Visiting Snowdonia

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Bala

Situated on the north east shore of Llyn Tegid is the unique market town of Bala. Surrounded by the Aran, Arenig and Berwyn mountains this little town in the National Park is a stronghold of the Welsh language and Welsh culture.

An historic town

The town of Bala itself is very old – the Norman motte, Tomen y Bala, which is located just off the north-east end of the High Street is the earliest sign of a settlement here.

On receiving a charter in 1324 when Edward II was king, Bala became a free borough. This meant that the town was entitled to elect a mayor and two bailiffs, to hold a weekly market and biannual fair, and to have a prison. The weekly market and biannual fairs continue to be held today.

Since the beginning, agriculture has been the area’s main industry, but during the last half of the eighteenth century the town became an important centre for the stocking trade, and the town’s men and women were all busy knitting socks and gloves. Even King George III wore socks made in Bala to soothe his arthritis. By the mid nineteenth century Bala had to compete with the woollen mills of the English Midlands, and slowly the stocking industry came to an end.

Famous characters

As you walk down Bala’s High Street it becomes apparent that there is a wealth of history connected to the town. There are monuments, chapels, churches and an old workhouse, and the old Theological College sitting proudly on the hilltop – and many renowned individuals who are connected to them.

Outside Capel Tegid chapel stands the monument to commemorate the Rev. Thomas Charles, an important leader in the Methodist revival in Wales who was mainly responsible for establishing the Bible Society. The inspiration to establish the society came in 1800, when he met Mari Jones, a 16 year old girl from Llanfihangel y Pennant. Mari Jones wanted her own copy of the Bible, so when she had saved enough money to buy a Bible from Thomas Charles she started on her 25 mile barefoot trek from her home to Bala. When she arrived at Thomas Charles’ house she was heartbroken when she was told that there were no Bibles left. Her despair touched Thomas Charles so much that he gave her his own copy.

On the high street stands a monument to commemorate Thomas Ellis – a Liberal Member of Parliament for Meirionnydd. He was one of the most original political thinkers of his time who worked hard over the Welsh language. It was here in Bala that he delivered his famous speech calling for a Welsh Parliament.

On the hilltop stands the proud structure of Coleg y Bala which was built in 1867. It was originally built as a Theological College for boys but today it is a Youth Activities Centre for the Presbyterians. Michael D Jones from Weirglodd Wen in Llanuwchllyn was a Principal at the Theological College. He played a prominent part in the establishment of a Welsh colony in Patagonia in the 1860s where the Welsh language would be the language of religion, government, trade and education.

A highly sung female who has a connection with Bala is Betsi Cadwaladr. She was born in Bala in 1789 and spent most of her life as a servant. In 1835 she trained as a nurse in Guy’s Hospital, London and in 1854, when she was 65 years old, she decided to go and help the soldiers who had been injured in the Crimean War. She arrived at Scutari Hospital where Florence Nightingale worked. Florence Nightingale would not allow her to work with the patients, and was given the task of cleaning and mending clothes, but Betsi soon got tired of this. It took 6 days for the injured soldiers to get to the hospital from the Crimea so Betsi and other nurses decided that they would go to them in the Crimea. She worked hard in difficult circumstances in a hospital in Balaclava, but within a year Betsi herself had become ill and had to return to London.

In the village of Llanuwchllyn on the southern end of Llyn Tegid there is a monument to commemorate a well known father and son – Sir O M Edwards and his son Sir Ifan ap O M Edwards. Sir O M Edwards was an editor, a litterateur and a passionate and prominent educator, who was eager to encourage pride in Welsh traditions and language. In the 1890s he launched magazines for children called Cymru and Cymru’r Plant (The Children’s Wales), which was a new leaf in children’s literature.

His son, Sir Ifan ab O M Edwards, carried on with his father’s good work, and was responsible for founding the youth movement Urdd Gobaith Cymru. In the beginning, young people from across Wales came to stay at the Urdd camp in Llanuwchllyn – the first camp was held in the garden at Neuadd Wen, the founder’s home, but then it was moved to a larger site at Glan-llyn. Following the founding of this camp, another was opened in Llangrannog, and more recently at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff and the children of Wales continue to come and stay at these camps each year. The movement continues to go from strength to strength and arranges a variety of events for young people – being Eisteddfodau, sports, theatre and much more. These events ensure that the children of Wales continue to enjoy their language and culture and have pride in them.

A first class watersports centre

At 4 miles long, ¾ mile wide and up to 43 metres deep, Llyn Tegid is the largest natural lake in Wales. Gusting south westerly winds through the valley makes it a perfect spot for all kinds of watersports, from sailing and windsurfing to fishing. It has 14 species of fish, including the Gwyniad (Coregonus lavaretus), a species of whitefish which is unique to Llyn Tegid (fishing for the Gwyniad is not permitted). Llyn Tegid is owned and managed by the Snowdonia National Park Authority as a recreational resource. The Authority also conserves the lake and its special biodiversity.

