Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Story of Gitto Bach

Craig-y-Ddinas in the Brecon Beacons is the location of some wonderful Faerie Tales - one of which I have come across with two alternate endings. I'll tell you them both and you can decide for yourself which one you like best.

Many years ago a young boy called Gitto Bach (little Griffith) would tend his fathers sheep on Craig-y-Ddinas. When he came home at the end of the day he'd often bring small pieces of bright white paper with letters on, about the size of a coin, which he said the faeries had given to him. 

One day he went out to play as usual but people started to worry when he didn't come home. All the people of the village tried to find him but with no success, though some children did find pieces of paper like those that Gitto Bach had shown them. Eventually they gave up looking.

Then two years later Gitto's mother heard a knock at her door. When she opened the door she saw her son looking just as he had the day he disappeared. Under his arm he held a parcel. When she asked where he'd been all that time, Gitto was surprised as he thought he had only been gone for a day (because faery time is different to our own). Then Gitto showed his mother the gift he had brought from the faeries. They opened the parcel to see the most beautiful clothes made out of the same white paper without a stitch in sight. His mother recognised these to be faerie clothes and threw them on the fire.

The other version tells us that Gitto Bach was given faerie money but sworn to secrecy. The money turned to paper after he told others where it was from.

But the story doesn't end there as the man who told this tale was interested in faeries himself and enlisted the help of a local gypsy in order to see them. She asked him to get a four leaved clover and nine grains of wheat which he should place on a book that she had given him, and one moonlit night they went up to the top of Craig-y-Ddinas. There the gypsy rubbed an ointment on the man's eyes and immediately he could see the faeries dressed all in white and dancing to the music of tiny harps. A moment later they curled up with their knees bent into their chests and rolled down the rock and vanished into the distance.

Craig-y-Ddinas (meaning Rock of the Fortress) is found where the County boundaries of Neath Port Talbot, Powys and Rhondda Cynon Taff meet and at the confluence of the Rivers Mellte and Sychryd.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Witch and the Changeling

There used to be a little old lady who lived in Ynys Geinon who many people believed to be a witch. Once a year she would go to the 'castle' and spend seven days, seven hours and seven minutes with the faeries deep inside the mountains. It was thought that she worked for them.

She was well known in the village as she would go from door to door wearing a long dark cloak and collecting alms. However her cloak wasn't just for warmth. When inside her neighbours houses she would offer to care for the child there by rocking the cradle, but as soon as the mother's back was turned she would swop the child in the cradle for the faerie child hiding under her cloak. It was said that the faeries paid her in gold as they favoured mortal children over their own.

The villagers always knew when a child was a changeling as faerie children were smaller than their own, and they became concerned about one little boy in particular when it was noticed that he wasn't growing as fast as he should. It was thought that this was the work of the old lady and that he was in fact a faerie child.

But then the old lady began to visit the house again, and for the next six days she helped bathe the little boy. Then on the seventh day she asked if she could take the little boy to a certain spring she knew, telling the mother that the waters had remarkable powers. Permission was granted, as they didn't believe the child to be one of their own, and the old lady led him away. She returned later that day having reversed her earlier swop, or so it was thought.

From that day on the boy grew so fast that he soon caught up with the other children. The mother swore a promise to the old lady to wash her son in cold water every day for 3 months, which she did. 

No-one really believed that it was the water which cured the boy of course - but if the old lady did infact visit a healing spring it is highly likely that it was the one pictured here. This is the spring at nearby Lower Cwmtwrch. This spring has been known for it's healing properties since before the 1870's when a local doctor had the water analyzed and it's therapeutic properties confirmed.

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Farmhand and the Faerie Gold

'That is a wonderful thing, that old castle there, he would say, pointing to the Ynys Geinon Rock. I remember a time when people would be terrified to go near it, especially at night. There was considerable danger that one might be taken by the Bendith eu Mamau.' (The faeries). 'It is said that there are a great many of them there, though I know not where they abide.

The above quote is from a gentleman who was interviewed about the fae over 100 years ago. It's at Ynys Geinon that our story is set.

One day a young farmhand, called Dai, was out catching rabbits at Ynys Geinon when he saw a small figure walking towards the 'castle'. As he watched he heard the little man speak a magical word, and as he did, a door opened into the rock. The little man went inside and the door closed behind him. The farmhand realised this man was one of the fae and was curious - he decided to try the same thing himself. He repeated the word he had heard and sure enough the door opened. He went inside and found himself in a wonderful faerie world full of gold, but he couldn't close the rock behind him as it weighed several tons and as the draught blew out their candles, this attracted the attention of the fae. The little man dashed towards him and spoke another word which caused the door to close and Dai was trapped inside.

