Saturday, 23 December 2017

The Route of the 'Oldest Animals' in Culhwch and Olwen.

The Route of the 'Oldest Animals' in Culhwch and Olwen

Culhwch and Olwen contains a version of an 'International Popular Tale' known as 'The Oldest  Animals'. The gist of which (in the form we find it here) is that a group of heroes, upon a quest, visit a succession of animals each one older than the last until they come to the oldest animal of all who helps the heroes fulfill their quest. In this case it is to fulfill one of the demands of Ysbaddaden PenCawr that Culhwch, the eponymous hero of the tale, must find the great huntsman 'Mabon son of Modron, who was taken from his mother at three nights old. It is not known where he is, nor which he is, - either alive or dead.' (Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of this episode can be found below in Appendix three).

This version that we have from the Red Book of Hergest is remarkable in that the places upon the route are still, by and large, traceable. Three are as certain as can be, they are Caerloyw - Gloucester, Cwm Cawlwyd - Llyn Cowlyd in Gwynedd and Gwernabwy - Bodernabwy on the Llyn peninsula. There are at least two possible sites for Cilgwri, and Rhedynfre may also be one of two sites, but in each case there are reasons to prefer the Wirral for Cilgwri and Farndon in Cheshire for Rhedynfre. Llyn Llyw has evaded many attempts at identification, however I feel confident that this must be the river lake known as Whirls End near Beachley in the Severn Estuary.


The places visited by Arthur's men in their search for the 'exalted' prisoner Mabon son of Modron.

The route begins at Caerloyw, after the freeing of Eidoel son of Aer from Gliwi's prison, and ends at Caerloyw with the freeing of Mabon son of Modron. A round trip indeed. 

Arthur said, "Which of these marvels will it be best for us to seek first?"

"It will be best," said they, "to seek Mabon the son of Modron; and he will not be found unless we first find Eidoel, the son of Aer, his kinsman." Then Arthur rose up, and the warriors of the Islands of Britain with him, to seek for Eidoel; and they proceeded until they came before the Castle of Glivi, where Eidoel was imprisoned. Glivi stood on the summit of his castle, and he said, "Arthur, what requirest thou of me, since nothing remains to me in this fortress, and I have neither joy nor pleasure in it; neither wheat nor oats? Seek not therefore to do me harm."


Said Arthur, "Not to injure thee came I hither, but to seek for the prisoner that is with thee."

"I will give thee my prisoner, though I had not thought to give him up to any one; and therewith shalt thou have my support and my aid."


Suffice it to say, for now, that Glivi is a form of Gloyw, the eponym of Gloucester, and that Eidoel mab Aer is a descendant of this Gloyw according to the genealogy of Gwrtheyrn as recorded in the Historia Brittonum. Until very recently I was quite puzzled by the line: 'Glivi stood on the summit of his castle'. However, I now believe I have solved this troubling problem but this is something I want to return to when I come to discuss the final part of the 'Oldest Animals'episode, the 'Freeing of Mabon', which also occurs at  Gloucester and where my 'problem' and its solution will become apparent. What is clear is that what is meant by the 'Castle of Gliwi' is Gloucester or Caerloyw in Welsh and so this is the first stage on the route of the 'Oldest Animals'.

Arthur appointed Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages, Eidoel and Cai and Bedwyr to go on the quest. They first travelled on as far as the Ousel or Blackbird of Cilgwri (Mwyalch Cilgwri, cil - 'nook, corner, cell,' gwri - personal name. 'Gwri's cell'), There are two places today which are called Cilgwri; the Wirral = Welsh 'Cilgwri', (the name applies to the entire peninsula) and a farm between Bala and Corwen.


Cilgwri from Humphrey Lhwyds map of Wales, Cambriae Typus. (Compiled in 1568 and published in 1573).



The two Cilgwri sites. The Wirral Peninsula and Cilgwri Farm.

It is not clear whether either of the Cilgwri sites was in the mind of the author, there may well have been other places called Cilgwri now lost to us. Perhaps the Blackbird's mention of a 'smith's anvil', (see below) was originally meant as a clue to the actual site; each of the other animals in turn mentions something of their habitat which a contemporary audience may have been expected to recognise. However, there seems to be a general preference for the Wirral among commentators, (but I will return to this later). 

The Blackbird of Cilgwri has not heard of Mabon son of Modron but he thinks he knows someone who may have, "There is a race of Animals that God made before me. I will go there as your guide".1 he said, and so they came to where the Stag of Rhedynfre (carw redynvre) was. There are also two candidates for Rhedynfre, one is Dynfra Farm near Aberdaron at the western end of the Llyn peninsula; the other, suggested by Melville Richards, is the small town of Farndon in Cheshire. Rhedynfre means 'Fernhill' which was the likely Welsh name for Farndon = 'Fern-town'. It is close to the Wirral and for this geographical reason there seems to be a general scholarly preference for Cilgwri = Wirral and Rhedynfre = Farndon.


 From Cilgwri? to Rhedynfre.

The Stag of Rhedynfre has heard nothing of Mabon son of Modron, "who was taken at three nights old from his mother", even though he has witnessed an "oak sapling... that grew into an oak with a hundred branches, and that oak fell... and today there is nothing of it but a red stump." 


Holt Castle

The 'red stump' of Holt Castle is an 'artificially shaped boss' of red triassic sandstone (245 million years old). Up until the 14th century Farndon included the chapelry of Holt and it was really a single town straddling the river Dee, but part of the town was sometimes in England and part sometimes in Wales for the Dee is the fluctuating, hard fought over border around here. The castle was built by Edward I around 1282-3 but the site had long held strategic value, with its commanding position over the Dee crossing and there is evidence of occupation going back to the Bronze Age. I wonder if the author of Culhwch and Olwen was referring to this red stump when he wrote of the giant Oak "and today there is nothing of it but a red stump". I think this is highly likely to be true, it's certainly possible that before this striking landscape feature was quarried, (for the stone which went to make the castle) its shape was very different. Did it once have the appearance of the stump of a giant oak tree? If this is true it suggests that the author of Culhwch had this precise location in mind as the home of the Stag of Rhedynfre.


Farndon & Holt Castle.

Actually, I think it is far more likely that he had in mind the 'fern hill' (rhedynfre) across the river in Farndon which is now crowned by the parish church of St. Chad, (there has been a church here since before Domesday). This elevated, advantageous point is surrounded by the vast flood plain of the Dee in all directions, remembering that the author of Culhwch has the stag say "there was a plain all around me, without any trees save one oak sapling...and today there is nothing of it but a red stump"At under seven hundred metres away, the twelve metre high, strikingly red, sandstone stump upon which, (and out of which) Holt Castle was built is easily visible from here, or was - as another church dedicated to St. Chad was erected in Holt, also in the 1280's, directly on the line of sight between 'Fern Hill' and the red sandstone stump, thus obscuring the view. It should be noted, then, that what we have here is an accurate visual description, first hand knowledge, of the view from Rhedynfre of this prominent red sandstone boss, in its setting of a wide plain, as it was before the construction of both the castle and the church of St. Chad in Holt.




