Saturday 27 June 2015

Cantre’r Gwaelod

“Come on, boy!”  My parents always called me ‘boy’; my given name was reserved for disciplinary use. I struggled through wet sand and shallow pools, but the surf seemed miles away. At Spring tides low-water was low indeed and the beach by Cae’r Ffynnon was perhaps half a mile wide.

The waterlogged sand and still water reflected the sky, but out towards the sea the bright vision was punctuated with black shadows. There were dozens of them. The soft sand made walking hard work, but eventually I reached the first black shadow. It was an ancient tree-stump, black with salt and age. Sea weed and limpets clung to its base.  Looking around I could see that the stump was one of dozens, and yet more lay beneath the waves.  My father explained:
“It’s a sunken forest. Long ago all the land here was above the waves. It was called Cantre’r Gwaelod, the Low Hundred. The chief town was called Caer Gwyddno, for Gwyddno Garanhir, Gwyddno Longshanks was the King. There were a hundred farmsteads and sixteen villages. But the waters started to rise, so Gwyddno made a great dyke to keep the water out. There was a gate in the dyke to let ships in and out at low tide, and the king appointed one of his men, Seithennyn, to shut the gate. But one night Seithennyn was busy courting the King’s beautiful daughter and he had too much to drink. He forgot to shut the gate. The water came in and all the land was flooded.”
I looked on with awe, and tried to imagine the forest as it once had been.
“Come on, boy!” he said, “The tide’s coming in now. We better run in case it catches us.”
Suddenly I was filled with terror. I imagined the sea pouring over the land. I was running, running towards the high ground. But the sand was soft, the ground was waterlogged, my legs were leaden. I sensed the sea getting close and closer. Panting and out of breath we reached the shingle bank by the road. I turned round. The sea was placid, and still hundreds of yards away. We laughed out loud with unfeigned joy. But as we turned to leave I sensed the water was approaching with a new sense of menace.

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