Myths and Legends
Snowdonia is full of amazing legends and characters! Click on the links below to read more about some of the most noted legends and characters of Snowdonia:
The Top 10 Amazing Characters of Snowdonia voted by the people of Wales at the National Eisteddfod of Wales 2009 in Bala are:
- Owain Glyndŵr
- Ellis Humphrey Evans (Hedd Wyn)
- Thomas Telford
- Syr Ifan ab Owen Edwards
- Gwyn Thomas
- Thomas Charles
- Caradog Prichard
- Mari Jones
The Tale of Gelert, Beddgelert
Have you ever seen Gelert the hound’s gravestone in Beddgelert? According to the story, Llywelyn Fawr had been out hunting one day and returned home to a horrendous scene. There was blood everywhere and the child’s crib was empty. Then, he saw Gelert with his mouth and teeth covered with blood, and believed that Gelert had killed the child. In his rage, Llywelyn killed Gelert, stabbing him with his sword. Soon after, Llywelyn heard a baby crying, and found his child safe and well, with a dead wolf nearby. Gelert had defended the baby and killed the wolf. Llywelyn Fawr broke his heart, having killed Gelert, his faithful hound.
Cantref Gwaelod was a substantial hundredth in west Wales, drowned under the waves of the Cardigan Bay. The king of the hundredth at the time was Gwyddno Garanhir. The hundredth was a fruitful piece of land and the residents would enjoy feasting on the land’s produce very much. One disadvantage of Cantref Gwaelod was that the land was under sea level and a sea wall was required between Cantref Gwaelod and the sea, so that it wouldn’t be flooded. There were several floodgates in the sea wall, near river estuaries and the task of opening and closing the gates was highly important, as the future of the hundredth depended on it.
The gatekeeper in Gwyddno’s time was the drunk, Seithennyn ab Seithyn Seidi – a man who wasn’t at all suitable for the job: he was known as one of the three main drunks of Britain.
One night, an excellent feast was held in Cantref Gwaelod and Seithennyn enjoyed himself as much as everyone else at the feast, revelling in the fun and festivities. He drank the wines and mead, and in his drunken state, he forgot to close the floodgates before night fell.
The sea flooded in through the gates – lands, homes and animals were drowned but some of the residents of Cantref Gwaelod were fortunate enough to escape to Meirionnydd, Llŷn and Ceredigion, although the majority of them sadly drowned.
Gwyddno survived the tragedy, but the next morning, he was disheartened by the tragic view of his principality. They say that if you listen carefully on the beach in Aberdyfi, you can hear the bells of Cantref Gwaelod chiming under the sea. Have you heard them?
Gwylliaid Cochion Mawddwy
(‘The Red Bandits of Mawddwy’)
During the C16, a group of highway robbers and bandits roamed the Dinas Mawddwy area and they were known as ‘Gwylliaid Cochion Mawddwy’ or ‘Gwylliaid y Dugoed’. They say that the Gwylliaid were the dregs of society, who came to the Dinas Mawddwy area having been excommunicated from their own areas. Thomas Pennant believed that the Gwylliaid were the refuse of the English Civil War between the houses of York and Lancaster, who were forced, following peace between both families, to flee to another area to continue their uncivilized way of life.
Local residents feared the Gwylliaid and whenever they would travel away from home, they would carry arms. Some would put a scythe or a sharp knife in the chimney of their home, in case one of the Gwylliaid decided to enter the house through the chimney.
The Gwylliaid had their own customs and traditions, with one person leading the group. The Gwylliaid’s attacks on people and property increased to such an extent, that the authorities decided that they must act. Sir John Wynn ab Meredydd of Gwydir and the Baron Lewis Owain were appointed to gather two armies of armed men to try to defeat the Gwylliaid. One Christmas night, they succeeded to catch around one hundred of the Gwylliaid. Some were hanged and others were exiled from the area forever. Two brothers pleaded to be pardoned by the Baron Owain, but they were rejected, thus enraging the Gwylliaid. They were intent on revenge and one night, while the Baron Owain travelled home from Montgomeryshire, the Gwylliaid set traps on the road and shot arrows at the baron and his company. His body was found with thirty arrows attached to it.
The murder of the Baron Owain lead to the demise of the Gwylliaid and following the murder, the full force of the law was brought against them. Tradition has it that every male aged between eight and eighty years old was hanged and that other Gwylliaid were exiled to other areas and countries. Following this, it is said that law and order was never as strong or the people as refined, as they were in Meirionnydd.
The Tale of Taliesin
A nobleman called Tegid Foel once lived in Penllyn, with his wife, Ceridwen. Ceridwen was a witch and she lived with Tegid in a mansion at the centre of the land where Llyn Tegid lies today. They had a son called Morfran ab Tegid and a daughter called Creirfyw. They also had another son, called Afagddu, and poor Afagddu was the ugliest man in the whole world. Ceirdwen worried that Afagddu would never be accepted among noblemen and decided to boil a spell in a cauldron to make him handsome.