The Stag said, "When I first came hither, there was a plain all around me, without any trees save one oak sapling, which grew up to be an oak with an hundred branches. And that oak has since perished, so that now nothing remains of it but the withered stump".



The octagonal font of St. Chad's in Holt is adorned with a stags head looking west towards the Owl of Cwm Cowlydd.


Llyn Cowlydd.

But the Stag of Rhedynfre does know of  an animal that God made before him and so, with his help, Arthur's men 'proceeded to the place where was the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd'.3 It is as certain as it may be that Cwm Kawlwyt, (the valley of Grey Caw) is the steep sided valley of Llyn Cowlyd, now a reservoir dammed at the north-eastern end. Though small, Llyn Cowlyd is the deepest lake in North Wales being presently 45 feet above it's natural level and so originally the lake was quite a bit smaller. It is probable that the slopes of the coombe were deforested in the later medieval period. 

The Stag of Rhedynfre and Arthur's men would naturally arrive at the north eastern end of Cwm Cowlyd. The text doesn't supply a specific site, so I'm guessing the Owl's home was on the warmer northern side of the lake, where the slopes are gentler than they are on the precipitous, rockier southern side, and where an ancient native oak forest, of the type still found in Gwynedd, would have more readily taken hold. It seems likely that the author of Culhwch had in mind a tawny owl as oak woodland is their preferred habitat. Also the tawny owl is most often associated with human speech as it is the male and female pair who call to one another whilst hunting: 'towhit' says the female, 'towhoo' answers the male.

Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages enquires of the cuan cwm kawlwyt as to the whereabouts of Mabon son of Modron, to which the owl replies:
'If I knew it, I would tell it. When I first came here, the great combe that you see was a wooded glen, and a race of men came to it and it was laid waste, and a second wood grew in it, and this is the third wood. As for me, the roots of my feathers are but nibs. From then until today I heard nothing of the man you ask about. I, however, will be a guide to messengers of Arthur, until you come to where there is the oldest animal in this world, and he travels the most - the Eagle of Gwernabwy'.

Bodernabwy just north of Aberdaron.

Gwernabwy, (gwern - 'alder' usually, sometimes 'swamp' + abwy - carrion, carcase) is an attested personal name and is considered by most authorities to be a reference to Bodernabwy = 'the abode or dwelling of Gwernabwy' which is the name of a small farm near Aberdaron (known in Wales as Pendraw'r Byd - 'the far end of the world'at the extreme western end of the Llyn peninsula. This is really close to Dynfra Farm, one of the possible Rhedynfre sites, just over a mile and half away to the north. This proximity has prompted some literary critics, (and I agree with them) to reject Dynfra Farm as the author's intended site for Rhedynfre because of the narrative untidiness it causes; why, if Dynfra Farm = Rhedynfre, would the Stag direct Arthur's men to the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd, 40 miles away, when the Eagle of Gwernabwy lived next door? Admittedly, there may be some comedy value there, it wouldn't be out of tune with the rest of the tale of Culhwch and Olwen, however...


Cilgwri-Rhedynfre-Cwm Cawlwyd-Gwernabwy

Thus far then, this stately progression of Arthur's men and the increasingly older animals, from the Wirral across North Wales to the tip of the Llyn peninsula, has a narrative logic that would not have been lost on a native contemporary audience, and for this reason this is my preferred route. However, the uncertainty of the siting of Cilgwri in the Wirral still bothers me and the reason for this will become clear shortly.

So the Owl guides Arthur's men to the Eagle of Gwernabwy (eryr gwern abwy). Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages asks the Eagle if he knows the whereabouts of Mabon son of Modron, to which the Eagle replies:
'I came here a long time ago, and when I first came here I had a stone, and from its top I would peck at the stars each evening. Now it is but a hand's breadth in height'.

There is a well known red rock (maen goch) in Aberdaron just to the north of the Church of St. Hywyn, in Cae y Grogbren or Gallows Field from where summary justice was dispensed by the abbots of Bardsey Island during the medieval period,  The bodies of 'guilty' hanged men and women were thrown in to the nearby Pwll Ddiwaelod or Bottomless Pool, presumably this was at the confluence of the Afon Daron and the Afon Cill-y-Felin immediately below the rock, where a marshy pool forms. 

Might this red rock have been the Eagles stone, and could this 'bottomless pool' be the origin of the Eagles name: eryr - eagle, gwern - swamp + abwy - carcase = 'eagle of the swamp of the carcase'? This would not preclude Bodernabwy being imagined as the 'eerie of the Eagle of Gwernabwy'.



Aberdaron is certainly a place of extremes. Here, at The Far end of the World, dwells the Oldest animal - the Eagle of Gwernabwy - who once perched on a stone which reached the Stars, below which was the Bottomless Pool of the dead. He is also the Being who has traveled the furthest - even, it will turn out, as far as another Worlds End.

But that was in the past and now he is terribly old and throughout this vast period of time the Eagle has not heard of the man they seek. He is, however, acquainted with the Salmon of Llyn Llyw. He relates that once:
'I went to seek my food as far as Llyn Llyw, and when I came there I struck my claws into a salmon...but he dragged me into the depths, So that it was with difficulty that I escaped from him...I launched an attack against him to seek to destroy him...he sent messengers to reconcile with me, to remove fifty tridents from his back. If he does not know something of what you seek. I do not know anyone who might know it'.

From The Far End of the World to Whirls End

The Eagle of Gwernabwy and Arthur's men visit the Salmon of Llyn Llyw at 'the place where he was', which must mean Llyn Llyw, and it is implied that the lake (Llyn) is to be found in the Severn itself, in the Salmon's assertion that 'With each flood tide I come up along the river as far as the bend at the wall of Caerloyw'. This makes best sense if we envisage the conversation between the Eagle and the Salmon as actually occurring in the Severn. Indeed, one doesn't have to look further than the banks of the river to find a 'lake', as the Severn itself contains many pools and lakes, for example: Salmon Pool, Count Lake, Plython Lake and Oldbury Lake are all within 4 miles up river from Aber Gwy, as are the suggestive Sturch Pill and Pighole Pill (in regard to the Twrch Trwyth), both nearby inlets on the west bank of Severn. The description of Llyn Lliwan in the Mirabilia is also clear that the 'whirlpool' is actually in the River Severn at the place where the incoming tide (the Severn Bore) meets the river in full spate. The obvious site for Llyn Llyw then is the river lake precisely at this point on the estuary known as Whirls End, itself an obvious pun on 'Worlds End'.4

