Sunday 3 April 2022


The Giants Dance (part 1)

In the 2021 BBC Documentary 'Stonehenge The Lost Circle Revealed.', as part of the introduction to the programme Dr. Alice Roberts, the presenter, offered the following:

There is an ancient myth about Stonehenge, first recorded in the Middle-Ages. It tells of the wizard, Merlin, who led men far to the west, to Ireland, to the land of giants. Where he found the stones and, using his magical powers, transported them to England. The Merlin myth is clearly fantastical. But myths can contain within them a grain of truth, a fact that's been passed down through the generations and become embroidered and embellished over time. So within this tale of wizards and giants and magical stones, could there be a foundation in actual history?”.

Now, all of this is great, exciting, mysterious stuff and well presented. Unfortunately, this introductory script is all wrong. The references here are to certain episodes in Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain which purport to relate the origin of Stonehenge. I want to point to several often repeated claims, presumptions and inaccuracies in Dr. Roberts' introductory piece regarding Geoffrey's tale. Stated baldly the story is not a myth, it is not fantastical and Merlin does not use magical powers to transport the stones. Dr Roberts cannot have read the source material she is referring to and she is instead relying on later erroneous commentaries upon it.

Geoffrey's story of Stonehenge begins in the reign of Vortigern when a meeting is arranged between the Saxons and the Britons for peace talks upon the kalends of May (May 1st) at the monastery of Ambrius. But the Saxons had treachery in their hearts, and at the signal “Nemet oure Saxas” (Get your knives), the Saxons fell upon the unsuspecting Britons and massacred them while Hengist held Vortigern by his cloak. 460 British barons and consuls were killed, as well as 70 Saxons whom the Britons beat to death with clubs and stones. Some time later after the death of Vortigern, Aurelius Ambrosius is the new king and he wishes to create a monument to these murdered British noblemen. He is advised to send for Merlin who counsels Aurelius thus:

If you are desirous,” said Merlin, “to honour the burying-place of these men with an ever-lasting monument, send for the Giant’s Dance, which is in Killaraus, a mountain in Ireland. For there is a structure of stones there, which none of this age could raise, without a profound knowledge of the mechanical arts. They are stones of a vast magnitude and wonderful quality; and if they can be placed here, as they are there, round this spot of ground, they will stand for ever.”

Merlin and Uther sail to Ireland in a fleet of ships containing 1500 men, they are confronted by an Irish army and defeat them. The following passage is a translation from the Latin of what Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his History of the Kings of Britain, actually relates regarding Merlin and the removal of the stones of the Giants Dance from Mount Killaraus in Ireland and their transportation to and re-erection on Salisbury Plain.

When they had won the day they pressed forward to Mount Killaraus, and when they reached the structure of stones rejoiced and marvelled greatly. Whilst they were all standing around, Merlin came unto them and said: 'Now, my men, try what ye can do to fetch me down these stones! Then may ye know whether strength avail more than skill, or skill than strength.' Thereupon at his bidding they all with one accord set to work with all manner of devices, and did their utmost to fetch down the Dance. Some rigged up huge hawsers, some set to with ropes, some planted scaling ladders, all eager to get done with the work, yet natheless was none of them never a whit the forwarder. And when they were all weary and spent, Merlin burst out on laughing and put together his own engines. At last, when he had set in place everything whatsoever that was needed, he laid the stones down so lightly as none would believe, and when he had laid them down, bade carry them to the ships and place them inboard, and on this wise did they again set sail and returned unto Britain with joy, presently with a fair wind making land, and fetching the stones to their burial-place ready to set up.

Firstly, Dr. Roberts states that the tale is 'ancient', as have the great majority of other commentators who have visited this issue over the last hundred years or so. The tale is only as old as Geoffrey's book, though. This notion of ancientness is entirely presumptious, nothing like it appears in any extant literature, either in Ireland or in Wales, previous to Geoffrey's account. He may have been referencing a written source now lost to us, or to an oral tradition now long forgotten and this may well be the case (in fact I believe it to be the case), but we can't say that for certain. With the greatest respect to Dr Alice Roberts, if you had said 'There is a tale about Stonehenge, first recorded in the 12th century, but which may be much older'. That would have been accurate enough, but to refer to it as an 'ancient myth', frankly smacks of sensationalism This might seem a pedantic point to some, but it is symptomatic of a laziness which historically pervades commentary on this subject. I think that this kind of uncrytical thinking actually draws a veil over the really interesting stuff which is contained in Geoffrey's narrative.

Earlier, not exactly analogous, tales do exist but these all form part of a well defined group. For example the poem 'The Spoils of Annwn' (Preiddeu Annwfn), and the getting of the cauldron of Diwrnach Wyddel in Culhwch and Olwen, both of which are echoed in Bran's raid on Ireland in 'Branwen' (the second Branch of the Mabinogi). These are all to do with Arthur and Bran (both giants) and their maritime adventures to the Otherworld or to Ireland to retrieve the Cauldron of Rebirth.

Secondly, clearly this passage, at best, might be described as legendary history, there is little here that can be described as 'myth'. It is important to remember that Geoffrey is presenting his tale as history, however inaccurate. No gods, magic or supernatural heroes (the usual requirements for myths), are involved in the transportation of the stones of the Giants Dance from Ireland to their re-erection on Salisbury Plain. Okay, granted that Merlin might be construed in other contexts to be a sort of 'mythical' being, I'm thinking of his mysterious conception and birth for example. Geoffrey relates several instances of Merlin displaying wizardry or magic in 'The History', most notably in his transformation of Uther into the likeness of Gorlois. His primary characteristic, though, from his earliest appearance in the written word, (Llyffr Du Caefyrddin) is that of a prophet. But here the emphasis is clearly on Merlin's superior mechanical or engineering skills, which he uses to take down the stones as compared with the failure of his men to do so. It has nothing whatsoever to do with mysterious births, wizardry, magical levitation, prophecy or myth. Neither is it fantastical

I wish to make an additional point which will also seem petty at first. Dr. Roberts calls Ireland “the land of giants”. This, is of course, a reference to the fact that Geoffrey has Merlin say to Aurelius:

The giants of old brought them from the farthest coast of Africa, and placed them in Ireland, while they inhabited that country.

Undoubtably, this passage is imbued with mythical foundational motifs. However, the reason why Geoffrey introduces giants into his tale is because the stones of Chorea Gigantum are so huge that only giants could move them, a familiar folkloric trope attached to many other megalithic constructs throughout Britain and Ireland. It should be noted therefore, that it is more than likely that Geoffrey has in mind the massive (up to 40 ton), sarsen stones and not to the (at most 4 ton) bluestones. And so it should also be noted that it is once more a demonstration that it is Merlin's engineering skills which are being compared, this time, to the brute strength of giants.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth then, Merlin does not use “magical powers” to dismantle the huge stone construction on Mount Kilaraus in Ireland, he does not use magical powers to transport them (by ship) to 'England', and he does not use magical powers to re-erect the Giants Dance on Salisbury Plain. Instead he is portrayed as an engineer, an architect, a mechanical genius non pareil. Neither is the tale presented as a 'myth', it is presented as a historical narrative and not as fantastical prose.

