The Four Branches of the Mabinogion are each a part of the Matter of Britain. They live within the very rocks, mud, and water of this ancient island, but they were born in the mid-western peninsula currently known as Wales. If these tales have the antiquity many of us believe they were being told well before Wales existed as a separate political country. To get into the spirit of a tale a pilgrimage to the place of its birth is a powerful and important journey. So this week me and Cerri are doing just that.
We are currently staying in a cottage just outside Bala, deep in the heart of Fourth Branch country, but also in a space steeped in the legends of Ceridwen, Taliesin, and Merlin. On Sunday we travelled to a magical hill known as Dinas Emrys, the location of the Prophecy of Merlin and the Battle of the Red and White Dragons. Nine of us and two dogs met there and walked past waterfalls, through woods filled with the eyes of ancient spirits, to reach the summit and the ruins of Vortigern’s Tower.
Why start here when my journey is of the Four Branches and not of Merlin?
Why too did we yesterday make the pilgrimage to the shores of Llyn Tegid, instead of finding a site directly connected with Y Mabinogi?
My path until this point has been that of a songwriter and musician. My albums are of songs that, within themselves, tell stories but, other than the occasional brief dive into storytelling, I haven’t stayed long enough to swim in those waters. Dinas Emrys and Llyn Tegid are both places directly linked with the birth of two of the most powerful and magical Bards who ever lived on the Island of the Mighty, Merlin and Taliesin. Both singers, I am sure, but also both storytellers and poets who were also travellers in that Otherworld known as Annwn, or Annwfn. As I began to write the words for the First Branch it very quickly became obvious that I too would be stepping into that Otherworld – to go there and return with words to tell an ancient tale anew.
What better guides to have in those uncharted waters than Merlin and Taliesin.
So whilst standing on the summit of Dinas Emrys, and upon the shores of Llyn Tegid, I asked for their blessings and guidance, to help guide me to tell these tales with honour, but also with passion and vigour. I have dreamt of doing this since I first picked up my mandolin and wrote Noon of the Solstice back in 1996. That’s a very long time for energy to build up. So now, after opening to the land and its Guardians, I feel ready to let it explode into the creativity that has been building for over 20 years, and what a ride it’s been already.
Today and tomorrow we are both spending time at the cottage writing. Thursday we will head out into the landscape and visit some sites from the stories themselves.