Regarding the 'Whirlpool' Whirl's End, an old sea dog friend of mine, (Mr Jimmy Pennel) explained how ships and barges, heading for the busy port of Gloucester would ride up the Severn Estuary on the incoming tide and head for Whirl's End, where the rudder was applied full lock. The west bank is dominated by the Slime Road, a fast moving torrent, the east bank is treacherously rocky and the way ahead is impeded by the shallows created by the Oldbury Sandbank. So vessels would stop and turn full circle here, waiting for the rising tide to take them over the shallows, and this clinches it because 'Llyw' = Rudder, 'Llyn Llyw' = The Lake of the Rudder. One can imagine several vessels at a time turning in a tight circle in the middle of the estuary, waiting for the right moment when their hulls would be clear of the riverbed. Therefore it is easy to imagine how this must have appeared from the banks of the Severn and to see how a legend of a whirlpool came to be attached to this place. This is also the point on the estuary, because of the dramatic narrowing and the sudden encounter with the sandbanks, part of the famous 'funnelling' effect, where the Severn Bore suddenly gains height and becomes very noticeable. So again, it is easy to see how the legend of a giant salmon, (whose imagined movement through the water creates the wave) became attached to this place. It also suggests that 'surfing the bore' may not be such a recent pastime as you might think as Gwrhyr, Cai and Bedwyr all ride the wave.

It is not Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages who addresses the Salmon of Llyn Llyw but the Eagle of Gwernabwy himself, the 'oldest animal in this world', ('and he travels the most') The Salmon of Llyn Llyw is therefore the Wisest Animal in the World and he it is who knows the whereabouts of Mabon son of Modron.. Says the Salmon:

'As much as I know, I will tell. With each flood tide I come up along the river as far as the bend at the wall of Caerloyw, and there I found such misfortune as I have never found in my life. And so that you may believe it, let one of you come here on my two shoulders'.

Severn Bore at Hempsted, Gloucester. Several men riding the shoulders of the gigantic Salmon of Llyn Llyw... © Copyright Brian Robert Marshall and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

So Cai and Gwrhyr travelled on the two shoulders of the Salmon until they came to where the prisoner was and 'they could hear lamenting and groaning on the other side of the wall from them'. Gwrhyr said, 'What man is lamenting in this house of stone?' to which the answer is 'Mabon son of Modron is here in prison' and 'As much as may be got of me will be got by fighting.' So they returned to Arthur who summoned the warriors of Britain:
'and went to Caerloyw where Mabon was in prison. Cai and Bedwyr went on the two shoulders of the fish. While Arthur's warriors were fighting at the fort, Cai broke through the wall and took the prisoner on his back...Arthur came home and Mabon with him, free.

Did the author of Culhwch have an actual site in mind for this prison, or did he only have a vague idea? On the face of it there is quite a bit here which might enable an identification of the specific site of the prison of Mabon, and by implication the prison of Eidoel mab Aer: We know it can be reached by riding the Severn bore as far as 'the bend at the wall of Caerloyw'. Though, surely, what is meant here is 'the bend in the river at the wall of Caerloyw'. Gwrhyr refers to Mabons prison as a 'house of stone'. And earlier during the freeing of Eidoel at the Castle of Glivi, that is to say Gloucester Castle, Glivi is described as standing on the summit of his castle. Is, or was there such a site as a prison/castle or house of stone on a summit on a bend in the Severn at Caerloyw? There are a few considerations to make, but I hope to show that the author of Culhwch and Olwen was almost certainly referring to one site only, and it was probably built during his lifetime.

Caerloyw: (Welsh Caer = 'fort’ + British personal name Gloyw = ‘bright') is the Welsh name for the city of Gloucester. In Welsh tradition, Gloyw is derived from the semi-legendary figure Gloyw Wallt Hir = 'Gloiu of the Long-hair' the supposed British founder of the city. (Historia Brittonum). The first known occupied site at Gloucester was the Claudian Roman fort built to command the Severn crossing in 49 A.D. at what is now Kingsholm in the north of the city. Some twenty years later a much larger fortress was built about a third of a mile to the south on slightly higher ground, but still close to the river and known as Glevensis or Glevum which in 97 A.D. became the Colonia Nervia Glevensium. As was usual the fortress attracted a great number of native merchants and craftsmen and sizeable settlements grew up around the approaches to the entrances to the fortress. The first fort early fell in to disuse but parts of the walls of Glevum were still standing, close by the great horseshoe bend in the Severn, according to John Speeds map of 1612. This situation might have been what the author was referring to.



There is a another possible early fort, also on a bend in the River, at Gloucester to consider. This is the putative Roman fort in the parish of Hempsted, just under a mile south of Glevum. It has been argued that 'Hempsted Camp' is, in all likelihood, the remains of a Roman camp built on an earlier Iron Age site. According to the Archaeological Handbook of the County of Gloucester by George Witts:
'It lies on the brow of the hill, a little to the north of the church, one mile south-west of Gloucester... the late Rev. Samuel Lysons was of opinion that it corresponded with the most perfect form of Roman camp. He says:— "Its form was oblong, 260 yards long by 113 wide, divided into two parts, the upper and lower; the vallum, fossa, and agger must have been of considerable height and depth. There were four gates; one of these led down to the Severn, and the road is still traceable."

However recent archaeological work at the site has not found the evidence to support this theory and it is now thought doubtful that there was ever a fort here and so it would seem unlikely that Culhwch's author had this site in mind.


However, the site now occupied by Gloucester Prison, (the orange shape, top centre of the map) is of  the greatest interest. It hid in plain sight from me for a long time because at first I'd considered it a modern building which it is, relatively speaking. In fact there has been a prison here far longer than the present building has stood, and in several incarnations. The first of which I now know to be a motte and bailey castle erected soon after the Norman conquest and before 1100.

Towards the end of the 11th century, then, a motte & bailey castle was erected at this south western corner of the old Roman city of Glevum at what is now known as Barbican Hill. This castle probably replaced an earlier Norman timber fortification which was sited close by, but inside the old city walls. The new motte was crowned by a stone building and William I held court here and in 1085 at a Great Council meeting commissioned the Domesday Book, (could this somehow be connected to Glivi's complaint that he 'has neither wheat nor oats'?). The Castle was in the hands of the county sheriffs of Gloucester from the start and it seems likely that part of the castle was a prison from it's earliest period and by the mid 12th century it was almost certainly the official county jail.