Saturday 4 July 2020

The Route of the Twrch Trwyth and the Bluestones.

The Route of the Twrch Trwyth and the Bluestones.

The devious and mischievously destructive route of the giant 'wereboar' Twrch Trwyth and his seven litle piglets, followed by Arthur's heroic hunters, horses and dogs across the challenging terrain of South Wales has, in scholarly circles, traditionally been interpreted as, at least in part, an 'onomastic tale'. Onomastics deals with the 'science of the origin of place names'. There are many other examples thought to be of this tale type throughout the Mabinogion, for instance, Gwydion's circuitous route with his seven swindled swine in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi. In the context of early medieval Welsh (and Irish) literature this tale type, more often than not, takes the form of a hunt or an errand or some other reason to journey from one place to another. Named places are visited along the way and a route is formed, these places are usually linked etymologically to key episodes within the tale and the orthodox consensus is that the named places inspired the story and therefore the route. Not the other way round. What if, in this case, the route inspired the place-names? And, if so, why was that route worthy of commemoration?

The Route of the Twrch Trwyth. From the Nevern to the Severn.

In compiling this map of the route of the Twrch Trwyth I have attempted to include and locate all of the named places in the text as accurately as possible. I have added in Cerrig Marchogion and Cerrig Meibion Arthur in the overcrowded 'Presseleu' region because they obviously belong to the story. It became apparent to me during this process that the Boar's traverse of the Preseli's passes close by, or through, the newly discovered sources for the Stonehenge Bluestones at Craig Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog and Cerrig Marchogion. Moreover, the Twrch Trwyth's route takes him very close to the even more recently suggested provenance for the Altar stone at the eastern end of the Senni beds. (I predict that the exact site for the Altar stone will be found somewhere along the valley known as Ystrat Yw). It would stretch credulity to suggest that the author of Culhwch and Olwen, in the 11th century was aware of the significance of these sites in relation to Stonehenge. 

After leaving the Preselis the Boar seeks out valleys and plateaus and avoids mountainous areas where he can. He crosses estuaries twice where ancient ferry systems are known to have existed. On average the slopes he encounters are surprisingly shallow considering the hills and the valleys of South Wales, 2.2% uphill and 2.6% downhill. For the most part, the Twrch Trwyth seems to have taken the route of least resistance. If this was a purely onomastic tale we oughtn't expect these outcomes.

Is the route of the Twrch Trwyth as found in the Red Book of Hergest a commemoration of the route, or one of the routes of the 'Preseli bluestones' through Wales on their way to Stonehenge? Because, actually, this may not be the only route. Mike Parker Person has suggested another feasible route along the A 40 corridor, (I will discuss this proposed route in my post 'Merlin and Carmarthen') and there is of course the long hypothesized shore hugging route along the south Welsh coast. It would make sense if our clever neolithic ancestors might have devised more than one route to transport eighty or more unwieldy stones weighing between one and two tons for a very long way along valleys and across plateaus or along coastlines. Having more than one route would have avoided otherwise inevitable log jams. In some ways it should not be surprising if such a momentous undertaking as the transportation of 80 megaliths was memorialised in the form of an epic tale. Which is what the Hunt for the Twrch Trwyth is. I noted in a previous post that it seems remarkable that the giant boar  appears to come to land at  'Porth Cleis in Dyved', obviously a man-made port, and then crosses the Towy and the Severn Estuaries, the two riverine barriers he must cross, at  the known early ferry crossing sites of Llansteffan to Ferryside and Beachley Head to Aust. This then looks like an established ancient man-made route 

The two routes have striking similarities...

In recent years then, the rocky outcrops of Craig Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog and Cerrig Marchogion have been identified with great certainty by petrologists Rob Ixer, Richard Bevins and others as the source for some of the Stonehenge bluestones. Excavations overseen by Prof. Mike Parker Pearson have confirmed quarrying activity at two of these sites at a time some hundreds of years before Stage 1 at Stonehenge, suggesting that a monument or monuments were erected in the vicinity of these quarries before the stones were taken to the Salisbury Plain. 

Over the last decade or so Prof. Mike Parker Pearson has authored several papers and delivered talks identifying Castell Mawr, a neolithic henge, and Waun Mawn, a once huge stone circle, as possible candidates for the original sites of these bluestone monuments. Well respected independent researcher Robin Heath has also identified Castell Mawr as the original site of the Stonehenge Bluestones, but for very different reasons. Watch his lecture on YouTube here: Robin Heath | An Original Stonehenge in Wales | Stonehenge as a Later Imitation | Megalithomania. He delivered the talk in February 2020.

Even more recently Ixer and Bevins have proved that the Altar Stone could not possibly have originated in the Cosheston Beds as H H Thomas proposed almost a hundred years ago, thus removing any scientific basis for the sea route. They have concluded that instead the Altar Stone comes from the eastern limit of the Senni formation. And I would point out that the Boar's route passes down the Ystrat Yw valley which is at the eastern limit of the Senni Formation. Once more demonstrating the Boars uncanny knack of passing through all the known origin quarries for the bluestones of Stonehenge.

Prediction. Altar Stone from here.

It should also be noted that pigs feature mightily in the archaeology of Durrington Walls, the 'township' which housed the workers who erected Stonehenge. Recent results show that 90% of the meat consumed there were pigs and that many of these 'little piglets', (scientific study has shown, from teeth analysis) were herded to Durrington Walls from West Wales.

These new discoveries have radically changed the traditional theory of a sea route in favour of a land route. That the Route of the Twrch Trwyth passes through these, recently confirmed, very same quarries is highly suggestive. It suggests that this story, at the very least a thousand years old, contains knowledge of this momentous megalithic activity and pig herding activity from an era four thousand years earlier than that. It suggests that a route for the Preseli Bluestones to the Severn Estuary, if not to Stonehenge itself, was preserved in oral form until it was finally written down in the 11th century, probably earlier. 

What we could have here is a bona fida 5,000 year old record of one of the most enduring mysteries in world history, to use a  few hackneyed phrases, hidden in plain sight, beneath our very noses. In the Hunt of the Twrch Trwyth we may have a precisely mapped out route of the Bluestones across the neolithic Welsh landscape.

