There be dragons! And magic bees, and angry beavers…

Every lake, hill and rock in Wales comes with its own legend attached. Many of the old stories go back for thousands of years, before the Normans, the Saxons, the Romans, deep into our Celtic past. History and mythology have become inseparable - and actually, that’s the way we like it.

  • Aerial view of Caernarfon Castle and town
    Caernarfon Castle, Snowdonia

    Magnus Maximus was a real-life governor of Britain in the 4th Century. He rebelled against Rome, briefly become emperor, and was executed in 388AD. But in Welsh folklore he’s celebrated as Macsen Wledig, the Roman emperor who dreamed of a beautiful maiden in a wonderful far-off land, and scoured the earth until he found his dream girl:  a Welsh princess called Elen, who lived in Caernarfon. Many medieval Welsh dynasties claimed to be descended from their happy union, and Caernarfon’s huge Norman castle was deliberately designed to evoke the romance and power of the Roman Empire.

  • Devil's Bridge, Ceredigion

    Devil's Bridge, Ceredigion

     by Caroline Ramsden

    A popular daytrip on the Rheidol steam railway, this dizzying ravine is actually spanned by three bridges: an iron bridge (1901) on top of a stone bridge (1753) on top of the 11th-century original. The Devil supposedly built the bridge in return for the first soul to cross it. He was tricked by an old woman who tossed a crust of bread onto the bridge, which her dog chased. Unlucky Devil. And more to the point, unlucky dog.

  • Dinas Emrys Camp in Gwynedd, North Wales

    Dinas Emrys Camp in Gwynedd, North Wales

    Hardly anything remains of Dinas Emrys, an ancient hill fort east of Beddgelert, but it plays a vital role in early British/Welsh mythology. The 5th-century King Vortigern was trying to build a castle here, but the walls kept mysteriously falling down. A boy wizard – Merlin – identified the problem: two dragons, one red and one white, fighting in a pool beneath the castle. The red dragon won, and became the symbol of the fight against the Saxon foe.

  • Merlin's Oak, Carmarthen

    Merlin's Oak, Carmarthen

     by Richard E. Huws

    This famous oak tree stood, a gnarled stump in a traffic island, in Merlin’s home town of Carmarthen. It was probably planted to celebrate the return of King Charles II to the throne, but local legend linked it with the wizard of Arthurian legend:  ‘When Merlin’s Oak shall tumble down, then shall fall Carmarthen Town.’ In 1978 the last fragments were taken to the local museum and sure enough, shortly after, Carmarthen suffered its worst floods in living memory…

  • Wooded riverbank at RSPB Gwenffrwd-Dinas, Carmarthenshire
    Wooded Riverbank at Gwenffrwd-Dinas, Carmarthenshire by Aaron A. Aardvark

    Born in Tregaron around 1530, Twm was a shameless thief, liar and ne’er-do-well. Even so, his quick-witted exploits made him something of a folk hero, and the subject of many tall tales. His cave hideaway sits on a steep hillside overlooking the RSPB Gwenffrwd-Dinas nature reserve, which offers one of the most beautiful walks in Wales.

  • Submerged Forest, Borth beach
    Submerged Forest, Borth beach, Ceredigion

    At low tide the remains of an ancient forest appear in the sands of Borth and Ynyslas, which may explain the tale of Cantre’r Gwaelod, a legendary lost land. How it came to be lost is uncertain: either a maiden called Mererid allowed a well to overflow, or a chap called Seithenyn got drunk and forgot to close the flood gates, the fool. Many more of the 3,500-year-old trees were revealed by storms in 2014, fuelling the legend.

  • Llyn y Fan Fach with edge of Black Mountain in background
    Llyn Y Fan Fach, Black Mountains, Carmarthenshire by Paula J James

    Llyn y Fan Fach is home to the beautiful Lady of the Lake, who married a local farm lad with a pre-nuptial clause that if he struck her three times, she would go straight back to her lake and take all the farm animals with her. Predictably, the marriage ended in tears, but their sons went on to become the first of many generations of expert herbalists and healers, the Physicians of Myddfai.

  • Inside Barclodiad y Gawres, Isle of Anglesey

    Inside Barclodiad y Gawres, Isle of Anglesey

     by Rhodri ap Hywel

    Two giants were on their way to build a house, he carrying two large stones for the doorway, and she an apronful of smaller stones. Here’s where they gave up their journey and dropped their cargo (the name means ‘the giantess’s apronful’). Actually, it’s an impressive Neolithic burial chamber which has been re-roofed with turf as it would originally have been almost 5,000 years ago.