There can be very little doubt that this must be the building which is being described in Culhwch and Olwen. In the first instance at the freeing of Eiddoel fab Aer where Glivi is described as being on 'the summit of his castle'; surely only a motte and bailey castle can be described as having a summit. In the second instance during the freeing of Mabon fab Modron these further details are provided; it is a prison/castle or house of stone on a bend in the Severn at the wall of Caerloyw. This is an exact and comprehensive description of Gloucester Castle at the end of the 11th century

This once more proves that the sites on the route of the Oldest Animals were neither 'remote or not certainly identifiable'. It clearly emphasises that the author of Culhwch had a very precise 'notion as to the location' of these sites.



The Shape of the Route


As incredible as it may seem, five out of six of the stages on the route in the quest for Mabon son of Modron appear to mark out a circle with a diameter of 122 miles with a high degree of precision. 


The centre of the circle falls just to the west of Rhayader, the distances from here to each of the sites visited by Arthur's men, (not including Cilgwri) is 61 miles.



Midsummer sunset towards Bodernabwy from the centre


Mid-Winter sunrise towards Llyn Llyw from the centre. 

The eagle has always been a symbol for the Sun, and so I wasn't surprised to find that the line from the centre of the circle to Bodernabwy, the 'dwelling place' of the Eagle of Gwernabwy at 'the far end of the World', is precisely aligned on mid-Summer sunset. This is the farthest North that the Sun appears to travel throughout the year; so it is no coincidence that the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd says of the Eagle of Gwernabwy that he is 'the oldest animal in this world, and he travels the most...' 122 miles in this case, from Worlds End to Whirls End.

The Blackbird of Cilgwri

Cilgwri is the obvious odd man out, and I suggest that  either we may have lost the originally intended Cilgwri which would have been somewhere on the arc between Caerloyw and Rhedynfre, or one or other of the existing Cilgwri's is the intended site, (both sites have their merits) and the author of Culhwch had an other, more subtle intention. 

All of the other sites along the route can be pretty much pinpointed (literally) and so it would seem to go against the grain that the author equated the entire Wirral Peninsula with the home of the Blackbird rather than some specific place.There are variations as to the whereabouts of the Blackbird in later Welsh Poetic and Triadic sources. In the triad, Tri Hynaif Byd, 'The Three Elders of the World', the Oldest Animals are the three birds, the blackbird, the owl and the eagle but the blackbird is now the Mwyalchen Gelli Gadarn, 'the Blackbird of the Mighty Grove' or, less romantically, 'of the Great Copse'. Elsewhere the blackbird is described as dwelling in a 'green copse' and also a 'deep copse' all hinting, perhaps, at a specific place as if it might be known to the audience. Indeed, these may all be 'epithets' for the Wirral, which was until the 14th century, entirely forested. There are paralells to a similar quest motif being undertaken by one of Arthur's knights and located specifically in the Wirral in the middle English poem 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'. The hero of the poem, Gawain, traverses the forested 'wilderness of the Wirral' (Cilgwri) enquiring, as he goes, as to the whereabouts of the mysterious 'Green Chapel', home of the Green Knight, just as Arthur's men may have traversed the 'deep copse' of Cilgwri to enquire of Mabon son of Modron.

I alluded earlier to the words of the blackbird spoken to Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages, 'When I first came here, there was a smith's anvil here, and I was a young bird. No work was done upon it except while my beak was on it each evening. Today there is not so much as a nut worn away'.2  There may well be some forgotten idiomatic allusion in this statement which may have specifically identified an actual site, (perhaps associated with a mythical smith in Cilgwri/Wirral) to a contemporary learned Welsh ear.

Whether this is true or not, it is worth mentioning that in this the first episode, where the Blackbird of Cilgwri guides Arthur's men to the Stag of Rhedynfre, the easiest route from the Wirral to Rhedynfre is to follow the River Dee, the border of North Wales, until they arrive at Rhedynfre. Compare this to the final episode, where the Salmon of Llyn Lliw guides Arthur's men to Mabon, they follow the River Severn, the border of South Wales until they arrive at the 'fort in the bend of the wall' at Caer Gloyw. These bookend episodes could have been intended as mirror images, emphasising the borders of Wales.

These are the best arguments I can muster in support of Cilgwri = Wirral. I will bring counter arguments shortly.



The Route of the Oldest animals in Culhwch and Olwen, according to Bromwich and Evans, Idris Foster, Melville Richards, D Machreth Ellis, J Lloyd Jones, Rhys et al.

First, I want to emphasise just how incredibly ordered the rest of the route of the 'Oldest Animals', as we have it in Culhwch ac Olwen, actually is. Starting with 1 Caer Loyw then 3 Rhedynfre, 4 Cwm Cowlydd, 5 Gwernabwy, 6 Llyn Lliw and finally back to 7 Caer Loyw. Each of these sequential sites are 61 miles from a common centre. This is an astounding fact. And this presents a direct challenge to the accepted wisdom that:

'It is highly doubtful whether the redactor of Culhwch had any but an an indistinct notion as to the location of the places with which the 'Oldest Animals' were associated'. (Bromwich and Evans).

A comparison with a well known variant recorded by Thomas Williams (or Wiliems) of Trefriw in 1594 is instructive. Remarkably, the tale includes all the 'Oldest Animals' as found in Culhwch, and a further ancient figure in the form of  The Toad of Cors Fochno, (discussed below).  This story takes an entirely different form from that found in Culhwch and Olwen though, moreover, the order in which we meet the animals is also very different. To Illustrate this here are the bare bones:

After a long marriage the Eagle of Gwernabwy’s  wife  had died and now he was alone. So he thought to marry the Owl of Cwm Cowlwyd, but he would only marry her if she was at least as old as he was. To find out how old she is, he decides to visit the really old Stag of Rhedynfre , who does not know the age of the Owl, so he sends him to someone older than him, the Salmon of Glyn Llifon. The Salmon, however old he is, knows not the age of the Owl so he sends him to the very, very old Blackbird of Cilgwri. The Blackbird does not know how old the Owl is, and so sends him to the ancient Toad of Cors Fochno. And it is the Toad who confirms that the Owl is the oldest of all. The Eagle could now marry the Owl.


The Route of the Eagle to the Owl according to Thomas Wiliems.

The route followed by the Eagle of Gwernabwy to the Owl of Cwm Cowlydd in this later tradition makes very little sense, if any. Despite the fact that five of the animals homes are the same as in Culhwch, (therefore marking out the same 122 mile diameter circle) the trajectory looks like a child's angry scribble... as if some crucial understanding has been lost. The trajectory of the story in Culhwch, on the other hand, is serene, ordered and almost a complete running sequence.

However true this is, this nagging sense of incompleteness stems from two observations: 1. Only just over half of a circle has been described and 2. The awkward siting of Cilgwri in The Wirral. I want to address this second issue next.