The route of the Twrch Trwyth through the Preseli Hills as described in Culhwch and Olwen, and according to local tradition.
Now when Arthur approached, Twrch Trwyth went on as far as Preseleu, and Arthur and his hosts followed him thither, and Arthur sent men to hunt him; Eli and Trachmyr, leading Drutwyn the whelp of Greid the son of Eri, and Gwarthegyd the son of Kaw, in another quarter, with the two dogs of Glythmyr Ledewig, and Bedwyr leading Cavall, Arthur's own dog. And all the warriors ranged themselves around the Nyver. 
The enchanted boar and his seven little pigs are chased by Arthur's men from the havoc of Deu Gleddyf into the Preseli Hills. They stalk him eastwards along the two banks of the river Nevern. To avoid Arthur's men the Twrch Trwyth changes tack, sneaks off the Nevern and travels down the Afon Brynberian for a couple of miles, passing through two remarkable sites on either flank, as if through a gateway. One of these sites is the world famous bluestone cromlech Pentre Ifan, the other has been, up until relatively recent times, almost completely overlooked. It is a (stoneless) neolithic henge known as Castell Mawr. So the route of the Twrch Trwyth through the Preseli Hills begins by him passing through two neolithic monuments, one circular, one with a huge capstone. Both these monuments have in recent times been identified by archaeologist prof. Mike Parker Pearson as being key to understanding the circular dimensions and architectural structures at Stonehenge. Pentre Ifan demonstrates the technology used to lift the lintels of the Sarsen circle. Whilst Castell Mawr, due to it's proximity to these recently discovered quarries is strongly suspected as being the original home to at least some of the Stonehenge bluestones (Parker Pearson). The Boar then follows the Brynberian valley  until it arrives at the first of a series of three neolithic quarries recently confirmed by Ixer and Bevins as the sources for a significant number of the Stonehenge Bluestones. 

Gateway to the Preseli Hills.

I am not the first to notice that this outcrop of rhyolite known as Craig Rhos-y-felin has the appearance of a sleeping boar with its bristly back and it's snout to the ground. Perhaps the author imagined the giant boar resting at this site. Anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota has likened the dramatic outcrop to 'a sleeping dragon or the scales of a mythical beast'. It is now certain that this neolithic quarry provided at least one of the Stonehenge bluestones. Neither can there be any doubt that this part of the route of the Twrch Trwyth is that which is specified in Culhwch

Craig Rhos-y-felin. A sleeping boar, complete with ears and tusks. (photo credit Mary-Ann Ochota)


The Twrch Trwyth's route next takes him upstream to Carn Goedog, where he might have had another rest. Bevins and Ixer have identified Carn Goedog as a major source for the spotted dolerites at Stonehenge So these two confirmed bluestone quarries, Craig Rhos-y-felin and Carn Goedog, both have the appearance of a resting or hiding giant boar, it seems very likely that these rocky outcrops disguised as giant boars hiding in the Preseli landscape inspired the gigantic size of the boar. The text of Culhwch doesn't mention these sites but the boar must at least pass close by them on his way from the Nevern to Cwm Cerwyn.

Sleeping Boar, Carn Goedog. Many of the Stonehenge Bluestones come from this quarry.


According to the tale, just before the boar arrives at Cwm Cerwyn there are two violent encounters, and there can be little doubt that these battles are to be associated with Cerrig Marchogion, The Stones of the Knights, or of the Horsemen. 
And there Twrch Trwyth made a stand, and slew four of Arthur's champions, Gwarthegyd the son of Kaw, and Tarawc of Allt Clwyd, and Rheidwn the son of Eli Atver, and Iscovan Hael. And after he had slain these men, he made a second stand in the same place. And there he slew Gwydre the son of Arthur, and Garselit Wyddel, and Glew the son of Ysgawd, and Iscawyn the son of Panon; and there he himself was wounded.
Precision mapping. There are two groups of four spotted dolerite outcrops that make up the Stones of the Horsemen, these have been identified by Bevins and Ixer as a source of the Stonehenge Bluestones. I'm assuming it was imagined that the Twrch Trwyth charged up the ridge to reach high ground before turning and attacking the first four horsemen, who were slain as group. The boar then charged back down the hill and took out the second group of four horsemen one by one in a long straggly line.

Cerrig Marchogion. The Stones of the Horsemen. 

First Four Horsemen.

Second four Horsemen.

Perspective of the route from the Nevern to Cwm Cerwyn and the Stones of the Sons of Arthur.

The following is the abstract for a paper recently published in Antiquity: 
Geologists and archaeologists have long known that the bluestones of Stonehenge came from the Preseli Hills of west Wales, 230km away, but only recently have some of their exact geological sources been identified. Two of these quarries—Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin—have now been excavated to reveal evidence of megalith quarrying around 3000 BC—the same period as the first stage of the construction of Stonehenge. The authors present evidence for the extraction of the stone pillars and consider how they were transported, including the possibility that they were erected in a temporary monument close to the quarries, before completing their journey to Stonehenge.
Pearson, M., Pollard, J., Richards, C., Welham, K., Casswell, C., French, C., . . . Ixer, R. (2019). Megalith quarries for Stonehenge's bluestones. Antiquity, 93(367), 45-62. doi:10.15184/aqy.2018.111

The gradient along the Twrch Trwth's route through the Preseli Hills. The highest point being Cerrig Marchogion. 

Mauve Line = Twrch Trwyth's route.
Green line = Rhosyfelyn stones to Waun Mawn
Yellow line = Carn Goedog stones to Cerrig Marchogion.
Red line = Cerrig Marchogion stones to Waun Mawn.

The Waun Mawn excavation proved that a bluestone circle once stood here in the late neolithic. Most of the stones having been removed.

Possible Bluestone Routes
Thomas's Coastal Route (Blue line). Parker Pearson's Land Route (Dotted line). Altar Stone Route (Red line).

Twrch Trwyth's Route on Cambriae Typus, Compiled by myself  in 2012 acknowledging Bromwich and Evans.

Routes compared

August 1st Sunrise

Midwinter Sunrise

Stonehenge. Bluestones and Sarsens


It has occurred to others as well as to me that the missing stones of Waun Mawr fall short of the numbers required to make up the 84 stones which eventually arrived at Stonehenge. That the people who moved the Welsh stones picked up the Alter stone on their way to Salisbury Plain, might suggest that other stones along the route may have found there way there also. Moreover, I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of the stones has an Irish origin. Both Geoffrey's account of Merlin's acquisition of the Giants Dance and the Hunt for the Twrch Trwyth begin in Ireland, possibly the same part of Ireland.

The Twrch Trwyth

Then Arthur sent Gwrhyr Gwalstawt Ieithoedd, to endeavour to speak with him. And Gwrhyr assumed the form of a bird, and alighted upon the top of the lair, where he was with the seven young pigs. And Gwrhyr Gwalstawt Ieithoedd asked him, "By him who turned you into this form, if you can speak, let some one of you, I beseech you, come and talk with Arthur." Grugyn Gwrych Ereint made answer to him. (Now his bristles were like silver wire, and whether he went through the wood or through the plain, he was to be traced by the glittering of his bristles.) And this was the answer that Grugyn made, "By him who turned us into this form, we will not do so, and we will not speak with Arthur. That we have been transformed thus is enough for us to suffer, without your coming here to fight with us." 

