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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

‘A stone circle older than Stonehenge’: Welsh forest walks steeped in folklore | Strolling holidays

Take a stroll by means of the woods and countryside of Wales and also you enter a magical, liminal area – a threshold the place historical past and legend, truth and fiction appear to merge and develop into one. Woodlands, caves, lakes and streams have lengthy been on the coronary heart of Welsh folklore. In some Welsh mythology they’re believed to be gateways to the Annwn (the otherworld described most notably within the Center Welsh textual content The 4 Branches of the Mabinogi). These entrances had been stated to be protected by Y Tylwyth Teg, the truthful people. In Welsh folklore these fairies had been the souls of druids who, as pagans, couldn’t be afforded passage to heaven however had been too virtuous to be solid into hell. In different circumstances, nature gives energy or safety.

I’d grown up listening to many of those tales. It wasn’t till I began a 300-mile stroll by means of Wales, nonetheless, exploring, for a brand new e-book, how we as society can restore steadiness with nature, that I started to grasp the significance of folklore. It reminds us of our lengthy connections to the pure world – whilst industrialisation and urbanisation distance us from it.

Right here, then, are 5 walks by means of Wales that seize the ability of its folklore and legends. You by no means know, you would possibly simply spot one of many truthful people alongside the best way.

Coed Felenrhyd, Gwynedd

Autumn in the Celtic rainforest at Coed Felenrhyd in North Wales
Coed Felenrhyd in autumn. {Photograph}: Alamy

Simply outdoors the village of Maentwrog, on the banks of the Afon Prysor inside the Snowdonia nationwide park, is Coed Felenrhyd, one of many few remaining temperate or Celtic rainforests in Wales. As you stroll by means of the woodland, owned and maintained by Coed Cadw (the Welsh department of the Woodland Belief), you’ll marvel on the manner the sessile oak timber cling to steep ravines and the way the forest flooring is alive with sensible inexperienced combos of bryophytes together with liverwort and spectacular bunches of barnacle lichen. Felenrhyd’s magical qualities are solely enhanced by its place in legend. In accordance with The Fourth Department of the Mabinogi, it was right here that the malevolent sorcerer Gwydion killed Pryderi, prince of Dyfed, after stealing a drove of pigs given to Pryderi by Arawn, king of the Annwn. Pryderi’s physique was stated to be buried in Maentwrog churchyard close to an historic yew tree.
woodlandtrust.org.uk

Wentwood forest, Caldicot

View from the climb up to Gray Hill, Wentwood forest, Wales, on a sunny, autumn day.
The climb as much as Grey Hill, Wentwood forest. {Photograph}: Matthew Yeomans

It’s a brief however steep climb to the highest of Grey Hill, on the japanese fringe of Wentwood forest – the biggest space of historic woodland in Wales and one among such stature and heritage that it too is talked about within the Mabinogi. When you’ve caught your breath, a fast stroll over the forehead of the hill brings you to a jagged set of ruined standing stones.

In accordance with antiquarians, this stone circle might be older than Stonehenge, and probably the most notable druidic websites in Wales resulting from its commanding place looking over the Severn estuary. Whether or not or not that’s true, the world is steeped in historic historical past; a mile north lies one other bronze age treasure – a burial mound that’s estimated so far again 3,000 years.

This a part of south Wales was as soon as the stronghold of the Silurian Celts, who lived in, cleared and cultivated components of the forest till the arrival of the Romans. The druids held particular, virtually shamanic, energy among the many Celts. Roman students recount how they’d a particular connection to the timber – oaks particularly. A lot of the traditional oak woodland was minimize down and changed by conifer plantations, however in the present day Wentwood stays an imposing presence on this a part of south Wales.
woodlandtrust.org.uk

Gwenffrwd-Dinas, Ceredigion

The River Towy flowing through Gwenffrwd Dinas reserve in Ceredigion, Wales, on a grey-looking autumn day.
The River Towy flowing by means of Gwenffrwd Dinas reserve. {Photograph}: Matthew Yeomans

Within the sixteenth century, this space of Ceredigion, between the cities of Llandovery and Tregaron, was the playground of Twm Siôn Cati – a gentleman outlaw who grew to become identified by means of folkloric writings (and lots of layers of embellishment) because the Welsh Robin Hood. Born Thomas Jones in Tregaron round 1530, Twm has a fame primarily based extra on mischievous trickery than any thuggery – he had a expertise for outwitting his victims.

However, Twm Siôn Cati spent a great deal of time on the run from the sheriff of Carmarthen. It was right here within the dense Celtic rainforest of Gwenffrwd-Dinas nature reserve that Twm was stated to have hidden away – in a cave (his personal private otherworld, maybe) on a hillside surrounded by sessile oak timber. A 2.5-mile round path hugging the River Afon Twyi guides you thru the reserve. Midway alongside, you possibly can scramble up a steep observe to see Twm’s cave for your self.
rspb.org.uk

Llyn Y Fan Fach, Carmarthenshire

Reflections of mountains in a lake, in the middle of which sits a large rock, in Llyn Y Fan Fach, Carmarthenshire, Wales.
Llyn Y Fan Fach. {Photograph}: Alamy

A younger farmer was grazing his cows by Llyn y Fan Fach (the lake of the small peak) within the foothills of the imposing Black Mountain. In entrance of him, a stupendous girl rose from the lake. When their eyes met, the 2 fell in love and the truthful woman agreed to marry the younger farmer. However on one situation. Ought to he ever strike her with iron she would return for ever to the lake. The younger man agreed – how may he ever strike somebody he liked a lot?

The couple lived fortunately and had three sons. Then, sooner or later, the farmer by chance struck his spouse with an iron bridle as he tried to harness a pony. With out hesitation she walked away, disappearing into the waters of Llyn y Fan Fach.

Nobody is aware of what grew to become of the farmer. However the three sons usually walked to the lake to go to their mom. In the future, she advised them their future was to heal the sick. She left the lake, walked with them right into a deep wooded dell and taught them in regards to the medicinal crops and herbs of the forest. These three boys grew to become the Physicians of Myddfai – pioneers of medieval natural drugs whose lineage is alleged to proceed to today. You possibly can discover Llyn y Fan Fach and the encircling Carmarthen Followers on a difficult however spectacular 15km round stroll beginning simply outdoors the village of Llanddeusant.
discovercarmarthenshire.com

Ty Canol, Pembrokeshire

On a sunny autumn day, a view of Ty Canol temperate rainforest, in Pembrokeshire, Wales.
Ty Canol temperate rainforest. {Photograph}: Matthew Yeomans

Close to the Pembrokeshire coast is Ty Canol, presumably one of many oldest items of woodland in all of Wales. Strolling by means of the oak, ash and downy birch wooden, residence to greater than 400 species of lichen, is like travelling again to an historic time. A 4.5km stroll guides you thru Ty Canol and as you stand amongst these timber, it’s straightforward to think about how the druids drew their inspiration from nature.

Simply outdoors the wooden is Pentre Ifan, a neolithic chambered dolmen that’s thought so far from 3,500BC. Its important capstone is 5 metres lengthy. As if Pentre Ifan’s historic pedigree weren’t sufficient, it’s additionally enveloped in symbolic folklore. In accordance with some tales, Pentre Ifan was thought of “the womb of Ceridwen” – the enchantress/witch who swallowed her servant Gwion Bach after which rebirthed him within the type of Taliesin, the oldest bard and poet of Wales.
visitwales.com, cadw.gov.wales

Matthew Yeomans is the writer of Return to My Bushes: Notes from the Welsh Woodlands (Calon at £16.99), a strolling journey by means of Wales that explores our reference to nature.

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