Only Cilgwri, the first place visited by Arthur's men, does not fall on a circle marked out by the other places en route to Mabon son of Modron, it is the only place out of sequence and it is the only named place which does not occupy a specific site. It clearly breaks the pattern set by the other places as they occur in Culhwch. I earlier considered the uncertainty attached to the whereabouts of Cilgwri, and reluctantly accepted that The Wirral was the most likely 'site' (intended by Culhwch's author), due to its proximity to Rhedynfre/Farndon, and to their mutual connection to the River Dee. Of the farm near Corwen called Cilgwri, not much can be said except that it has the name Cilgwri, it is also near the River Dee, (one and half miles away) and it is not too far distant from Rhedynfre/Farndon, (twenty five miles). But, as Bromwich and Evans point out both sites are 'incapable of final proof'. And so, in view of this uncertainty, it is worth considering an alternative line of enquiry which is provided by the evidence contained within the route itself. To put it another way, if the evidence for Cilgwri = Wirral, or Cilgwri = Farm near Corwen didn't exist, where, even if you were unaware the routes circularity, would you look for the Blackbird of Cilgwri? Could it be that in the original survey, (because at some level that is what this appears to be) there was a place called Cilgwri somewhere in the English midlands, on the arc between Caer Loyw/Gloucester and Rhedynfre/Farndon?

The idea of looking for a candidate for a Cilgwri in this area is fraught with drawbacks, for one, a great swathe of this arc is now Stourbridge, Dudley and Wolverhampton modern, built up areas, whereas our site would necessarily have to be an ancient site. For another, very few British place-names have survived in this part of England (several hill ranges and rivers are noted exceptions). So the chances of finding a place with a name even remotely like Cilgwri in this area are near zero. The only clues available, if the other five sites are anything to go by, is that it would be 61 miles from their common centre. Perhaps it would be equidistant from Caer Loyw and Rhedynfre, or at least a sensible distance from either?

Well I had a look, in fact I have scoured this entire line between Caer Loyw and Rhedynfre in Google Earth, and, amazingly, I have found one place which ticks several boxes: It is 61 miles from the centre. It is ancient. It is a sensible distance from it's neighbours. It has a 'deep copse'. It even has a name a bit like Cilgwri, though this is probably due to chance. In the Domesday book this place is named as Cillintone and is today known as Chillington Hall (The ancestral home of the Giffards since the 12th C.). Cillintone is also reminiscent of Gelli Gadarn (Y Celli - grove becomes Gelli-, common in Welsh place-names) the home of the Mwyalchen (Blackbird) in Triad 92: The Three Elders of the World:

The Owl of Cwm Cowlwyd,
the Eagle of Gwernabwy,
and the Blackbird of Celli Gadarn.

The grounds of Chillington Hall contain a forest known as Big Wood and this is actually a fair translation of Gelli Gadarn, (Mighty Grove or Great Copse). There are, however, no associated tales of ancient blackbirds or ousels as far as I know.  


Cilgwri ?

Curiously, Chillington has a tree lined avenue which appears to be a continuation of the line to the centre of the circular route of the other five 'Oldest Animal' sites. Looking along this 'Avenue' toward the north-east one could witness Sunrise on May 1st, the birthday of Gwri of the Golden Hair in the First Branch of the Mabinogi. Unfortunately, it appears that the avenue was only 'lately made by Peter Gifford' in 1727. What are the chances of that? (In about 1725, Peter Giffard planted the long avenue of oak trees which formed the original approach to the house, but he probably incorporated many existing trees).  The village of Chillington was largely swept away by Capability Brown, and all that remains is an unmetalled lane known as Chillington Street and two timbered and thatched cottages. 


Sunrise. May 1st. Chillington.


I am not saying that this was the original Cilgwri, only that it could have been. However, if this single, simple, logical change is made to the existing 'accepted', route then something spectacular happens and the contrast with that route recorded by Thomas Wiliems of Trefriw in 1594 could not be more stark. It  seems obvious to me that this amendment to the siting of Cilgwri at least lays bare the scope of the technical achievement of some (unknown?) cartographic story-telling genius of eleventh century Wales. 

But 500 years later, by the time this tale had reached the ears of Thomas Williams of Trefriw, (who lived just three miles from 'Cwm Cowlwyd') the tune, as it were, held all the right notes but not now necessarily in the right order. He did, however provide us with the name of another 'Oldest Animal', not present in Culhwch and Olwen, the Toad of Cors Fochno.

The Toad of Cors Fochno



Borth Bog/Cors Fochno.

Cors Fochno or Borth Bog is a raised peat mire near the village of Borth in Ceredigion, it is a World Heritage Site. It is ancient, its peat contains the remains of a forest 5,000 years old. And it is the home of the ancient, some say giant Toad who was visited by the Eagle of Gwernabwy on his way to marry the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd, according to a 16th C. Welsh folk tale.


But the Toad of Cors Fochno also squats like a marker, exactly on the line between Bodernabwy and the centre of the 11th C. route of the 'Oldest Animals' in Culhwch and Olwen.


Bodernabwy, (now a grade II listed building). The front door of the  'Dwelling place of the Eagle of Gwernabwy' is precisely 61 miles from the mean centre of the route of the 'Oldest Animals'.



The Eagle of Gwernabwy could have homed in on the Giant Toad of Cors Fochno with the precision of a guided missile on his way to the Salmon of Llyn Llyw. The red line to the west points due North/South. The red line in the upper right of the map radiates from the mean centre of the places on the route of the 'Oldest Animals' in Culhwch and Olwen, and terminates at the front gate of Bodernabwy.  It is an independent confirmation of the centre of the circle marked out by the 'Oldest Animals' in Culhwch and Olwen.


It is also an alignment in precise agreement with midsummer sunset. Looking across Cors Fochno towards Mid-Summer sunset and the front door of the dwelling place of the Eagle of Gwernabwy.


Furthermore, the base of the triangle, (the south eastern edge of the triangle of Borth Bog) is aligned perfectly with sunrise May 1st, Gwri's Birthday. So The Eagle of Gwernabwy, with Arthur's men in tow, could also have visited the Toad of Cors Fochno on his way to the Salmon of Llyn Llyw in search of Mabon son of Modron.








This, I believe, is now the most accurate map in existence of the Route of the 'Oldest Animals' as found in Culhwch and Olwen. It also shows that the Toad of Cors Fochno was either intended as part of an earlier scheme and has fallen out the W and R redactions, or it was added to the list of the 'Oldest Animals' (as found in Wiliems et al) at a later unknown date by persons unknown. But who  were aware of the circularity of the scheme as found in Culhwch. Personally, I would favour the first option. However, either solution does not alter the fact that the circularity of the route and the appearance of the animals in sequence around that route must be the result of a deliberate act.  

I don't think it is possible to argue that all of this could have happened by chance.





Part Two: Full Circle ?

I want to address now, that other nagging issue mentioned earlier, the incompleteness of the circle. 