"I will tell you. Arthur comes but to fight for the comb, and the razor, and the scissors, which are between the two ears of Twrch Trwyth." 

Said Grugyn, "Except he first take his life, he will never have those precious things. And to-morrow morning we will rise up hence, and we will go into Arthur's country, and there will we do all the mischief that we can."

So they set forth through the sea towards Wales. And Arthur and his hosts, and his horses and his dogs, entered Prydwen, that they might encounter them without delay. Twrch Trwyth landed in Porth Cleis in Dyved, and Arthur came to Mynyw. The next day it was told to Arthur that they had gone by, and he overtook them as they were killing the cattle of Kynnwas Kwrr y Vagyl, having slain all that were at Aber Gleddyf, of man and beast, before the coming of Arthur.

Now when Arthur approached, Twrch Trwyth went on as far as Preseleu, and Arthur and his hosts followed him thither, and Arthur sent men to hunt him; Eli and Trachmyr, leading Drutwyn the whelp of Greid the son of Eri, and Gwarthegyd the son of Kaw, in another quarter, with the two dogs of Glythmyr Ledewig, and Bedwyr leading Cavall, Arthur's own dog. And all the warriors ranged themselves around the Nyver. And there came there the three sons of Cleddyf Divwlch, men who had gained much fame at the slaying of Yskithyrwyn Penbaedd; and they went on from Glyn Nyver, and came to Cwm Kerwyn.

And there Twrch Trwyth made a stand, and slew four of Arthur's champions, Gwarthegyd the son of Kaw, and Tarawc of Allt Clwyd, and Rheidwn the son of Eli Atver, and Iscovan Hael. And after he had slain these men, he made a second stand in the same place. And there he slew Gwydre the son of Arthur, and Garselit Wyddel, and Glew the son of Ysgawd, and Iscawyn the son of Panon; and there he himself was wounded.

And the next morning before it was day, some of the men came up with him. And he slew Huandaw, and Gogigwr, and Penpingon, three attendants upon Glewlwyd Gavaelvawr, so that Heaven knows, he had not an attendant remaining, excepting only Llaesgevyn, a man from whom no one ever derived any good. And together with these, he slew many of the men of that country, and Gwlydyn Saer, Arthur's chief Architect.

Then Arthur overtook him at Pelumyawc, and there he slew Madawc the son of Teithyon, and Gwyn the son of Tringad, the son of Neved, and Eiryawn Penllorau. Thence he went to Abertywi, where he made another stand, and where he slew Kyflas the son of Kynan, and Gwilenhin king of France. Then he went as far as Glyn Ystu, and there the men and the dogs lost him.

Then Arthur summoned unto him Gwyn ab Nudd, and he asked him if he knew aught of Twrch Trwyth. And he said that he did not.

And all the huntsmen went to hunt the swine as far as Dyffryn Llychwr. And Grugyn Gwallt Ereint, and Llwydawg Govynnyad closed with them and killed all the huntsmen, so that there escaped but one man only. And Arthur and his hosts came to the place where Grugyn and Llwydawg were. And there he let loose the whole of the dogs upon them, and with the shout and barking that was set up, Twrch Trwyth came to their assistance.

And from the time that they came across the Irish sea, Arthur had never got sight of him until then. So he set men and dogs upon him, and thereupon he started off and went to Mynydd Amanw. And there one of his young pigs was killed. Then they set upon him life for life, and Twrch Llawin was slain, and then there was slain another of the swine, Gwys was his name. After that he went on to Dyffryn Amanw, and there Banw and Bennwig were killed. Of all his pigs there went with him alive from that place none save Grugyn Gwallt Ereint, and Llwydawg Govynnyad.

Thence he went on to Llwch Ewin, and Arthur overtook him there, and he made a stand. And there he slew Echel Forddwytwll, and Garwyli the son of Gwyddawg Gwyr, and many men and dogs likewise. And thence they went to Llwch Tawy. Grugyn Gwrych Ereint parted from them there, and went to Din Tywi. And thence he proceeded to Ceredigiawn, and Eli and Trachmyr with him, and a multitude likewise. Then he came to Garth Gregyn, and there Llwydawg Govynnyad fought in the midst of them, and slew Rhudvyw Rhys and many others with him. Then Llwydawg went thence to Ystrad Yw, and there the men of Armorica met him, and there he slew Hirpeissawg the king of Armorica, and Llygatrudd Emys, and Gwrbothu, Arthur's uncles, his mother's brothers, and there was he himself slain.

Twrch Trwyth went from there to between Tawy and Euyas, and Arthur summoned all Cornwall and Devon unto him, to the estuary of the Severn, and he said to the warriors of this Island, "Twrch Trwyth has slain many of my men, but, by the valour of warriors, while I live he shall not go into Cornwall. And I will not follow him any longer, but I will oppose him life to life. Do ye as ye will." And he resolved that he would send a body of knights, with the dogs of the Island, as far as Euyas, who should return thence to the Severn, and that tried warriors should traverse the Island, and force him into the Severn. And Mabon the son of Modron, came up with him at the Severn, upon Gwynn Mygddon, the horse of Gweddw, and Goreu the son of Custennin, and Menw the son of Teirgwaedd; this was betwixt Llyn Lliwan and Aber Gwy. And Arthur fell upon him together with the champions of Britain. And Osla Kyllellvawr drew near, and Manawyddan the son of Llyr, and Kacmwri the servant of Arthur, and Gwyngelli, and they seized hold of him, catching him first by his feet, and plunged him in the Severn, so that it overwhelmed him. On the one side, Mabon the son of Modron spurred his steed and snatched his razor from him, and Kyledyr Wyllt came up with him on the other side, upon another steed, in the Severn, and took from him the scissors. But before they could obtain the comb, he had regained the ground with his feet, and from the moment that he reached the shore, neither dog, nor man, nor horse could overtake him until he came to Cornwall. If they had had trouble in getting the jewels from him, much more had they in seeking to save the two men from being drowned. Kacmwri, as they drew him forth, was dragged by two millstones into the deep. And as Osla Kyllellvawr was running after the boar, his knife had dropped out of the sheath, and he had lost it, and after that, the sheath became full of water, and its weight drew him down into the deep, as they were drawing him forth.

Then Arthur and his hosts proceeded until they overtook the boar in Cornwall, and the trouble which they had met with before was mere play to what they encountered in seeking the comb. But from one difficulty to another, the comb was at length obtained. And then he was hunted from Cornwall, and driven straight forward into the deep sea. And thenceforth it was never known whither he went; and Aned and Aethlem with him. Then went Arthur to Gelliwic, in Cornwall, to anoint himself, and to rest from his fatigues.

Sunday 24 May 2020

Merlins Oak. History in photos

The Story of Merlin's Oak in Photos

Before 1856

Post 1856. Perhaps 1880's.