But it turns out that the faeries were very welcoming and the farmhand lived with them as their guest for seven years. He learned a lot about his hosts, such as how they were fond of stealing milk and butter, and he learned of their passage-ways that ran under the mountains from Ynys Geinon rock, under Garn Goch to Dan-yr-Ogof in the north and to the caves of Ystradfellte in the east. 

After seven years the farmhand went back to his master, taking with him a sack of gold which the faeries had given him. His master was surprised to see him and, I suspect, jealous of his new found wealth because he persuaded Dai to tell him the magic words. Then he went to the rock to try them for himself. The doorway opened and the master went in but he wasn't there long. He returned soon after with a bag of gold.

However the master was greedy and he couldn't resist going back for more gold. He made several visits to the rock, until one day when he never returned. It is said that Dai went to look for him and found his four quarters strung up behind the stone door. He was so frightened that he never spoke the magic words again and the secret died with him many years later.

The man whose words opened this blog insisted that the story was true, as the master had been known to become suddenly rich before, just as suddenly, vanishing forever. It's never wise to take advantage of the generosity of the fae.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

May Day and the Faerie King

I couldn't let May Day pass without sharing a story of the Faerie King, Gwyn Ap Nudd, and his place in mythology and in the changing of the seasons.

Gwyn presides over the demons of Annwn (the Otherworld of Welsh mythology) in one of the oldest of Welsh tales, that of Culhwch and Olwen. In short, it is a magical story of a young man's quest to win his true love, and how he overcomes the many obstacles posed by her father, who happens to be a giant, with the help of King Arthur. 

It is an extremely complex story,  but within it we also meet Creiddylad who, it was said, was the 'most splendid woman in the three Islands of the Mighty, and in the three islands adjacent'. (The Mabinogion.) She is betrothed to another man, whose name is Gwythyr, but is taken by force by Gwyn before the couple could consumate their union. A battle then ensues between the two men, with Gwyn the victor. However, when word of these events gets to King Arthur he orders that both Gwyn and Gwythyr are brought to him. He then rules that the argument be settled by means of a battle to be held each May Day until the end of time. Creiddylad would go to the victor. That settled, both were recruited to help Arthur and Culhwch in their quest.

A similar 'battle' used to be enacted between villages in Wales, though in this case it was over the possession of the May Pole. The fame of the village rested on their ability to prevent their May Pole from being stolen by their neighbours. While in Defynnog,  in  the Brecon Beacons, a procession was held in which two boys, who played the roles of Summer and Winter, were carried through the streets while beer and money was collected along the way. The larger portion being given to the boy who played Summer, of course. 

A final note. Welsh May Poles were traditionally made of birch, not hawthorn as we might expect. However, the conclusion of 'Culhwch and Olwen' sees hawthorn being cut and set on top of a pole - or at least that's how i read  it. The story actually ends with the beheading of Olwen's father whose head is then set on top of a stake. His name is 'Ysbaddaden', Welsh for 'Hawthorn'.

Happy May Day everyone.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Two Tales from Llanmadoc

Llanmadoc is a small village on the North West of the Gower and, though beautiful, is probably one of it's less visited spots. Infact, despite living not far from there it's not somewhere i'd visited until i discovered it had not one, but two, tales of the Verry Volk to tempt me. Knowing that - how could I resist? 

Our first story is set at Lagadranta Farm. This is the story of the Faerie Ale.

Many years ago an old woman knocked on the door of  Lagadranta Farm and asked to borrow a sieve so that she might go panning for gold in the sands. At first the farmers wife said that she didn't have a sieve but the strange visitor reminded her of one that she used for straining hops. Of course the farmers wife then realised that, for her visitor to know how the sieve had been used, she must be one of the Verry Volk and gladly gave her what she had asked for.

Several days later the elderly fae returned with the sieve and, by way of a thank you, promised the farmers wife that her cask of ale would never be empty as long as she didn't reveal it's faerie origins. This was agreed and the farm enjoyed many years of merriment until finally the farmer asked about the ale. Without thinking the farmers wife let slip the truth, the spell was broken, and their cask gave it's last drop. Their years of plenty were over.

Lagadranta Farm is now a campsite and can be found at the end of the road to the left of Llanmadoc Church.

Our second story is set at Cwm Ivy. This is the tale of the Faerie Ring. 

A man had gone out walking from Llanmadoc one day when he saw the Verry Volk, dressed in green and red, dancing at the base of Cwm Ivy Tor. Enchanted by the music he immediately joined in with their dancing.  You may know that faeries are usually happy to have people join them, but on this occasion it wasn't appreciated and one of the fae stabbed the Welshman in the foot with a fork. The man limped back to Llanmadoc where he sought the help of a local wisewoman. 

Well it seems this woman knew a thing or two about faeries and she advised her visitor to return to the spot at the bottom of the tor where he had danced. Once there, following the wisewomans instructions, he put his injured foot back inside the faerie ring, and on doing so he was cured of his pain.

