by the 15th-century poet Lewys Glyn Cothi, who described it as living in Llyn Syfaddon, now Llangorse Lake.
It is said that King Arthur killed the last Afnac at Llyn Barfog in Snowdonia some time ago, there is a hoof-print etched deep into the rock of Carn March Arthur "Stone of Arthur's Horse", which was made by King Arthur's trusty steed Llamrei, when it was hauling the Afnac from the lake…
yet it seems that King Arthur missed our Afnac out…
Gorsey is said to be a monstrous creature who preys upon anyone who falls or swims in its lake.
The last report of an incident involving Gorsey was reported in 1999 when a water skier had a close encounter with the beast leaving him with a nasty bite mark on his foot. The beast allegedly had quite a chomp out of the water-skier before diving back down into the deep waters and hiding in one of the many underground caverns.
It seems the beast has abated his hunger for now (we would suggest that this is in probably a direct result of the plethora of Mouth Watering establishments that Gorsey now has to visit in the area, if you had the option of some famous hot cawl or the foot of a water skier we know which we would choose) as the lake has been festooned with boats, skiers and swimmers since that have had no reports of Gorsey grabbing or nibbling at them.