1978, on the left my friend William Montgomery

1978. The end.

Present Day, (2020).

Thursday 14 May 2020

Merlin and Carmarthen

Merlin, Carmarthen and me.

This is an attempt to explain how I came to the conclusions I have come to regarding astronomy and cartography in the tales of the Mabinogion and other early Welsh prose, poetry and hagiography. It will take the form of a personal memoir and will be largely set down in chronological order, though it will also be necessary to move through time in a more fluid way. The past, the present and the future are the weave and weft, the very fabric of Merlin's universe, and of all of our universes. Myrddin does not feature in any of the tales of the Mabinogion, though there is more than a hint of Culhwch and Olwen in the Black Book of Carmarthen, where Myrddin does feature. It was in Carmarthen, in Merlin's Town that I first became aware of the intimate relationship between so called myth and legend, landscape and astronomy, place and time and memory.

Iconic photograph from the late seventies of graffiti on a derelict house near to St. Peter's Church.The scrubbed out legend to the right of Merlin's front door used to read something like "Merlin's out, he's probably down the Coopers Arms". (photo credit: Sian Boussevain).

In the Summer of 1969 when I was eight years old, my family moved from Luddenden near Halifax in West Yorkshire, where my Mum, June, comes from, to 17 Barn Road, Carmarthen or Caerfyrddin - Merlin's Town in West Wales, where my Dad, Rex, comes from.

My Dad was born and bred in Carmarthen, he was a St. Peter's boy, as they used to say around here, one born within earshot of the bells of St Peter's Church. He was well-known as the towns sign writer as well as for being a superb top tenor, a chorister and a rock 'n roll vocalist. Everyone knew him as 'Toffee Rex' and I inherited my nickname 'John Toffee' from him. He taught me how to sign write and about craftsmanship, though unfortunately I did not inherit his lovely singing voice.

After the first week of settling in to our new home, it may have been early August, I was allowed to go out and explore the town on my own, as long as I didn't go too far. After wandering aimlessly for a while I found myself looking up at the imposing bell tower of St. Peters Church, one of the oldest and largest parish churches in Wales. I vaguely knew that St. Peters was connected to the local legends about the famous wizard Merlin, so I entered into the sacred grounds through the impressive lych gate. I had heard from my cousin Kevin that if you walked three times widdershins around the church you would either see a wonder or you would go mad. So, on an impulse, I thought I'd give that a go. 

As I was about to begin the third lap of my march towards certain insanity I found my way blocked by a large smelly Welshman, a pig farmer I assumed (it was a Friday, pig mart day), also walking widdershins around the church. He stank of beer and of pig shit, he wore a flat cap over unkempt oily hair, he had on a mucky old raincoat and on his feet a soiled pair of green wellies. I slowed my pace to walk behind him, feeling somewhat intimidated by his presence when suddenly something fell from the inside pocket of his dirty old coat and landed on the flagstones ahead of me. It was a bundle of cash, as thick as a fat leek, held tight with elastic bands. It rolled along the floor and stopped at my feet. I picked up the roll of money. It was made up from fifties, twenties and tenners, I had never seen so much money. There in the palm of my hand was a wad of money worth thousands of pounds. I admit that it occurred to me, if only for a fleeting moment that I might keep that money, we weren't a rich family after all, but it also occurred to me that I was on holy ground. That seemed important to my eight year old mind. So, after glancing fearfully up at the church tower, I cleared my throat and said,

"Excuse me". 

No reaction, I tried a second time... same. On the third attempt I tugged his mucky sleeve and this time he turned around to face me, to look down at me all jowly, unshaven and watery eyed. 

"I think you might have dropped something", I said. 

He didn't say anything, just smiled drunkenly at me, took the wad of cash I'd held out to him, put it back in his pocket, sort of winked, turned about, swayed and went on his widdershin way. The memory of that moment has stayed with me all of my life. I didn't think it at the time but many years later I came to the realisation that I'd seen a wonder, that I'd had an encounter with Merlin himself or as he used to be known Myrddin Wyllt, whose only companion in his grief and madness was a little pig. And whose conception, according to legend, between an incubus and a virginal nun had occurred here within the sacred precinct of St Peter's church.

The Lych gate and Bell Tower of St. Peter's circa 1900

Later that year, on the hot late summer Sunday afternoon of September 20th 1969 my younger brother Jeffrey, seven years old, died in a tragic accident in the back garden of 17 Barn Road. That awful accident changed my world and my family's world forever.

We could no longer live at Barn Road and so after the funeral my Mum, Dad and my older brother and sister moved in with  my Uncle Delme (Dads brother) and Auntie Margaret. I was put with my Welsh grandparents, Nanna and Grandpa, who lived at 4 Morley Street in the centre of town. My Nanna, Vi, was a funny woman, every morning before I went to school she would enquire of me, "Have you cleared your bowels?" Some years later (1983, I was an art student in Coventry at the time) I went to visit her. She was watching the television intently, "Those bloody lesbians have been at it again", she growled as I came in. The news programme on the t.v. was reporting the bombing by Hezbollah of the American Lebanese Embassy in Beirut. She was a great one for malapropisms. Nanna, who rarely left Carmarthen, once took a train to London to visit her son, my Uncle Delme, where he was working as a plumber though she didn't know where he lived exactly. On leaving Paddington Station she asked a complete stranger if he knew where Delme Davies lived, "What, Delme the plumber?" came the reply, "Yes, he's just around the corner at number 22". Okay, I might have got the number wrong but the rest is true.

My Grandpa had a profound influence upon me. He was a deeply religious man, a Methodist, When he died he had hung on tenaciously until Good Friday so he could rise to Heaven on the same day that his Lord did. He died with a serene smile on is face. 

He used to drive around town in his red Mini rally car, it had bucket seats and roll-bars, though he rarely exceeded 20 miles an hour. He was known to everyone in Carmarthen as Will Jockey, for that was his job in his younger days. I remember when my elder brother Stephen and I had taken him for a drink to the Friends Arms in Johnstown on the edge of town once. We were sat down at a table enjoying a pint when, "Duw," he said suddenly, "I remember sitting here with Buffalo Bill!" We of course thought he'd gone doolally but actually it was true. Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show came to Carmarthen on the 13th May 1904. The show was put on at the Argos Fields not far from the Friends Arms. Local jockeys were recruited so as to take part in the show and they were trained by the Native Americans in certain techniques of horsemanship such as dropping off the saddle and riding the flank of the horse in a tight turn. My Grandpa taught me this skill in the living room of 4 Morley Street using a high backed chair for a horse. Me seated the wrong way round holding the chair-back, he holding the seat swinging me round in the air. "I won't let you fall" he would say, as I clung on. Many years later I was to remember this training, in an instant, on a real horse. It saved me from potentially serious injury.