Cwm Ivy is down the road to the right of the church. It is worth walking through the woods to the tor itself as this is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a haven for wildflowers. Be careful where you tread.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Faerie Feast

I thought you might be interested to hear another story of the Verry Volk, this time a story of an enchanted faerie feast.

This story was told by the Rev. John David Davis, to the American Folklorist W.Y. Evans Wentz just over 100 years ago. Evans Wentz considered him to be one of the “oldest and best” authorities on the Gower Faeries and recorded the tale in his “Fairy Faith in the Celtic Countries” from where the following is taken.

"I heard the following story many years ago: The tenant on the Eynonsford Farm here in Gower had a dream one night, and in it thought he heard soft sweet music and the patter of dancing feet. Waking up, he beheld his cow-shed, which opened off his bedroom, filled with a multitude of little beings, about one foot high, swarming all over his fat ox, and they were preparing to slaughter the ox. He was so surprised that he could not move. In a short time the Verry Volk had killed, dressed, and eaten the animal. The feast being over, they collected the hide and bones, except one very small leg-bone which they could not find, placed them in position, then stretched the hide over them; and, as the farmer looked, the ox appeared as sound and fat as ever, but when he let it out to pasture in the morning he observed that it had a slight lameness in the leg lacking the missing bone."

It appears that the farm still maintains a herd of cattle. They're the native Welsh Black Cattle who are the subject of several Welsh faerie tales. Seeing them standing there it was as if no time had passed since the faerie feast. And of course, that is often the way when we step into the world of the Fae. Curiously, I also noticed the arms of the Isle of Man, a triskele of three legs, on display. Coincidence? Well, it's a strange thing to see above a farm door in Wales for sure!

So where is this enchanted farmhouse? Just off the main South Gower Road, close to the sign for Fairy Hill, of course!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Pennard Castle and the Verry Volk

I want to tell you a little about the faeries of the Gower in South Wales, known as the Verry Volk.

Whenever I come across this name it makes me smile. It was recorded by the American anthropologist, Evans-Wentz in his book ‘The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries’ (at the beginning of the 1900’s) and I can’t help thinking that what he heard was simply the local pronunciation of ‘Faerie Folk’ and was ‘pixie-led’ into thinking otherwise. I imagine the fae enjoying a joke at the learned mans expense. Nevertheless, Gower faeries are now the Verry Volk, whatever the origin of the name.

These little faeries are said to dress in red and green and dance under the moonlight. Though they can be mischievous, they are generally benevolent and do not pose a threat to children. If someone wishes to be extra cautious around the faeries they might turn their jacket inside out, making themselves invisible to them. However, it's probably best to keep on their good side, as this story tells us.

The Wedding Feast

Pennard Castle on the Gower was once the stronghold of a successful warrior chief. Our story takes place on the night of his wedding.

Pennard Castle
The wedding celebrations were in full swing and, it has to be said, the chief had enjoyed a little more drink than might be wise, when one of his guards heard mysterious music coming from the castle yard. It was midnight and he was afraid so he called a porter and the two went to investigate. Sure enough there were faeries dancing to the music of tiny harps right inside the castle yard. Well he reported this to his master but the chief, who wouldn't have tolerated faeries in his castle when he was sober, let alone when he was drunk, ordered his soldiers to drive them out.

Three Cliffs Bay as seen from the castle
It is said that the wisest people there that night strongly advised him not to risk the wrath of the faeries but he took no notice. He rushed into the yard swinging his sword in the direction where the faeries had been seen and as he did a voice was heard to say, "since thou hast, without reason, broken in upon our innocent sport, thou shalt be without castle or feast". Immediately a cloud of sand whistled round them until the storm was so strong that it tore down the walls of the castle. They say that Ireland lost a mountain of sand to Wales that night, and to this day the castle ruins stand deep in sand.

Wild Thyme growing inside the castle

There are a couple of routes to the castle but the prettiest is via Parkmill. This route is a bit of a walk but well worth it, if only to see the Blackthorn growing along the way. In case you don't know, Blackthorn is considered to be protected by the Lunantisidhe. These are Irish faeries who, folklore has it, aren't always kindly towards people. When you do arrive at the castle you may also spot Wild Thyme growing on the inside. This is a plant often associated with the fae and one of the main ingredients of ancient recipe entitled 'to enable one to see the fairies'. The day i visited there was a small, and slightly trampled, 'fairy ring' of Puffballs growing inside the castle ruins. It was only when i got home that i found out that Puffballs used to be called Pucks-fist, and in Ireland they are called Cos-a Phooka meaning Pucks Foot. Evidence of the Verry Volk perhaps?
A Fairy Ring