In Search of Llew Llaw Gyffes

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dad and I drove north from Brynna, up through the Brecon Beacons toward Snowdonia National Park.  The landscape varied from coniferous forests to barren, rounded mountains, to deciduous forests and more barrens.

Brecon Beacons

We stopped in Trawsfynydd and asked directions to Tomen-y-Mur

Tomen-y-Mur, literally “the mound within the walls” is a large, conical mound just north of town.  It was originally a Roman fortress, built in timber in 77 AD to help in subduing local tribes, and rebuilt in stone when the political climate stabilized early in the second century.  It was abandoned by the Romans in the third century, and not used again until Norman times.  The area is considered to be the site of the legendary fortress of Mur-y-Castell, the home of Llew Llaw Gyffes and his wife Blodeuwedd in the Mabinogion.  The site’s association with the ancient legends was the reason for our visit.

G.L. Morgan with the mound of Tomen-y-Mur in the background

Llew Llaw Gyffes was the nephewof the Welsh magician Gwydion.  When Llew was cursed by his mother to have “no wife of this world,” Gwydion made him a wife out of flowers, whom he named Blodeuwedd.  The couple lived together at Mur-y-Castell (which, as you can see, is a pretty bleak part of Wales!) until Blodeuwedd fell in love with Gronw when his hunting party took him near to the mound.  Gronw and Blodeuwedd plotted to kill her husband, but were foiled when Llew transformed into an eagle and flew away.  Sometime later, when he was healed of the wounds he had received from Gronw, Llew returned to his home and slew Gronw, while Gwydion transformed Blodeuwedd into an owl.

I’m currently working on a historical fiction version of this story, and was glad to have the opportunity to visit Mur-y-Castell to get a sense of the landscape.  After this short stop, we continued on to Llanberis, at the foot of Snowdon, where we’ll be staying for the next few days.  After more than four hours in the car (the Polo is feeling very small!) it’s nice to contemplate hiking tomorrow.  Thanks, Dad, for all the driving!

To reach Tomen-y-Mur, head north on the A470 north of Trawsfynydd.  Pass the power station on your left, and a small chapel on your right.  Just beyond the chapel there is a very small, one-track road that goes under a bridge.  Follow this past a cottage to a parking lot; the site is clearly sign posted at this point.  Use the stile that leads from the parking area into the field, then follow the path to the mound itself.  Mind the sheep!