Many years earlier... Grandpa was a friend of Dylan Thomas the writer, poet and playwright, and most Saturdays Dylan and Caitlin would get the bus up from Laugharne to Carmarthen so Caitlin could do the weekly shop. At around 10 o' clock a.m. Dylan would call at 4 Morley Street, where the door was always open and call down the hallway, "Will, are you coming out to play?" My Nanna, who didn't much care for Dylan, would come to the door and call back to Grandpa, who was usually in the garden, "Will, that man is here for you again!" The two of them used to go to The Mansel Arms at the end of the street, often before opening time, for several beers. My Nanna related this story to me once, Will and Dylan had gone for their usual Saturday morning pint at the Mansel and Dylan had got really drunk, standing on the tables reciting his latest verse, unfortunately he'd got so drunk he'd fallen asleep and there was no waking him. He was still in this state when Caitlin arrived back from shopping. There was only one bus back to Laugharne and the bus station was some way off. So my Nanna got my Grandpa to go fetch his wheel barrow. With the help of the landlord they managed to get him into the barrow and off they went, Nanna, Caitlin and my Grandpa with Dylan Thomas, fast asleep in the barrow. When they got to the station the bus was almost ready to go but with the help of the bus driver they managed to bundle Dylan onto a seat. The next Saturday Caitlin told my Nanna that as soon as the bus arrived in Laugharne Dylan had woken up, looked out of the window, saw that the bar at Brown's Hotel was open, made a bee line for it and started on the beer again.

Grandpa, a Welsh Nationalist and a proud Welsh speaker, knew his Welsh history and his semi-legendary history through the Brut y Tywysogyon ‘The Chronicle of the Princes’ and from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘History of the Kings of Britain’. He knew the works of the ancient Welsh poets such as Taliesin and Aneirin, the Cynfeirdd, or ‘earliest poets’, he had studied the praise poetry of the Gogynfeirdd ‘the not so early poets’ and he could recite from memory several of the poems of Dafydd ap Gwilym, some say Wales’s greatest poet. However, Grandpa's lasting gift was to introduce to me the tales of the Mabinogion and to the poems attributed to Myrddin from Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin ‘The Black Book of Carmarthen’.

I don't remember now how long it was that I stayed with my grandparents but at some point during 1970, the year following my brother's death, my immediate family came back together and we moved into number 80 Priory Street in the 'Old Town' of Carmarthen. Actually, the official name of our street was and is Oak Terrace which is a continuation of Priory Street, I didn't learn this until quite recently after studying maps of the area, anyway we knew it as Priory Street and the mail seemed to arrive regardless.

Both the 'Oak' of Oak Terrace and the 'Priory' of Priory Street have strong Merlinic connections as this part of Carmarthen, Old Carmarthen was indeed the heart of 'Merlin's Town'. The Oak being referred to was 'The Old Oak' or 'The Carmarthen Oak' but better known, in fact it became world famous, as 'Merlin's Oak'.

The classic photograph of Merlin's Oak in 1936.

Our House on Oak Terrace was on the left and is just hidden by the sad remains of the old tree. St. Peter's Church is behind us about 400 metres up the road the other way.

The history of the tree is, more or less, well documented. It is thought to have been planted in 1660 to celebrate the return to the throne of England by Charles II. However, by the 19th century some legends had developed connecting the tree to Merlin. During the mid 19th century the tree had became a focal point for local drinkers and ruffians and it seems that the tree was poisoned by an angry local trader in protest against this noisy revelry. It is recorded that the tree died in 1856.

Drunkards, blaggards, ruffians, ragamuffins and cheeky little urchins revelling in a threatening manner beneath Merlin's Oak, in leaf and clearly alive in this very early photograph, presumably taken prior to 1856.

Perhaps surprisingly the concrete base and iron railings appear to have been in place when the tree was still in good health. However, as traffic started to increase postcards from the 1960's show the Oak and its base in a poor state of repair. It jutted out awkwardly onto the A484 a really busy road and in 1978 what remained of the tree was deemed hazardous to traffic and was demolished. Two fragments survive, one is in a glass case in the entrance to St. Peter's Civic Hall. The other is at The Bishop's Palace Museum in Abergwili, just below Merlin's Hill.

There was a prophecy attached to the Old Oak:

When Merlin's Oak shall tumble down
Then shall fall Carmarthen Town.
Another version insisted 'Then shall drown Carmarthen Town', and in 1979, the year following the removal of Merlin's Oak, Carmarthen suffered the worst floods in living memory.

The ignominious end of Merlins Oak.

A little up the road from 80 Priory Street, just before you get to the Roman amphitheatre, there was a Belisha beaconed zebra crossing which led directly to the entrance to Parc Hinds, a playing field and a rec since the late 1920's. My elder brother Stephen and I, and our border collie Meg played football there, hunted for slow worms to frighten our sister Linda with, got into fights and into mischief generally. It's a steeply terraced patch of land which drops quickly down to the centre of a great horseshoe bend of the River Towy. This is the site of the 12th century Augustinian Priory of St. John the Evangelist originally founded by St. Teulyddog as a monastic settlement or clas in the 6th century. It was here, some time before 1250, that a Welshman patiently copied poems from older manuscripts dating back to the 9th century. It was a labour of love which took many years to achieve and it is now the oldest surviving manuscript written solely in the Welsh Language... Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin 'The Black book of Carmarthen'.  

Parc Hinds. Very little of the Priory remains above ground now. In the row of cottages on the left you can see the original gateway entrance, part of the precinct walls also survive and runs north-east from the end of the row. It is known locally as 'Nuns Walk', which has always reminded me of Merlins virginal mother. 

Myrddin prophesies. Remembers the future. He is not bound by time or place. 

There are three poems within the pages of the Black Book of Carmarthen which, at the least, pretend to be spoken in the vaticinatory voice of Myrddin Wyllt:

Yr Afallenau, 'The Apple Trees' 
Yr Oianau, 'The Oh's'
Ymyddiddan Myrddyn a Thaliesin, 'A Conversation between Myrddin and Taliesin'.

Myrddin is named in the Ymddiddan, and Caerfyrddin occurs in Yr Oianau. In the Afallennau a wild man of the woods, obviously Myrddin in the mind of the Welsh scribe, addresses a magical crab apple tree, whilst in the Oianau he addresses a little pig from the boughs of his apple tree. He laments his pathetic existence, icicles in his hair, sleeplessness, loneliness, his madness and his grief. And he prophesies the fate of the Welsh against the Saxons and in future battles against the Normans, prophecies that were fulfilled during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. These prophetic stanzas were evidently composed after the events they purport to foretell and are regarded as additions to a body of poetry composed much earlier, probably in the ninth or tenth century.

The earlier verses refer to the legend of a warrior (Myrddin) who went mad during the (historical) Battle of Arfderydd (ca. 573) between Rhydderch Hael, ('The Generous') and Gwenddolau, two rival kings of Brithonic speaking tribes in the 'Old North' Yr Hen Gogledd, (Strathclyde). Following the defeat of his lord Gwenddolau Myrddin fled to the Caledonian Forest where he lived as a wild man and where he acquired the gift of prophecy. (paraphrasing Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – The National Library of Wales).