A recent correspondent Mr Steven Higgins commented, "What I especially like about your great circle is that the Eagle of Gwernabwy flies 180 degrees from Gwernabwy to Gloucester", reminding him of Lleu's travels of 'nine score attributes' in the guise of an eagle in Math vab Mathonwy. (but see my post 'The 'Death' of Lleu Llaw Gyffes'). He makes another interesting comment, could it be that our "storyteller, knew even longer sequences of the Oldest Animals? Could it be that the irregular spacing of the locations could be accounted for by the simple argument that originally there were several more 'Oldest Animals... the sequence of animals frequently reaches at least nine”.

I replied that

'...if this was the case in Culhwch we should expect to find their locations in the south and southwest of Wales where the circle arcs first through Dinas Cross, then the Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire border on the coast near Amroth, then along the coast between Rhossili and Port Eynon on the Gower, and then on through the Vale of Glamorgan before finally reaching Llyn Lliw. It would be interesting to know if there are any Animal 'folktales' associated with these places. The large gap between Caer Loyw and Rhedynfre could be explained by the fact that this part of the circle is entirely in England'. (This was before I had located Cilgwri at Chillington).  

Another correspondent, Mr James Dunkley then supplied the following:

'Dinas Island was known as Ynys Fach Llyffan Gawr - Llyffan being Welsh for Toad. There is some curious folklore about toads attached to the area. Curious also that other versions of the Oldest Animals do make reference to a toad, which of course does not form part of the sequence in Culhwch....'

Again, this was before I realised that Cors Fochno is actually an integral part of the Culhwch route. However, the alternative Toad of Dinas Island demanded scrutiny. Here's what I found:

Instead of visiting the Toad of Cors Fochno, the Eagle of Gwernabwy could have, with equally devastating accuracy, crossed Cardigan Bay and homed in on Ynys Dinas or Dinas Island, ‘so called because it is almost an island separated from the mainland by a deep glacial meltwater channel, the narrow valley once known as Ynys Fach Llyffan Gawr’. Or, (perhaps) the 'Little Island of the Giant Toad'. It is precisely 61 miles from the centre of the 'Oldest Animals' route.



Ynys Fach Llyffan Fawr

Actually the accepted etymology is as follows: “the Ynys Fach of Llyffan the Giant” (Llyffan = man’s name) + soft mutation + (cawr = giant). Ynys Fach = ‘little island’ (ynys = island) + soft mutation + (bach = little). Peniarth MS.118 contains a number of giant tales in which Gwalchmai, (Arthur’s nephew) slays three witches. The witches were the wives of the three giants, Hywel Gawr, Pyscoc Gawr and Llyffan Gawr. And all this would tend to support Llyffan Gawr = Llyffan the Giant rather than Llyffan Gawr = the Giant Toad. However, this area is steeped in tales of toads.

Gerald of Wales told the following weird story of a young man named "Seisyll Esgairhir, (Longshanks), in his Itinerarium Cambriae or Journey through Wales (1191):

'In our own days a young man who lived in this neighbourhood, who was lying ill in bed, was persecuted by a plague of toads.  It seemed as if the entire local population of toads had made an agreement to go to visit him.  Vast numbers were killed by his friends and by those looking after him, but they grew again like the heads of the Hydra.  Toads came flocking from all directions, more and more of them, until no one could count them.  In the end the young man’s friends and the other people who were trying to help were quite worn out.  They chose a tall tree, cut off all its branches and removed all its leaves.  Then they hoisted him up to the top in a bag.  He was still not safe from his venomous assailants.  The toads crawled up the tree looking for him.  They killed him and ate him right up, leaving nothing but his skeleton'.

But again Frances Jones commented: ‘We are invited to believe that this episode occasioned the place-name, but it should be borne in mind that Llyffant occurs as a personal name in West Wales, e.g. the Cardiganshire giant called Llyffan, Slain by Gwalchmai…while the old name for Dinas Island, the headland across the water from Trellyffant, was Ynys fach Lyffan Gawr’. (From Llyfrgel Genedlaethol Cymru.  Frances Jones. Carmarthen. Lloyd of Hendre and Cwmgloyn. National Library of Wales Journal. Vol XXIII).

The tale is associated with the nearby Trellyfeint Farmhouse, Trellyffeint = ‘Toads Hall’ or ‘Toad Town’, and Jones goes on to tell of a strange sculpture of a toad which used to reside there: ‘The toad in question is carved in a dark-green marble, about as large as the palm of a woman's hand, and is reputed to be the work of an Italian artist'. He also provides the following:

a few words may be given to an interesting little relic which perpetuated the memory of the creatures who had proved so fatal to an earlier owner. The first known reference occurs in Fenton's Tour (1811), when he went to Trellyffant 'to see the figure of a toad, well-sculptured in black marble, which is introduced into a chimney-piece, and was formerly covered with glass to preserve it from any injury. It is said to have been brought from Italy, the work of a foreign artist… all I could learn was, that it had filled its present station for some centuries'. By the time we hear of it next, some half a century on, it had been moved to Cwmgloyn, and in Arch- aeologia Cambrensis, 1864, 310, we read, Trellyffaint In the parlour of the house, over the chimney-piece, in the centre of a pretty landscape of the place, painted on wood, was formerly a dark marble toad, said to be sent from Italy by Sir Richard Mason, Knight of the Green Cloth to James II, to his relatives at Trellyffaint in Pembrokeshire, who bore a toad for their crest’.




Near Trellyffaint or Toad Hall, is the Neolithic burial Chamber of Trellyfant It is around 6,000 years old. To the north of the main chamber is a small square feature - possibly another chamber. This would make Trellyfant a double chambered tomb .This neolithic monument is much older than the toad story by Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) in 1188 who believed that Trellyffant (‘Toad Hall’) was so-named because a chieftain buried inside the tomb had been devoured by toads'.



In view of all this ancient 'Toadiness' at 61 miles distant from the centre of the 'Oldest Animals' route, I think it is entirely justifiable to suspect that Ynys Fach Llyffan Gawr may once have formed part of an alternative (earlier?) 'route' of the Oldest Animals. 

If the Eagle of Gwernabwy did visit the Toad of Ynys Dinas he could have stuck to his circular trajectory, crossed Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen Bay and called in with the wise and ancient Dragon of Worm's Head, exactly 61 miles from the centre of the route of the 'Oldest Animals'.


The head of Worm's Head.

The name here comes from 'Würm' the Viking word for dragon and it is easy to see why, as the sinuous peninsula has all the appearance of a sleeping dragon. Traditional attributes of the dragon include both longevity and wisdom, as well as the gift of human speech... From the Dragon Of Worms Head the Eagle of Gwernabwy could swing across Swansea Bay and through the Vale of Glamorgan before alighting, exactly 61 miles from the centre of the route of the 'Oldest Animals', at Llancarfan monastery, perhaps seeking directions from an ancient, grizzled White Boar. 


