Well Hello there, I am Levi, a Welsh Mountain Hare if you will, and I am here to share with you the story of my ancestors.
When you mention hares to most people they say, “Oh, yeah you had a race with that tortoise and lost, ha ha!” Well that was just one rather unfortunate incident and there will be no race today, well maybe one. But there are certainly no tortoises in this story. The only creatures with shells here are snails.
The truth is that we are a bit shy and this particular hare just didn’t want all the attention on him. Of course he got more than he bargained for when he lost. But you also have to remember we prefer to be out at night time – less predators about you see.
Many people also confuse us with rabbits. But we are different in so many ways. Of course we are much larger and longer than our cousins, and their ears, well, they are so small and don’t have the fancy black tips on the ends like we do.The other thing is we do not dig and burrow into the ground, but instead live our whole lives above ground.
We do not have a particular 'home' and will sleep in any suitable place, continually shifting from one place to another, just like Melangell.
Oh listen to me going on. It is Melangell I need to tell you about.
So, let me tell you about Melangell: a more beautiful woman you are never likely to see. Her long, wavy hair was the colour of autumn leaves. It glistened in the sun and flowed around the porcelain skin of her heart-shaped face like a gentle river. Her eyes were as bright and as green as the summer grass – the emerald grass of Ireland.
Yet Melangell was even more beautiful inside and wise beyond her years. As a young girl she never left her mother’s side. The pair would gather fruits and nuts from the bushes, but only those that were safe to eat. “Never let these pass your lips,” she would say when they walked past the Yew tree bursting with juicy red fruit.
Melangell grew up in Ireland. Her father was King Jowchel and it was his wish that Melangell would marry a young man from a leading Irish family.
Melangell was not ready to marry and knew she would bring shame upon her family if she refused. So one night as everyone slept she slipped away.
The young girl travelled through the night and by morning she was miles away. Did her family come searching for her? Nobody knows. But like a hare she kept herself to herself and within a few days she had reached the coast.
The seas were rough and the water stretched as far as the eye could see. She was scared but she knew she would have to leave these shores behind.
After what felt like an eternity of being on water, tired and cold she left the rough sea behind and travelled up into the mountains of Wales.
Melangell walked and walked, climbing higher into the mountains, but with no idea where she was heading. She slept under trees and ate berries from the hedges and moorlands.
The autumn also brings with it mushrooms and luckily Melangell knew which ones were safe to eat and which ones would make her sick.
The river provided Melangell with a ready supply of fresh water to drink, and like the herons and otters, she would take fish, but only when she was really hungry.
Yet, Melangell wondered if she would ever find a place to settle and she continued walking sure that God was guiding her to her destiny.
Finally, Melangell found a place that felt like home. It was within the Cwm Pennant, or The Pennant Valley. There were certainly no houses.
During Melangell’s time here the valley was alive with wildlife, much as it is today, and she established a harmonious friendship with all the creatures.
Melangell lived a very simple life amongst the animals and each night she would sleep upon a bare rock.
For fifteen years Melangell lived alone in the valley but one day as she prayed in the clearing of a large bramble thicket she heard the sound of horns in the distance.
The frenzied barking of dogs joined the horns and before long she could also hear men approaching on horseback.
Just then a hare burst through the leaves and thorns.
His eyes were wide and his face full of fear.
Melangell ushered the frightened hare under her cloak and prepared to face the men who had broken the silence of the valley.
It was the snarling dogs that arrived first. They stopped fast when they saw the woman, who remained kneeling. Moments later the huntsman had arrived and ordered the woman to step aside so his dogs could kill the hare.
The hare’s heart was racing at such a rate he thought it would burst out of his body.
What happened next was quite extraordinary.
The final man to enter the thicket was Brychwel Ysgithrog the prince of Powys.
“Get it, hounds, get it!” the prince urged but the more he shouted the more the dogs retreated, howling in fear.
Melangell stood her ground. The prince was impressed with this woman’s courage and after he calmed down he asked Melangell how long she had lived in such a lonely spot.
Melangell explained how she had fled from Ireland and found sanctuary in this valley.
The prince was so impressed by her simplicity of life and the protection she gave to the wild hare that he gifted her the whole valley so that she could build a nunnery.
Melangell remained there for 37 years and not only developed a community of women in retreat, but enjoyed the company of hares that behaved like tame creatures in her presence.
Ever since, Pennant Melangell has been a place of pilgrimage, and Melangell remains the patron saint of hares, rabbits, small animals, and the natural environment.
Melangell spent the rest of her life in this valley and we have been protected ever since.
Even today, if any hare is pursued by hounds and someone shouts after it, "God and Melangell be with thee," it will escape.
And that is the story of my great ancestors and how they were saved by the good nature of Melangell.
I hope that you enjoyed it and that you will keep a special eye out for me or my family next time you visit the area.
Till then - " God and Melangell be with thee"
Melangell The History
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).Cwm Pennant extends deep into the Berwyn, an area of remote mountain pasture and moorland with one of the largest areas of heather in Wales. It is also the most important upland in Wales for breeding birds. Merlins and Hen Harriers hunt over the hills, ravens circle over the crags and buzzards soar high on the thermals. If you are lucky you may even spot Black Grouse along the forest fringe.
Just over 5km away is Lake Vyrnwy.Lake Vyrnwy is not only an outstandingly beautiful scenic area compromising of a 24,000 acre RSPB Reserve, this area is quite literally flooded with history, the old village of Llanwyddyn lies beneath the cool waters, flooded so Liverpool could be supplied with fresh water.
During the warmer seasons when the water is at his lowest the top of the parish church tower can be seen breaking above the waters.