To give a flavour of these ancient poems here is a sample from each of them:

Yr Afallenau, 'The Apple Trees' 

Sweet appletree, growing by the river, 
Who will thrive on its wondrous fruit? 
When my reason was intact
I used to lie at its foot
With a fair wanton maid, of slender form.
Fifty years the plaything of lawlessness
I have wandered in gloom among spirits
After great wealth, and gregarious minstrels,
I have been here so long not even sprites
Can lead me astray. I never sleep, but tremble at the thought
Of my Lord Gwenddoleu, and my own native people.
Long have I suffered unease and longing
May I be given freedom in the end.

Yr Oianau, 'The Oh's'

Listen, O little pig! utter not a whisper, 
When the host of war marches from Carmarthen, 
To support, in the common cause, two whelps 
Of the line of Rhys, the stay of battle, the warlike commander of armies
When the Saxon shall be slain in the conflict of Cymmerau,
Blessed will be the lot of Cymry, the people of Cymrwy.

Ymyddiddan Myrddyn a Thaliesin, 'A Conversation between Myrddin and Taliesin'.

The seven sons of Eliffer, seven heroes,
Will fail to avoid seven spears in the battle. 

Seven fires, seven armies,
Cynvelyn in every seventh place. 

Seven spears, seven rivers of blood
From seven chieftains, fallen. 

Seven score heroes, maddened by battle,
To the forest of Celyddon they fled.
Since I Myrddin, am second only to Taliesin,
Let my words be heard as truth. 

Translations are by Skene from The Four Ancient Books of Wales. Full versions in English and in Middle Welsh can be found here: Better translations can be found in 'The Black Book of Carmarthen' by Meirion Pennar. Llanerch Press; Reprint edition (1 Aug. 1989). The entire original manuscript has now been digitised and can be found on the National Library of Wales website.

John Speeds 1612 map of Carmarthen depicting the Old Town with the Priory top left and St. Peters just below it to the right, and the New Town surrounded by the defensive medieval walls built in the 1230's.

We lived on Priory Street for perhaps two years and I recall some happy memories from this time but not many, I missed my little brother, we all did. My elder brother and sister had both moved up to Ystrad Tywi County High School whilst I was still at The Model Junior School. With my Yorkshire accent I was an easy target for bullies and was daily picked on, 'English pig' was a phrase I got used to. One day I'd decided I'd had enough and started fighting back and eventually the bullying stopped, I'm friends with some of those same boys almost fifty years on, though I rarely see them these days. Home life was pretty miserable with my brother Jeffreys death still looming large. My Mum was grieving for the loss of her beautiful, funny, blonde haired, twinkly blue-eyed son Jeffrey. Carmarthen was still new to her, and like me, she suffered from an anti-English discrimination from some quarters. But she was (and remains) a determined woman and managed to feed and clothe the three of us more than well enough. My Dad, who worked as a painter and decorator then, was grieving also but he dealt with his grief in an altogether different manner. He would often come home drunk after work now and rows between he and Mum became frequent occurrences. One night he had come home very drunk and the usual fight had ensued, it started in the front room and moved through the house until it ended up in the back yard. It was dark and the three of us were upstairs in one of the bedrooms so we couldn't see what was happening though we could hear. The shouting match turned into a tussle, Mum pushed Dad away, he fell backwards and suddenly there was a loud metallic crash as the bins went over. Then it all went quiet.  Mum told us later that he had lain motionless amongst the fallen bins and the rubbish and she feared she had killed him. Long minutes passed before eventually we could hear our Dad groaning. Finally, we heard him calling Mums name who had retreated in shock to the kitchen. “June”, he groaned, “Last fag before die”, he said. I cannot recall now my Mum's response but I don't think it was polite. He lived.

The approximate limits of the Roman walls of the Old Town, and some of  the places referred to in the text.

That incident was the final straw for my Mum and a few days later after Dad had gone to work she gathered the three of us together in the front room, sat us down and relayed to us what she had in mind for the future. She told us that she wanted to leave Dad, to leave Carmarthen, to go back north to Yorkshire. But she couldn't leave us. How did we feel about going back to Yorkshire? Stephen and I assented readily, Linda, who had made friends, seemed hesitant at first but in the end we all agreed on this course of action.

So the four of us planned and prepared in secret for what we came to think of as The Great Escape. Cases were gradually packed with our personal essential and favourite things, we had to make difficult decisions as to what to leave behind, we hid the cases under Linda's bed. Outwardly, we carried on with life as normal, we went to school, Mum went to work as a waitress. Arrangements were made in Yorkshire by my Mums sister, Auntie Isobel, for a place where we could live in Luddenden village. Then a problem arose, the train leaving Carmarthen for a route to Hebden Bridge, (the nearest station to Luddenden) was no longer passenger carrying but was now freight only as far as Llandeilo, fifteen miles away, and we had our bikes and our border collie Meg to take in to account. Mum hatched a plan for that.

After some weeks the day came when the denouement to all our secret planning was to be put in to action. The timing had to be perfect. That morning we all said a cheery goodbye to Dad as he left for work, too cheerily Mum thought, then we waited for fifteen minutes just in case he'd forgotten something and came back unexpectedly. Mum had arranged for the three bikes to be taken by freight train directly to Hebden Bridge but we had to get them to Carmarthen Railway Station first, three quarters of a mile away. That was Linda and Stephen's awkward task, Stephen had the worst of it, having to ride his bike and guide mine by the handlebars at the same time, they had to “get there quick and get back quicker”, said Mum.

Mum and I had our own tasks, we carefully packed crockery and cutlery, and treasured photographs, brought the hidden cases downstairs and stowed the remainder of our belongings including a few more of my books, keeping everything to a minimum. Then we waited anxiously for Linda and Stephen to return, Mum said Meg knew there was something going on she seemed as nervous as we were. There was an urgent knocking at the front door, it was my brother and sister both out of breath. Then Mum called a family friend, a taxi driver who was aware of our plan and had who been sworn to secrecy, he arrived in a big car a quarter of an hour later. We put the cases and bags in the boot, Mum got in the front seat and the three of us with Meg got in the back seat. Minutes later we were on our way to Llandeilo to catch the only train that day that would take us back North, back to Yorkshire and Luddenden. And that was The Great Escape.

