Myths and Legends of Wales
The first thing to realise about Wales is that you don't have to look far to find some
object, building, hill, or stone that has an ancient story behind it. To say that Wales is an old country is
silly, most land is old, but it has been inhabited for thousands of years and fought over many times.
Only a few hundred of those several thousand years were recorded, in a way that we would think of as properly
these days. Most of it was probably remembered by Druids and most of them were massacred by the Romans.
So, what we have left is a confusion of partly remembered and partly made up myths and legends, from which we
can try to make some sense. Here are some of the more common ones.
King Arthur, Excalibur and the Knights of the Roundtable
Many places and several peoples have tried to claim Arthur as their own, but the fact remains that the first
mention of him was in Welsh literature, whether he existed or not. In the days before the Romans arrived (Caesar
got here in 52 BC) and even until the Anglo-Saxons arrived about 500 years later, the British lived all over 'The
UK' and became the Welsh to escape the invaders.
So, in those days, he would have just been a Brit who was born in what we now call Wales. Probably in the
southeast, maybe Caerleon, which was a Roman fort and garrison town. He may even have fought for and been trained
by the Romans. Arth in Welsh means bear.
Merlin and his sister(s) were Welsh, if they existed, but I don't think anyone is trying to claim them. There
are many legends about them either with Arthur or just in their own right.
The Water Leaper
It or they lived in swamps and ponds. They looked like giant frogs with wings and a sting in their tails, and
were the source of fishermen's problems.. Sometimes, they ate fishermen and cattle too.
This was where Excalibur was forged and where Arthur was taken after he was seriously wounded at the
battle of Camlann with the Saxons. It is associated with Merlin's sister, Morgan le Fey. It should not be confused
with Camelot, which was his castle.
It is traditionally thought of as an island and the word itself as referring to an apple because of the Welsh
and Breton names for that fruit. Many people associate Avalon with Glastonbury, which is just over the Bristol
Channel from Wales, because monks living there in 1190 claimed to have found Arthur's bones.
One legend says you has to cross a sea to get there and that could have been the channel which is about 12 miles
wide opposite Glastonbury, but much more as you head out west to open sea.
If you are interested in Welsh legends, you could do worse than start with the Mabinogi and then move on to the
Triads and the poetry of Taliesin, much of which is online or in the Gutenberg Library, which is free.
by +Owen Jones