The site of Llancarvan Monastery where 'the blessed man marked by the fixing of three twigs, the three stations of the boar; and he built in the first station a remarkable monastery'.

This from ‘The Life of Saint Cadog’ written  shortly before 1086 by Lifris of Llancarfan:

And Saint Cadoc rising early in the morning, saw that the rough and bushy places had, by the direction of God, been made level, as the angel had mentioned. Therefore the venerable man came by the angelic command to the aforesaid bush, in the middle of the cleared valley, and observed a remarkable great boar rising from the sound of his footsteps, and also a white swan flying away, being driven from its nest by fear. And the boar stopped its course not far from the aforesaid thicket, and looked back towards Saint Cadoc, as if pointing out the place: it then proceeded a little farther, and again for a little while stopped its progress. Then the blessed man marked by the fixing of three twigs, the three stations of the boar; and he built in the first station a remarkable monastery of wooden materials, in the second, a refectory and castle, and in the third, a dormitory.

St. Cadoc is usually depicted with a lance, sometimes with a deer, mouse or pig. (All of these animals helped the saint in his life. The name "Llancarvan" means "a deer church." Tradition tells us that two tame deer, harnessed to a carriage, helped St. Cadoc build the monastery. A mouse, during a famine, showed the monastery’s brethren an abandoned and very rich granary, and a white boar pointed out to the saint the spot where he was to build his monastery. (Paraphrasing Dmitry Lapa. In Venerable Cadoc, Abbot of Llancarfan in Wales).

Llancarfan then, is a veritable hotbed of 'Helpful Animals'. Indeed, it has often been noticed that the Vita Cadoci and Culhwch and Olwen are intricately linked texts. Both were probably composed in the early years of the 1080's.

'It is worth raising, at least, the question of direct influence between the two texts... they contain at times remarkably similar episodes, almost to the point that one seems to be a response to the other. The direction of this influence, if it exists, would be almost impossible to discern given the uncertain age of Culhwch ac Olwen and our still imperfect knowledge of manuscript circulation. Suffice it to say that they may be so linked... The south-Welsh setting of Culhwch, particularly during the hunt of Twrch Trwyth, does raise the interesting possibility of geographical proximity to Lifris’ assumed place of writing, St. Cadog’s cult centre Llancarfan'.

From: 'Does a comparison of Lifris’ Life of St Cadog and the prose tale How Culhwch won Olwen support Elissa Henken’s equation of mediaeval Welsh ideals of sainthood and heroism? 'Note 7. Though I couldn't find the author's name, the full quote from this excellent essay can be found here: http://www.undergraduatelibrary.org/system/files/12i.pdf




All the Way Round.



The Centre. 


I saved this 2006 satellite image of the centre of the circle quite recently from Google Earth. It appears to show that there might be a circular structure, perhaps a ditch and mound, (whether artificial or natural) about 60 yards in diameter and surrounding the centre of the Route of the Oldest Animals. If I were an archaeologist....

Over and above the fact that all of the stages on this extended route of the 'Oldest Animals' are converging incredibly close to 61 miles (the average distance comes out at 61.10666...miles) arranged around a common centre, (Cors Fochno being the single exception, but which points to it!) it is worth mentioning something regarding the distribution of these sites around this 122 mile wide circle. Even a cursory glance reveals a remarkable uniformity and this appears to be confirmed when the distances between each stage are measured. They are as follows:

Caer Loyw to Cilgwri = 55.12 miles
Cilgwri to Rhedynfre = 40.59 miles
Rhedynfre to Cwm Cowlydd = 42.84 miles
Cwm Cowlydd to Gwernabwy = 41.16 miles
Gwernabwy to Ynys Dinas = 55.12 miles
Ynys Dinas to Worms Head = 40.00 miles
Worms Head to Llancarfan = 42.80 miles
Llancarfan to Llyn Llyw = 34.30 miles
Llyn Llyw Caer Loyw = 23.38

More to come here...




A simple overlay demonstrates that the route is not aligned to the points of the compass.

Appendix One. The CO 'Oldest Animals' route compared to later routes.

(Incorporating my single amendment to the siting of Cilgwri). A comparison of the routes recorded in the 16th and 17th century demonstrates how the sequence was still changing even as late as this. It is only logical to assume that the much earlier CO route contains the most accurate sequence which in turn suggests that the carefully ordered route, as we find it there, was not the product of chance, unlike these later sequences, but was instead intentional, knowing and measured.


The route as recorded by Thomas Williems of Trefriew written about 1594-1596.

British Museum, Adittional MS. 31055




The route as recorded by William Bodwrda sometime between 1664 and 1660
Oxford, MS Bodley e 2.






The Route of the Oldest Animals in Culhwch and Olwen. Circa 1100, with the addition of the Toad of Cors Fochno.


Appendix Two. The 'Oldest Animals' route compared to 'the Journey of the Swine'.


The Route of the 'Oldest Animals' compared to the 'Journey of the Swine' reveals that two separate surveys, both undertaken with a high degree of precision, were carried out in Wales towards the end of the 11th century. If I were to make a guess I would say that the earlier of the two surveys was the 'Route of the Oldest Animals', as the 'Route of the Swine' displays more sophistication; the two arcs of the swine route describe circles of precisely equal circumference, whilst the connecting part of this route exactly bisects the northern circle. The Oldest animal route however covers a much larger area with a diameter of around a 120 miles compared to around the 75 miles of the Pig route diameters. Curiously, as F. J. North pointed out 75 miles equals 60 of Humphrey Lhuyd's miles, as shown by the scale on his map. And 60 miles ( not quite the radius of the Oldest Animal Route) was thought, in the medieval period, to represent the length of a Ptolemaic latitudinal degree. There are other points of contact, all of which have probably come about purely by chance, for instance, the line from the centre of the Animal route to Rhedynfre grazes both the centre of the Pig route system and Mochdre (between Ceri and Arwistli). That they are separate surveys, however, is evidenced by their having different centres, the Pig route centre being roughly 4.8 miles to the north east of the centre of the Animal route, and the impression I get is of two distinct undertakings separated by time but emanating from the same school of thought.


Appendix Three

The Quest for Mabon son of Modron. Translation by Lady Charlotte Guest.

Arthur said, "Which of these marvels will it be best for us to seek first?"

"It will be best," said they, "to seek Mabon the son of Modron; and he will not be found unless we first find Eidoel, the son of Aer, his kinsman." Then Arthur rose up, and the warriors of the Islands of Britain with him, to seek for Eidoel; and they proceeded until they came before the Castle of Glivi, where Eidoel was imprisoned. Glivi stood on the summit of his castle, and he said, "Arthur, what requirest thou of me, since nothing remains to me in this fortress, and I have neither joy nor pleasure in it; neither wheat nor oats? Seek not therefore to do me harm."
Said Arthur, "Not to injure thee came I hither, but to seek for the prisoner that is with thee."