The four of us and Meg moved in to a small terraced, two up two down, stone built cottage in Luddenden village. It was a short walk away from my old junior school which I had attended three years earlier. Those years in Carmarthen had softened my previously broad Yorkshire accent and I now spoke with something of a Welsh lilt. Cue bullying once more, I got used to a new taunt, 'Welsh pig!'. There was one kid, Adrian Goodall was his name, who wanted to fight me. He was older and much bigger than me, he always seemed to be angry about something or other. One day he confronted me in the small tarmacked playground. I didn't want to fight but didn't want to back down either, so the other children formed a square around us. He stood red faced, pawing the ground and snorting like a bull about ten feet in front of me. Suddenly he charged full pelt towards me and dived as if to crush me in a bear hug, I side stepped, he grabbed thin air and came down on the tarmac on his head. I walked calmly to the place where he had been standing and turned to meet him a second time. He got up bloody fuming, redder then ever, a graze down one side of his face. He charged again, I side stepped again, he hit the tarmac again. I walked back to my starting position, turned and waited. He got off the floor, a new graze on his forehead, a bruise forming above his cheek, tears welling in his eyes, mad as hell. He charged me again with the same result and that was enough, his friends surrounded him, helped him up and tried to calm him down. I walked away back to the classroom totally unscathed, he looked like he'd gone five rounds with Joe Bugner, I hadn't laid a glove on him. The taunts didn't cease entirely after that incident but at least nobody else wanted to fight me.

The beautiful Luddenden valley.

Before I left junior school, then, I had experienced bullying and opprobrium for being both an 'English pig' and a 'Welsh pig'. This didn't help my sense of identity, instead it had fuelled a growing anxiety, a crushing sense of non-belonging. These experiences and the death of my brother, my father's aggression towards my Mum and also towards me, (which I haven't touched on here as yet) and the break up of my family had become utterly disorienting. The result was that at twelve years old I had entered into a period of internal turmoil, a miasma of grief, madness and isolation which culminated in what I now believe was a mental breakdown. One night I had cried uncontrollably for hours, I felt that I would never stop crying. Mum had had to call the doctor out. I recall the doctor asking me what my name was, I could not remember that it was Davies, when I tried there was a blank space where that name should have been. I hated the inherited nickname Toffee and had rejected that also, it too belonged to my Dad.  Medication and my Mums love and attention gradually helped me to recover, though I don't remember much of this period of my life.

Despite all of this instability I did well academically at Luddenden Junior School. The West Riding of Yorkshire didn't have the eleven-plus but instead had a different system known as the ‘Thorne scheme’. This was a means of allocating grammar school places to the ablest primary school children on the basis of teachers’ recommendations. Four pupils from our school could be nominated to the scheme, I was one of them. We four spent, if I remember correctly, three days at Halifax Grammar School being tested on all sorts of subjects and activities. I was to learn later that summer that I had been allocated a place in the highest form of the Grammar School. Though as it transpired this was not to be.

Before the school summer holidays of 1973, my Dad had travelled up from Carmarthen to Halifax  by train and had then waited in a taxi outside the gates of Calder High Comprehensive, where my brother and sister went to school. Dad and Linda, who hadn't really wanted to leave Wales, had secretly arranged to meet and, as I understand it, Linda then went willingly with my Dad back to Carmarthen.

During those summer holidays, some time in early August my brother Stephen and I were trying to master the art of skateboarding (a new craze then) on the sloping paths in front of Auntie Isobels flat on Kershaw Crescent in Luddendenfoot. Stephen was pretty good, I was hopeless, it was great fun. I noticed Mum and Auntie Isobel watching us through the window of the third floor flat. A taxi pulled up and a bearded stranger, wearing dark sunglasses got out of the taxi and walked over to us. “Do you know where your mother is?”, he asked us. We pointed up to the window where now only Auntie Isobel was watching. He walked towards the ground floor entrance and went inside. Stephen and I looked at each other with growing realisation, the bearded stranger was our Dad. Three days later Mum and Dad had become reconciled and shortly after that we moved back to Carmarthen, back to Merlin's Town, where we were now re-united as a family at 31 Sycamore Way on the Wauniago Estate.

Despite being allocated a place at Grammar school in Halifax, Carmarthenshire Education Authority did not recognise the result I had achieved on the Thorne Scheme there. I was forced to sit the Eleven-plus exam alone, in a small dark room in the Model School with only Mr Walters the Headmaster, acting as invigilator, for company. I was ill prepared, the curriculum here was different and I had no opportunity to take a mock exam, it seemed very unfair. The result was a place in the 'A stream' at Ystrad Tywi County High. So I started my secondary education there in September of 1973. There was one way in which I was grateful for that...there were no girls at Carmarthen Grammar School for Boys.

During these turbulent early years my interest in Merlin/Myrddin had grown and now on my return from the North to Carmarthen I began to pursue this interest with a renewed vigour. Some years earlier Grandpa had given me a copy of Lewis Thorpe's translation of The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth (completed 1136). It purports to be a 2,000 year history of Britain from its founding by Brutus through to the Saxon invasion in the 5th century. The 'History' is most famous for its portrayal of King Arthur as an all conquering emperor and for the subsequent all pervasive influence it had on Arthurian literature thereafter. But to my mind the dominant character in the 'History' was Merlin.

The episode containing the discovery of 'the boy without a father' playing football before the gates of Carmarthen was especially fascinating to me. I identified entirely with this image of the young Merlin, as I too had played football at about the same age before those same gates. I imagined that the argument between Dinabutius and Merlin had taken place in the Ampitheatre, where Vortigern's men had sat down 'in a ring' to watch the game. The position of the 'gates', the eastern entrance to Roman Carmarthen, Maridunum, was now marked by Merlin's Oak. I constructed a mental image of this entrance too. I was struck by the seeming authenticity of Geoffrey's description of post-roman Carmarthen and I believe Geoffrey must have visited Carmarthen or at the least had seen or heard of a first hand description of it.

Moridunum, Roman Carmarthen and the Amphitheatre in the 3rd century. Drawing by N. Ludlow.

Some remains of the roman town were still evident in Geoffrey's time as Giraldus Cambrensis bore witness to some 50 years later when he visited the old town. He mentions Carmarthen in his 'Journey' thus:

Caermardyn signifies the city of Merlin, because, according to the British History, he was there said to have been begotten of an incubus.

This ancient city is situated on the banks of the noble river Tywy, surrounded by woods and pastures, and was strongly inclosed with walls of brick, part of which are still standing.

To be continued...

Engraving by Thomas Pennant showing Carmarthen Castle above the River Towy and the Old Bridge (1781). 

The Bell tower of St. Peters Church can be seen peeping over the castle wall towards the right. At bottom right can be seen the remains of the Priory. Later that same year these ancient buildings were demolished and the site cleared by Lord Cawdor to make way for his lead smelting works. Behind the Priory the faintly drawn but distinct profile of Merlins Hill, Bryn Myrddin appears, though it is not possible to view it so from this vantage point. Artistic licence is here at play with a nod to the Merlinic connection between the Priory and the Iron Age Hillfort.

Myrddin's Carmarthen

Landscape and river of Stonehenge

And the landscape and river at Carmarthen

St. Peters to Bryn Myrddin. Aug 12th Sunrise

Stonehenge to Woodhenge. August 1st Sunrise