  • A game of pre-wedding hide-and-seek goes terribly wrong when the bride-to-be, Meinir, gets stuck inside an oak tree. Her skeleton is discovered 30 years later by heart-broken Rhys, and the couple still haunt the beach to this day, apparently. More happily, the former quarrying village has become a brilliant Welsh language and heritage centre.

  • Cadair Idris viewed from Llynnau Cregennen
    Cadair Idris, Snowdonia

    Cadair Idris – Idris’s Chair - stands 893m high in the southern edge of the Snowdonia National Park. Idris himself was a giant who used the mountain as an armchair from which to sit and stargaze. Several large boulders and standing stones in the region are said to be pieces of grit that he flicked from inside his shoe. According to legend, if you sleep on the mountain’s summit, you’ll awake a madman or poet (or if you’re really unlucky, not at all).

  • Beddgelert, North Wales

    Beddgelert, North Wales

    Beddgelert means ‘Gelert’s grave’, supposedly named after Llywelyn the Great’s trusty hound. Llywelyn returned from hunting one day to find his baby missing, and Gelert licking his blood-stained chops. The Prince drew his sword and slew the dog … only to find the infant safe and well, next to the body of a great wolf that Gelert had killed while protecting the baby. Oops. Filled with remorse, Llywelyn buried Gelert with great ceremony, and never smiled again.

  • Llangernyw Churchyard in Conwy, North Wales

    Llangernyw Churchyard in Conwy, North Wales

    The ancient yew tree in the churchyard of Llangernyw is believed to be the oldest living thing in Wales: a staggering 5,000 years old. Every Hallowe’en, the Angelystor or ‘Recording Angel’ appears at the yew and, in a booming voice, announces the names of the parishioners who will die in the coming year. Which is nice.

  • Castell Dinas Brân, near Llangollen, North Wales

    Castell Dinas Brân, near Llangollen, North Wales

    Castell Dinas Bran, a ruined castle which sits prettily above Llangollen, was once the home of a beautiful (if vain) princess called Myfanwy. She is wooed by a talented (if penniless) local bard called Hywel ap Einion, but dumps him for someone richer and more silver-tongued. Poor Hywel wanders the forests, singing a sad song of unrequited love. The story inspires a 19th-century ballad, Myfanwy, which is still sung by every male voice choir in Wales today.

  • Glaslyn, viewed from Crib Y Ddysgl, Snowdonia

    Glaslyn, viewed from Crib Y Ddysgl, Snowdonia

    There are lots of folk tales about the Afanc, a giant water-monster with evil supernatural powers. A particularly troublesome one lived in the Beaver Pool near Betws y Coed. He was lured to the surface by a beautiful maiden, then chained and dragged by oxen to Glaslyn, a lake high up on Snowdon, where he still lives.
  • Prince Madoc

    America, as every Welsh person knows, was discovered by Prince Madoc in the year 1170. He sailed from Rhos-on-Sea - the actual quay is now in a private garden next to Rhos golf course - and landed in modern-day Alabama. Some people claim there are eerie similarities between the Welsh language and that of certain Native American tribes.

  • The Norman Lord of Ogmore caught a poacher on his land, and was about to have him executed when the Lord’s daughter begged for the man’s life, pleading with her father to allow the local people a place to hunt deer. He agreed – but only an area as large as she could walk barefoot before dusk of that day. The area she walked is still common land today.
  • Mari Lwyd

    Mari Lwyd at St Fagans, near Cardiff

    Mari Lwyd at St Fagans, near Cardiff

    Mari Lwyd means ‘grey mare’, and this decorated horse-skull was taken around villages to celebrate the New Year, with revellers’ songs being rewarded with refreshments. The ancient custom has survived almost unbroken in a few villages, most notably at Llangynwyd.

  • Pennard Castle, Swansea

    Pennard Castle, Swansea

    The ruins of Pennard Castle stand over a wooded valley that leads to stunning Three Cliffs Bay. The castle was abandoned to wind-blown sand by around 1400. The story goes that the castle’s lord was holding a wedding party for his daughter, when he was annoyed by a group of fairies who were holding their own party nearby. The lord ordered his men to chase the fairies away with their swords; in revenge, the fairies swamped the castle with sand.

  • Twmbarlwm near Caerphilly, South Wales Valleys

    Twmbarlwm near Caerphilly, South Wales Valleys

    This Iron Age hill fort was used by Romans and Normans, and is said to be the grave of a giant, who was buried along with his horde of treasure. Be careful not to dig up the treasure, though – it’s said to be protected by a huge swarm of magical bees.