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Myths and legends

Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly Castle

Our stories

Everywhere you go in Wales someone will point out a hill, church or a standing stone that has a story of its own. Click on the links below to see some of our favourite stories.

King Arthur

King Arthur and his knights regularly appear in our mythology and folklore. Sites throughout Wales are connected with this mighty king and his magician Merlin.

Today we are still a leading source of Arthurian literature. The County Library at Mold is home to the world’s largest collection of books on Arthur, comprising nearly 2,000 volumes.

In Wales, Arthur’s fame lives on in our everyday place names. Caerfyrddin (Carmarthen) is believed to be Merlin’s birthplace, and is named after him. There’s Maes-y-Camlan or Camlan Field; Bryn y Cleifion (Hill of the Wounded) marks the area where the casualties may have been laid and Nant-y-Saeson (Stream of the Saxons) suggests where Arthur's enemies pitched camp.

These place names are not devised to try and prove a point - they are real names, centuries old, part of a community memory which is still alive. The name Arthur comes from the same stem as the Welsh word ‘arth’, meaning bear.

He is also supposed to have fought his last battle at Bwlch y Saethau - the Pass of Arrows - which is below Snowdon’s summit and Llyn Llydaw is the lake where Arthur’s sword Excalibur was thrown.

On the Gower peninsula stands Arthur’s Stone which is said to be the ‘pebble’ that he removed from his boot on his way to the battle of Camlann in AD 539. He threw the stone over his shoulder and it landed seven miles away on Cefn Bryn Common near Reynoldston.


Mabinogion

The Mabinogion (pronounced 'Mabin-OGion') is a collection of our medieval tales dating back a thousand years which still have the ability to fascinate and appeal to all. They are regarded by many as a masterpiece of medieval literature and Wales' greatest contribution to European literature.

The tales are set in a magical landscape which corresponds geographically to the western coast of Wales and are full of white horses, giants, beautiful, intelligent women and heroic men.

Although these characters are long gone, the ancient sites associated with these legends remain. For example, Harlech Castle was where according to the tales of the Mabinogion, Matholwch, King of Ireland, arrived to marry the giant Bendigeidran’s sister Branwen. But the ill fated marriage resulted in warfare between the two countries and the death and carnage broke Branwen’s heart and she was buried on the banks of the river Alaw.


Lady of the Lake

Llyn y Fan Fach, a remote lake in our Black Mountains has its very own Lady of the Lake legend. The story goes that it was here a young farmer named Gwyn won and then tragically lost the love of his life.

He fell in love with a beautiful water fairy and she agreed to marry him but warned him she would leave him for ever if he struck her three times. They lived happily for many years and had three sons but when Gwyn struck her playfully for the third time she disappeared into the lake and he never saw her again.

She would sometimes reappear to her sons and teach them the powers of healing with herbs and plants. They became skillful physicians, as did their children after them. Some of their ancient remedies have survived and are in the Red Book of Hergest, one of our most important medieval manuscripts.


Beddgelert

From the village of Beddgelert, in the National Park of Snowdonia, comes the tale of Prince Llywelyn. The Prince was very fond of hunting. Although he had many dogs, his favourite was Gelert, as he was fearless in the hunt and also a loyal friend and companion. One day Llewelyn and his wife went out hunting, leaving their baby son with a nurse and a servant to look after him. The nurse and the servant went for a walk in the mountains leaving the baby alone and unprotected.

Llewelyn was absorbed in his hunting, but after a while he noticed that Gelert wasn’t with the pack. The Prince knew something was wrong as Gelert was always at the front of the pack. He reasoned that the only place Gelert would go was back to the lodge, so he called off the hunt and headed back home.

As the party dismounted, Gelert came running out of the lodge towards his master, covered in blood and wagging his tail. The Princess, calling her child's name, fainted. Llewelyn rushed into the baby's room to find the cradle overturned, the bloodstained bedclothes thrown all over the floor - and no sign of his son.

Filled with anger and grief he drew his sword and killed Gelert. As the dog died, his whimpers and his cries were answered by the sound of a baby crying from behind the overturned cradle. When Llewelyn pulled aside the cradle he found his son unharmed and the body of a huge wolf next to him. Gelert had in fact killed the wolf as it tried to attack Llewelyn's son.

With huge remorse, Llewelyn buried Gelert in a meadow nearby and marked his grave with a cairn of stones. The village of Beddgelert (Gelert's grave) owes its name to this site.