Monday 26 December 2016

In the Shadow of Islwyn

Above Beech Terrace were the slopes of Mynyddislwyn. Low down they were wooded and shadowed. Farther up there were open, sunny fields. On the summit was a great earth mound called Twyn Tudur, only yards south of St Tudur’s church and the adjacent inn. Inevitably called ‘the twmp’ by locals, the mound was probably a bronze age burial, but in Norman times a small castle was built on its summit.
Nothing is known of Tudur but his name. He may have been a Dark Age chieftain, a holy man or both. In the Church Inn they will tell you about the mound:
The mound is where Tudur lies buried with his long lost treasure.
Listen boyur, it’s Roman soldiers that are in the mound.
Never! A mound that size, it’s a giant that’s buried there.
Once a man tried to dig into the mound in the hope of finding the hidden treasure. But a thunderstorm arrived from nowhere and he was so terrified that he ran away and never returned.
My uncle Clive once took me confidentially on one side. “You know what Mynyddislwyn means, boy?”
I knew the answer: “The mountain of Islwyn.”
“Yes, but who was Islwyn, boy? Who was Islwyn?”
I didn’t know.
“It was King Arthur,” whispered uncle Clive, as if the information was top secret.  “Islwyn was his Welsh name.”
Up on Twmbarlwm you can see the ramparts King Arthur built to defend Wales against the Saxons.
Henllys Ridge up there, Old Court Ridge, it means the court of Islwyn himself and the druids before him. But of course Islwyn is still there. You can still hear the sounds of feasting under Mynddislwyn and a great organ can be heard playing below the slopes of Twmbarlwm.
Years ago a young girl heard the music and she ran away from her friends to find the source. Of course she was never seen again.
I looked across the valley to the fortified hilltop of Twmbarlwm and imagined Arthur, the Boar of Cornwall, King of the Britons, valiantly fighting the invading hordes.
Six miles east of Twmbarlwm is the iron age hill fort of Lodge Hill, known anciently as Belinstocke: Belin’s stronghold. It lies just north of the present town of Caerleon with its Roman and Norman castles. 
In the ninth century the Welsh cleric and historian Nennius wrote of ‘The City of the Legion’ as the site of King Arthur’s ninth battle against the Saxons.
Similarly the twelfth century churchman Geoffrey of Monmouth had ‘The City of the Legion’ by the River Usk as Arthur’s castle and the site of his coronation. The classic medieval Welsh tales of the Mabinogion also have Carleon as Arthur’s castle. So Lodge Hill seems likely to have been the site of Arthur’s battle enthronement and court.
But I knew none of this. My uncle’s words echoed in my mind, for him and me Mynyddislwn was Arthur’s Mountain. I thought of Arthur making his home on the very mountain on which I lived. Perhaps he lived here, right by the Nant y Crochan.

It seemed a good place for a king.

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