Y Mabinogi – Stories in the Land
Following on from my last article I’ve now returned to Sussex after a fabulous adventure in North Wales. My plan was for a working holiday, communing with some of the sites from the Four Branches, and taking a couple of days to write more of the spoken word section of the First Branch, and the report is good! I did exactly that. We had some fantastic weather and that enabled our days out, and we also had two days of rain, so we took advantage of that by staying at the cottage and hammering at the keyboard. The good news is that I have all but the very last section of the spoken word sections of the story completely written. So just a short time to finish that (which I will probably do on the flight to Georgia, USA next week) and then it’s on to the music.
So during the week we visited Dinas Emrys and I wrote about that day here. Then on the Thursday we drove up to Anglesey to see our mates there, with the obligatory and necessary stop at the wonderful Bryn Celli Ddu burial tomb. I love this site. Considering it is a place for the dead it always feels so alive. Like the ancestors are still there, and it’s obviously still an active Pagan sacred site with flowers there from previous rites. Our friends of the Anglesey Druid Order had recently held their Calan Mai celebration and some of the flowers were still there from that. They go back a few days after to clear them up. We sat in the chamber in silence, just soaking up the energy of the place, thinking about the rituals that would have taken place there thousands of years before. I love that connection. The builders of Bryn Celli Ddu probably had no idea that their temple would still be being revered by descendants so far in their future, but it is. I’m also sure dogs see things we can’t. Oscar quite often seemed to watch things move around the site, yet to my eyes there was nothing there. We stayed there for a good few hours but then it was time to move on further into Ynys Mon.
I had never been to Llyn Cerig Bach. It’s such an iconic place when it comes to Celtic/Iron Age history. It’s not quite up there with Hallstatt and La Tene but it’s not too far off. It’s the location of a huge find of what appeared to be sacrificed goods just beside an RAF airfield. It’s a small lake now, but once this lake would have been huge and taken up the entire area. It’s hard to imagine but it is possible to tune out the flying jets and go back in time to those offerings. A time of huge change and danger, with the incoming Roman armies. These items were placed here to protect Britain from invasion. And what stands beside that very same lake now? An RAF airfield, there to protect Britain. The magic didn’t prevent the Romans conquering, but maybe some of it remained, which is why the site was chosen for the airfield…
We met up with our friends who took us to Llanddwyn beach, walking first through the Newborough Warren Nature reserve where Ravens called for our attention and then, a red flash on the ground, and there I saw my first ever Red Squirrel! So beautiful. On through the woods to what felt like endless white sands, and there, across the straight, we saw the tops of the ruins of Caer Aranrhod breaking through the waves. Magical. As with Dinas Emrys where the verse from Merlin am I came to mind, so Lady of the Silver Wheel, and Oak Broom and Meadowsweet’s lyrics came and I uttered them into the wind blowing in from the Celtic Sea. And thus ended the day.
Well, after a wonderful Indian meal…
The next day was a our last full day so we got up early and headed out into the countryside of North Wales to hunt down some of the sites in the landscape associated with The Mabinogion. Our first call was Llyn Morwynion (the Lake of the Maidens). It was here that Gwydion finally caught up with Blodeuedd and her maidens. Her maidens fell into the lake and drowned, whilst Blodeuedd Gwydion cursed and turned her into an owl, and Blodeuedd became Blodeuwedd, flower-faced. It was quite a walk up into the mountains to find the lake, and climbing up to find a lake felt odd. We knew roughly where it was and trusted that, if the lake wanted to be found, we would find it, and we did. We walked over a hill, and there it was. We walked down to the shores and just sat there, taking in the spirit of the place and just chatting about the story and female energy. Our friend Kris warned me that it’s a place he could imagine someone walking to, and never coming back – just disappearing into the Otherworld – and it really does feel that way. Like the very surface of the lake is being watched from just beneath. Like the ears of Annwfn are listening. There is one place. A little rock that juts out. I stood there alone and looked into the blackness. I had to step back. I could almost hear the voice of the Siren inviting me in. We didn’t want to leave the lake – maybe that same voice was just saying, “Stay. You’ve no need to go.”
But we did take our leave.
The next site we tried to find was Grownw’s Stone. A standing stone discovered in the 1990s that has a perfect hole where the spear of Lleu Llaw Gyffes passed through and killed his wife’s lover. We knew it was up in the woods beside a tributary of the river, but when we got there the stone was considerably harder to find than we expected. We walked up a path towards the woods and came across a farmhouse. Our friend Wendy just knocked on the door to ask where the stone was and the door was answered by a friendly lady who said, “I thought that’s what you might be looking for. It’s up there in the corner of the field.” So we walked across a field of sheep (much to Oscar’s delight), through a gate, and there it was. All of these sites connected to the Mabinogion maybe have fairly tenuous links to the tales themselves. Who knows if this is the very stone from the tale? But it doesn’t matter. These sites enchant the landscape and bring the stories alive. As I stood there, just like at the Lake of the Maidens, I felt very emotional. About a mile away stood the hill it is said Pryderi stood upon to launch the spear. A stream ran just beside the standing stone. The moment from the tale was all around us.
After Gronw’s Stone we went on to see Pryderi’s Grave. An old standing stone directly beside Maentwrog church. The village is named after the stone and in the church they tell a very different story about the reason for the stone being there. But there are those who see this as the grave of the Mabon, Pryderi. So we once more stood there and tuned into the tale. I’m currently working on the First Branch so this stone was directly linked with the words I’d been writing. We left an offering of a small pile of grain.
Blessed be, Mabon.
Standing on the cliffs overlooking Anglesey stands an old Iron Age hillfort two thirds of which has crumbled into the sea. This is Dinas Dinlle and is the legendary home of Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Gwydion. Here, overlooking Caer Aranrhod out to sea Gwydion raised Lleu and the scene from the Frourth Branch of Lleu gaining his name and arms all took place in the area below.
The last site we visited that day was Tomen y Mur. This is an amazing complex of ancient monuments. There is a Roman amphitheatre, a Roman road, Iron Age hill fort and a Motte Castle. Here it is said lived Lleu and Blodeuedd. We walked to the top of the Motte mound and took in the amazing vista that surrounded us. Here Blodeuedd would have heard the call of Gronw’s hunting horn whilst Lleu was away.
“Stand alone in the tower,
Watch over your land,
Hear the call of a hunter,
Call him into your hands…”
The verse of Blodeuwedd rung around my head, as I looked out over her land. The silence made me dizzy. We just aren’t used to hearing silence any more. No motors, no planes, nothing. Just the occasional bleating of sheep.
All of these sites are magical places. I sit here now, back in Sussex, and feel like another layer of the stories has come to life. I can see how they sit within the land. Most of the sites we visited were from the Fourth Branch, and I won’t be recording that for about 3 years, but actually standing within the landscape in which they are set has done more for me to bring them alive than any amount of book research.
And on the Journey continues.