Saturday, 22 February 2014

Our house, Gwyddno Garanhir and the sunken land of Cantre'r Gwaelod

The sunken land of Cantre'r Gwaelod  . . . .

These 5,000-year-old trees have emerged on a beach in Mid Wales after peat was washed away during the recent storms

 HERE is a link to an article about how the recent storms have uncovered more of the Bronze Age forests off the Cardiganshire coast near Borth.

The oak and yew stumps were once part of a forest that covered the whole area before it turned into a peat bog and was eventually overwhelmed by water

Scientists knew the forest was there as stumps could sometimes be seen at low tide, but these new remains have appeared further north than the previous sightings
Amazing photographs, and many thanks to the Daily Mail online, from whence I have copied them.

The tale of Cantre'r Gwaelod (the "Lower Hundred") is an interesting and ancient one, possibly far older than it has been given credit for, given that this is a sunken Bronze Age Forest (e.g. around 5,000 years ago this sank beneath the waves), and indeed, the legend may well chronicle the rising sea levels following the final melting from the Ice Age which finally ended about 6,000 years ago.  Cantrer Gwaelod is the Welsh equivalent of Cornwall's Lyonesse going beneath the waves - our equivalent of Atlantis.

The first written record of this legend appeared in The Black Book of Carmarthen, which dates back to about 1250 and this stretch of the coastline (between Bardsey Island and Cardigan - basically, beneath what is now Cardigan Bay) was known as Maes Gwyddno (the Plain of Gwyddno). It extended some 20 miles from the present coastline.  It was apparently low-lieing land which was protected from the sea by a series of sluice gates and a dyke known as St Patrick's Causeway.  Its capital was Caer Gwyddno (the Fort of Gwyddno).  In the Black Book of Carmarthen legend, it is a well-maiden, Mererid, who neglects her duties and because of this the well overflows and floods the land.  In another version of the legend (the one I am familiar with), it is one of the two Princes of the realm (Seithenyn), well known for his drunken ways, who neglected to shut the floodgates and thus the land was inundated by the sea.  A very similar tale is told of low-lying land higher up in Wales, Llys Helig (from what I recall "Llys" is always connected with a - high status - court).  They both have the same link of the church bells being heard tolling when danger threatens. HERE  is a link to the Widipedia page on the subject.

 This ancient forest has been known about and monitored in the past, and storms have removed its preserving (anaerobic) bed of peat, but never to this level and this has now extended further north towards Llys Helig?.  Species of trees include Yew, Oak, and Pine and the recent discoveries, near to Ynyslas, were Oak and Pine trees.  More excitingly, stretches of a wattle trackway have also been discovered and will be subject to dating tests to establish in which period it was built.  HERE  is a link to the Daily Mail article with further photographs. HERE  is the BBC's take on this Legend.

There is some doubt as to whether Gwyddno Garanhir actually existed - or at least, in the land of Cantre'r Gwaelod.  Historians have placed him in Merionethshire.  Be that as it may, the basket of Gwyddno Garanhir was one of the Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain .  This is a variation on the Christian loaves and fishes, as food for one man would be placed in the hamper, yet when it was opened, it was found to contain enough food for 100 men.

Anyway, after his productive lands (one acre would produce the same food as 4 acres would elsewhere in the Welsh kingdoms) were beneath the sea, Gwyddno Garanhir had to seek his fortune elsewhere in the less productive areas of Wales.  His son, Elffin ap Gwyddno, was the foster father to Taliesin, who became one of the most famous of Welsh poets, who flourished in the 6th century.  His name, translated from the Welsh, means "shining brow". 

Now what, you may be asking, is the connection with our house?  Well, when we first moved here, and our children went to Mother and Toddler Group in Brechfa, the Vicar, now Canon Patrick Thomas wrote a paragraph in the parish magazine, something along the lines of welcoming us to the parish, and how amazed he was that we had come to live at Ynyswen, as the Lloyd family (I think it was) were descendents of Gwyddno Garanhir, of ancient days.  Gwyddno Garanhir's name may be translated thus: Gwyddno Long-Shanks;  Crane-Legs or, Tall-Crane.  Anyone who knows us by name, will instantly make the connection!  Perhaps we had returned home?!

Anyway, I am hoping that my husband and I will get a chance to visit Borth at low tide in the next week or so, weather permitting, and get some photos to share with you.


  1. Fascinating history Jennie, and so exciting this sunken 'lost land', loved reading that....

  2. Ah, I had a feeling you would be the first to comment Thelma. Glad you enjoyed the post. I shall have to look up low tide times . . .

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  4. The top photograph was in The Times earlier in the week BB - wonderful slice of history. I know the area around Borth quite well as we used to holiday around there - I love it. It is really too far to go now from North Yorkshire

  5. Oh My Goodness !
    What wonderful photos and history . I hope you get a chance to visit. I love the connection of home.

    cheers, parsnip

  6. I do hope you get down to see the exposed forest. What amazing photos and your account of the history was fascinating. Especially with the "connection"!

    I think the Well Maiden of Somerset must have been neglecting her duties of late......

  7. Fantastic post! I'd love to see this. How funny- I did a tree-related post this week too! :-)

  8. I hope you get to visit soon-it would be a real shame not to capture this on camera. I've seen it all over the news.
    I love the old names, translated they are great, and so beautiful in themselves.

  9. I saw the pictures in the press but not with the level of information you shared here. Thoroughly enjoyed this post BB.

  10. Hi Al - glad you enjoyed the post. I enjoyed researching it too!

    Suzie - waiting for the right tide times at present.

    C/Tales - I've been taking tree photos today too, so there is obviously a theme going!

    DW - it reminds me of the fossilized forest on the Dorset coast (just up from Durdle Door I think) only that's on a cliff top!

    Kimm parsnip and Kath - How I would love to go back in time and visit it how it used to be before the sea flooded it.

    Weaver - those photos must have brought back some happy memories for you. A shame that Wales is such a drive from Yorkshire.