"I will give thee my prisoner, though I had not thought to give him up to any one; and therewith shalt thou have my support and my aid."

His followers said unto Arthur, "Lord, go thou home, thou canst not proceed with thy host in quest of such small adventures as these."

Then said Arthur, "It were well for thee, Gwrhyr Gwalstawd Ieithoedd, to go upon this quest, for thou knowest all languages, and art familiar with those of the birds and the beasts. Thou, Eidoel, oughtest likewise to go with my men in search of thy cousin. And as for you, Kai and Bedwyr, I have hope of whatever adventure ye are in quest of, that ye will achieve it. Achieve ye this adventure for me."

They went forward until they came to the Ousel of Cilgwri. And Gwrhyr adjured her for the sake of Heaven, saying, "Tell me if thou knowest aught of Mabon the son of Modron, who was taken when three nights old from between his mother and the wall."

And the Ousel answered, "When I first came here, there was a smith's anvil in this place, and I was then a young bird; and from that time no work has been done upon it, save the pecking of my beak every evening, and now there is not so much as the size of a nut remaining thereof; yet the vengeance of Heaven be upon me, if during all that time I have ever heard of the man for whom you inquire. Nevertheless I will do that which is right, and that which it is fitting that I should do for an embassy from Arthur. There is a race of animals who were formed before me, and I will be your guide to them."

So they proceeded to the place where was the Stag of Redynvre. "Stag of Redynvre, behold we are come to thee, an embassy from Arthur, for we have not heard of any animal older than thou. Say, knowest thou aught of Mabon the son of Modron, who was taken from his mother when three nights old?"
The Stag said, "When I first came hither, there was a plain all around me, without any trees save one oak sapling, which grew up to be an oak with an hundred branches. And that oak has since perished, so that now nothing remains of it but the withered stump; and from that day to this I have been here, yet have I never heard of the man for whom you inquire. Nevertheless, being an embassy from Arthur, I will be your guide to the place where there is an animal which was formed before I was."

So they proceeded to the place where was the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd. "Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd, here is an embassy from Arthur; knowest thou aught of Mabon the son of Modron, who was taken after three nights from his mother?"

"If I knew I would tell you. When first I came hither, the wide valley you see was a wooded glen. And a race of men came and rooted it up. And there grew there a second wood; and this wood is the third. My wings, are they not withered stumps? Yet all this time, even until to-day, I have never heard of the man for whom you inquire. Nevertheless, I will be the guide of Arthur's embassy until you come to the place where is the oldest animal in this world, and the one that has travelled most, the Eagle of Gwern Abwy."

Gwrhyr said, "Eagle of Gwern Abwy, we have come to thee an embassy from Arthur, to ask thee if thou knowest aught of Mabon the son of Modron, who was taken from his mother when he was three nights old." The Eagle said, "I have been here for a great space of time, and when I first came hither there was a rock here, from the top of which I pecked at the stars every evening; and now it is not so much as a span high. From that day to this I have been here, and I have never heard of the man for whom you inquire, except once when I went in search of food as far as Llyn Llyw. And when I came there, I struck my talons into a salmon, thinking he would serve me as food for a long time. But he drew me into the deep, and I was scarcely able to escape from him. After that I went with my whole kindred to attack him, and to try to destroy him, but he sent messengers, and made peace with me; and came and besought me to take fifty fish spears out of his back. Unless he know something of him whom you seek, I cannot tell who may. However, I will guide you to the place where he is.

So they went thither; and the Eagle said, "Salmon of Llyn Llyw, I have come to thee with an embassy from Arthur, to ask thee if thou knowest aught concerning Mabon the son of Modron, who was taken away at three nights old from his mother."

"As much as I know I will tell thee. With every tide I go along the river upwards, until I come near to the walls of Gloucester, and there have I found such wrong as I never found elsewhere; and to the end that ye may give credence thereto, let one of you go thither upon each of my two shoulders." So Kai and Gwrhyr Gwalstawd Ieithoedd went upon the two shoulders of the salmon, and they proceeded until they came unto the wall of the prison, and they heard a great wailing and lamenting from the dungeon. Said Gwrhyr, "Who is it that laments in this house of stone?"

"Alas, there is reason enough for whoever is here to lament. It is Mabon the son of Modron who is here imprisoned; and no imprisonment was ever so grievous as mine, neither that of Lludd Llaw Ereint, nor that of Greid the son of Eri."

"Hast thou hope of being released for gold or for silver, or for any gifts of wealth, or through battle and fighting?"

"By fighting will whatever I may gain be obtained."

Then they went thence, and returned to Arthur, and they told him where Mabon the son of Modron was imprisoned. And Arthur summoned the warriors of the Island, and they journeyed as far as Gloucester, to the place where Mabon was in prison. Kai and Bedwyr went upon the shoulders of the fish, whilst the warriors of Arthur attacked the castle. And Kai broke through the wall into the dungeon, and brought away the prisoner upon his back, whilst the fight was going on between the warriors. And Arthur returned home, and Mabon with him at liberty.


Notes:

1. All Translations are from; The Companion Tales to the Mabinogi. Trans. J K. Bollard. Photography Anthony Griffiths. Gomer Press. Llandysul. 2007. Unless otherwise stated.
2. Lady Guest makes more sense of this: "When I first came here, there was a smith's anvil in this place, and I was then a young bird; and from that time no work has been done upon it, save the pecking of my beak every evening, and now there is not so much as the size of a nut remaining thereof".
3. Lady Guest's translation.
4. I've whipped most of this paragraph from my post 'Cacamwri, Osla Bigknife and Llyn Lliwan'.
5. You can find Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of Culhwch and Olwen here: 
http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/mab/mab16.htm There are others.

More to come here...












James Dunckley

1 year ago  -  Shared publicly
Dinas Island was known as Ynys Fach Llyffan Gawr - Llyffan being Welsh for Toad. There is some curious folklore about toads attached to the area. Curious also that other versions of the Oldest Animals do make reference to a toad, which of course does not form part of the sequence in Culhwch....
 
 · 
Reply

I just followed that line. Thank you so much Jim, final piece in the puzzle. The White Boar of Llancarfan would then be the next of the 'oldest animals'. I'll post a post as soon as I'm not busy otherwise. The Little Island of the Giant Toad has just blown me away. Thank you thank you.

I'm about to add what that looks like.












Einon ap Cadell

1 year ago  -  Shared publicly
You're more than welcome John. Was wondering where the boar would fit in too! It's a very common element in many of the sequences in the Irish tales also;)

Jim.