On foot or by train

Llyn Tegid is surrounded by a web of public footpaths which offer magnificent views of the lake and mountains. If walking doesn't appeal to you - you can enjoy the spectacular views on a train journey along the southern shore of the lake from Bala to Llanuwchllyn.

Legends

Many legends are connected to the Bala area – some of them tell the story of how Llyn Tegid was formed, while others are about legendary and semi-legendary characters connected with the area.

Caer-gai, not far from Llyn Tegid, was named after the legendary hero Cai fab Cynyr. Cai is a prominent character in Arthurian legends including Culhwch and Olwen and TheThree Romances to name but a few. The legendary lord Gronw Pebyr, who, in the tale of Math fab Mathonwy, plotted with his lover Blodeuwedd to kill her husband, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, was lord of Penllyn.

The legend of Tegid Foel
A very long time ago, there was a beautiful valley in the spot where Llyn Tegid lies today, and on the bottom of that valley stood the old town of Bala. Tegid Foel, a mean prince who was very cruel to his tenants lived in a palace in the town. Despite numerous warnings that vengeance would come for his cruelty, he didn’t mend his ways.

On the arrival of Tegid Foel’s first grandson a grand feast was held at the palace to mark the occasion, and all of the princes’ acquaintances, equally as cruel as he was, were invited. Food and drink were in abundance and the best harpist in the country was employed to entertain them. During the feast, the harpist heard a voice saying “Vengeance will come!”. He looked over his shoulder and saw a little bird by his side. The little bird lured the harpist out of the palace and up to the hills where he fell asleep. The harpist awoke the next morning to find that the old town of Bala had been drowned, and as he approached the shore he saw his harp floating on the water. The lake was named after the cruel prince and it is said that sometimes, the remains of the old town of Bala can still be seen in the lake today…

Ffynnon Gower (Gower’s spring)
Another tale tells the story of the creation of Llyn Tegid, but this time it concerns Ffynnon Gower in the old town of Bala. This spring was very precious and was protected by walls and a cover. The spring had a minder who was responsible for making sure that the cover was placed over the spring every evening – failure to do this would mean that evil spirits, even the devil, would invade the water.

One night, the spring’s minder forgot to place the cover over the spring and its water began to rise and flow over its walls. Water continued to pour out of the spring and in no time a lake had formed and the old town of Bala disappeared under the water while the inhabitants stood on the shores in total horror and disbelief. In time, a new Bala was built, but the locals never forgot about that tragic night.

The Legend of Taliesin
A very long time ago Tegid Foel and his wife Ceridwen lived by Llyn Tegid in Penllyn. Tegid Foel and Ceridwen had three children – Ceirwy, Morfran and Afagddu. Afagddu was fearsomely ugly, and so to make up for this Ceridwen decided that she would give him the gift of knowledge.

Afagddu would be given this gift by drinking a special potion brewed from all kind of vegetables - but it would not be ready for a whole year and a day. An old man called Morda was responsible for keeping the fire under the cauldron, and Gwion Bach was responsible for stirring the mixture.

When the potion was almost ready, three drops of the mixture splashed onto Gwion Bach’s hand. Gwion Bach put his hand in his mouth instantly to ease the pain, and at that moment, Ceridwen realized that Gwion Bach had received all the knowledge that was intended for her son.

Ceridwen started to chase Gwion Bach, so Gwion Bach changed into a hare so that he could run faster than her – but she turned into a greyhound. Gwion jumped into the river and turned into a trout, but Ceridwen turned herself into an otter. Gwion turned into a bird, and Ceridwen into a hawk. When Ceridwen was about to capture Gwion he saw a heap of wheat on the floor of a barn and turned himself into a grain of wheat. Ceridwen turned herself into a hen and ate every single grain of the wheat.

After eating the wheat Ceridwen became pregnant, and in nine months time she gave birth to a baby boy. Ceridwen knew that it was Gwion Bach, but he was so beautiful that she didn’t have the heart to kill him, so she put him in a leather bag and threw him into the sea.

On a beach between the river Dyfi and Aberystwyth there was a fish weir, and one day a character by the name of Elffin, was drawing in the weir to see whether it had any fish in it. There was nothing in the weir but a leather sack containing the baby. Elffin picked the baby up and said to his servant “Llyma dal iesin” (what a beautiful brow). After that the baby was named Taliesin, and Elffin took him home to be reared by his wife.

GoBala

Explore a World of Activities and Outdoor Trails. GoBala THE source for Trails in the Bala & Penllyn area, where you can enjoy the stunning mountain & lake scenery of Snowdonia, whether on foot, by bike, on water or by road.

www.gobala.org

Header image - Morfa Harlech (© Crown copyright (2014) Visit Wales)