The spell had to be boiled for a year and a day, until three excellent drops of the spell were obtained from the cauldron. Gwïon Bach was put in charge of boiling the spell and Morda was given the job of keeping the fire burning.
Around a year after starting to boil the spell Gwïon had an accident and dropped three excellent drops of the spell on his finger. The spell had been sabotaged and to make the situation even worse, the spell was so hot, Gwïon put his finger in his mouth and instantly learnt everything, including the fact that Ceridwen was a threat to him. Gwïon had such a fright that he escaped to his home in Powys.
When Ceridwen saw that the spell had been spoiled, she was manic and struck Morda with a club, until his eyeball was dislodged.
“Why did you attack me?”, asked Morda, “I’m not to blame for your loss.”
“You’re right”, said Ceridwen, “Gwïon Bach did the damage”.
Gwïon transformed into a hare, to escape from Ceridwen, but she was a very clever witch, and turned herself into a greyhound, so that she could run faster than him. Gwïon then turned himself into a fish and jumped into the river, but Ceridwen became an otter and swam after him. Ceridwen had almost caught up with him, when Gwïon turned himself into a bird and flew into the air, when Ceridwen became a hawk and caught up with him again. When Gwïon saw a pile of grain, he became a particle and jumped into the pile, but Ceridwen, never one to miss an opportunity, became a hen and ate the whole pile, including Gwïon. Soon after, Ceridwen fell pregnant and she realised that the baby she was carrying was Gwïon. She was livid, and intended to kill the baby, but once she saw the beautiful child, she knew that she couldn’t go through with it. Instead, she lapped the baby in animal skins, and put him in a vessel on the sea. Elffin found the vessel near Cors Fochno in Ceredigion and named the baby ‘Taliesin’ because of his high forehead. Tre Taliesin, the village near Aberystwyth, was apparently named after this Taliesin.
Breuddwyd Macsen Wledig
("Magnus Maximus’ Dream”)
Macsen Wledig was the Roman Emperor and was known as the most excellent of all Roman emperors.
While resting during a day of hunting one day, Macsen Wledig fell asleep and dreamt that he was travelling over the highest mountain in the world, to a level terrain between the sea and the mountain. There, was a splendid fort and in the fort, was the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen. Macsen Wledig fell in love with the woman he saw in his dream and slept throughout the week, to dream about the woman, but he had no idea where in the world she lived. So, he sent thirty messengers on a three year journey around the empire to look for her.
Messengers found the woman in Wales, in the Segontium fort in Caernarfon, but she refused to travel to Rome with the messengers. Instead, she insisted that Macsen Wledig should travel from Rome to meet her. And so it was.
Macsen Wledig learned that the woman’s name was Elen Lhuyddog. Macsen spent seven years in Britain and because of this, he was replaced in Rome by a new Emperor.
Therefore, Macsen travelled back to Rome and conquered the lands between Britain and Rome, but he couldn’t conquer Rome until Elen’s brothers, Cynan and Gadeon and their armies, came to support them. Cynan and Gadeon’s armies were stronger and more skilled than Macsen’s armies and they succeeded to conquer Rome and Macsen Wledig became Roman emperor once more.
Marged ferch Ifan
Marged ferch Ifan lived in Llanberis in the C18 and it appears that she was a very refined lady: she could play the harp and compose music, was a skilled carpenter, cobbler and tailor, and they say that she was stronger than the combined strength of the area’s two strongest men. Several men asked for her hand in marriage, but in the end, she accepted the proposal of the weakest, most cowardly candidate, knowing that she would then be the mistress.
Marged and her husband kept the Tafarn y Telyrniau inn in Drws y Coed for some years, and Marged had the upper hand there too, keeping control of the copper miners who drank there. Marged had a contract with the copper mines and she would row minerals across the Padarn and Peris lakes. For this reason, she became known as ‘Queen of the Lakes’.
A series of Welsh rhymes were composed, capturing Marged’s colourful character perfectly. Marged died around the year 1789, aged 102 years old, a short time after the death of her favourite maid who had served her for over forty years.
Llam y Trwsgl
A giant once lived in Cwm Trwsgl and he courted the daughter of the Hafod Wydyr farm. The girl’s family were unhappy with the courtship and one night, a group of local men decided to try to catch the giant. The giant ran ahead of them and jumped from the top of one rock to another, and his foot print remains there to this day. It was a pity that the giant slipped and fell on his back, with his body forming a bridge across the gorge. Ever since that day, the place has been called ‘Llam y Trwsgl’ (‘Leap of the Clumsy’) and the valley at the other side of the gorge has been called ‘Cwm Trwsgl’.