Thursday 31 December 2015

Bedd Taliesin

On the hill above Tre-Taliesin I munched a sandwich. I was sitting on an old tumulus, a burial mound probably dating from the Bronze Age. But to local people it was Bedd Taliesin, Taliesin’s Grave, a name that seems to have pre-dated the village below. But Taliesin died in the sixth century. Had Bronze Age funerary practices survived into early medieval times in this remote part of Wales? It seemed unlikely, and Taliesin would probably have had an early Christian burial. So why? Why this of a thousand tumuli?
Below was Tre-Taliesin.  Beyond that was Cors Fochno where lived Ceridwen. Beyond the marsh lay the sea. There, near my own home, Ceridwen had placed her unwanted child into a leather bag and thrown him into the sea. Beyond was site of Aber Leri and Gwyddno’s fish-trap where the child Taliesin had been found.
To the north was the massif of Cader Idris, shrouded in cloud. For a moment the cloud cleared. Through a notch in the foothills I could see the imposing summit from which Taliesin had returned after a night alone there, the greatest poet that ever lived.

From that spot alone I could see every point that was central to the physical and artistic creation of Taliesin: man, legend, and poet. Surely that was why it was called Bedd Taliesin.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Gwaith Cors Fochno

On the south side of the Dyfi estuary, in the lee of the sand dunes of Ynys Las, was Traeth Maelgwyn: Maelgwyn’s beach.  On the sand dunes we stood and watched the tide rush in. Within minutes the Afon Dyfi grew from a few hundred yards wide to well over a mile. Traeth Maelgwyn vanished with amazing speed.
Once the princes of Wales all gathered at Cors Fochno to see who should be the high king. They came from the North; they came from the South. They all placed their thrones on the waters edge on the South side of the Dyfi. As the tide came in the prince who remained seated for longest would be the king.
But Prince Maelgwyn had a wise old friend Maeldaf Hen. As the contest was beginning Maeldaf ran forward with a special throne for Maelgwyn. It was not a grand wooden throne like those of the other princes. It was a light chair made from the feathers of sea birds. As the sea came in all the other princes had to retreat to avoid being drowned. But Maelgwyn in his special chair rose up on the waters, just as a sea-bird bobs on the waves.

So Maelgwyn became high king of all Wales.  The contest was called Gwaith Cors Fochno and the scene of Maelgwyn’s triumph is called Traeth Maelgwyn, Maelgwyn’s beach, to this very day.

Friday 11 December 2015

Cader Idris

Looming over the Dovey Estuary was the impressive mountain of Cader Idris: the Chair of Idris.
Idris, he was a great giant. Every night he would go up the mountain and use his chair to gaze on the stars.

I remember my father telling me of climbing Cader Idris by the vertiginous Fox’s Path. I guess this may have been in the last months before the Second World War. He told me of the old man who every day ascended the mountain from Dolgellau with a pony carrying lemonade, and so was able to charge thirsty mountaineers like my father a high price for their refreshment. My father had hurried up and down, pausing only for one swift lemonade. He was not worried about the price, or even the giant Idris. I remembered my father saying: “To spend a night on the summit of Cader, is to return either a poet or a madman.” Father, not prepared to take the chance, had returned before nightfall, and consequently claimed to be neither. But Taliesin too had been drawn to the mountain. So was I, and later in life I spent many nights with Idris.