The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Folklore Posts by GLADMAN

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Y Garnedd (Y Moelwynion) (Ring Cairn)

According to the "Mysterious Britain and Ireland" website Llyn Morwynion, overlooked by the fine ring cairn upon Y Garnedd:

" probably the lake where, according to the Mabinogion, Blodeuedd and her Maidens of Ardudwy drowned whilst fleeing from the wizard Gwydion and the men of Gwynedd."

The Table, Quiraing (Natural Rock Feature)

It's certainly not labouring the point to assert that fairies play a significant role in the myth, legend and folklore attributed to the wondrous Isle of Skye. From 'The Fairy Bridge' (on the approach to Waternish).. to Dunvegan's 'Fairy Flag'.. to the 'Fairy Pools' at the head of Glen Brittle.. to Uig's 'Fairy Glen', the wee folk appear to hold the island in their thrall, even in today's space age of digital communications. Neither must we forget supernatural creatures at the other end of the scale, such as The Old Man of Storr standing proud - if a little ragged these days - beneath The Storr (appropriately enough), summit peak of the Trotternish Ridge.

But what of The Quiraing, arguably the most 'other-worldly', bewitching landscape of shattered, Jurassic rock formations in the whole of the UK, forming the eastern flank of the otherwise ordinary Meall na Suiramach at the northern extremity of said ridge? Created by an immense landslip during time immemorial - and (apparently) still a work in progress upon Mother Nature's 'to do list' - this is a place to let your mind run riot, a secret rock garden of gigantic proportions... or a mountainous topography in miniature? Guess how you view it depends upon your point of view. Whatever, The Quiraing is just the locale to potentially spy all sorts of enchanted goings on.

Consequently, it comes as rather an ironic surprise, if not disappointment, to discover the paucity of such intriguing tales that still pervade the very essence of this island elsewhere. No giants, fairies, elves or goblins. However, all is not lost. Assuming cows dispensing UHT milk are your thing? If so, literary scholar/poet Nevil Warbrook relates the following (never underestimate the power of a milk-white cow, as they say):

"'Quiraing’, so I am informed by the owner of the Staffin Guesthouse, the one-time Staffin Inn that appears in volume one of Acts of the Servant... [by Sir Tamburlaine Bryce MacGregor], ... approximately translates as ‘Pillared Fortress’, which seems appropriate. Among the pillars are several with their own names, such as The Prison, a towering mass of stone evocative of a castle keep complete with turrets, and The Needle, a jagged one-hundred and twenty foot spire. At the centre of the Quiraing, and perhaps most extraordinary of all, is a steep-sided miniature plateau named The Table. Perfectly level and grass covered it was used once to hide cattle during clan wars and more recently has hosted games of Scottish hockey, or ‘shinty’. Winding between the pillars of rock are chasms filled with boulders and scree which make ascending into the Quiraing not for the faint-hearted.

The only tale I can find concerns a milk-white cow said to graze on the grassy Table at dawn on Mid-summer’s day and who would only yield milk to a virgin maiden over sixteen years of age.

Her milk was said to taste exactly as the drinker wished and never soured and for many decades the cow appeared once a year and was milked by the fairest virgin maiden of the surrounding parishes. It all ended badly when a tinker up from Glasgow heard the tale while selling his wares in Portree and lay in wait on Midsummer night to claim the milk for himself. After ravishing the maiden and leaving her for dead on the slopes, he disguised himself with a wig and climbed into the Quiraing. There he found the cow but as soon as he tried to milk her she caught him on her horns and tossed him into Staffin Bay where he drowned. The maiden recovered but the cow never appeared again. Exactly which year this was no one can say. In some accounts it was in the time of King James the First of Scotland and in others it was ‘before my father drew breath’ but all agree the tinker was a Glaswegian."

Moel y Llyn, Ceulanamaesmawr (Megalithic Cemetery)

Llyn Moel y Llyn - the hill's haunting upland tarn - is, it would appear, referenced in Caer Arglwyddes, 'The Lady's Field', sited below to the west. According to Dr Gwilym Morus: "I had a conversation with an old lady who’s father had been born at Cae’r Arglwyddes, and according to her the name of the farm refers to a ‘lady of the lake’ folktale about the small lake up on Moel-y-llyn".

So, yet another reason to visit this enigmatic northern outlier of Pumlumon crowned by a quartet of Bronze Age cairns....

Fron Goch Camp (Hillfort)

Dick the Fiddler's Money

The adventures of rakish Richard (a 'fiddler' in more ways than one, not to mention waste of space husband to his long suffering wife) featuring his dodgy bewitched seashell currency obtained whilst returning home from Darowen. The hamlet displayed some pseudo-political 'comment' of very dubious far left intellect in its windows at the time of my visit. Hence I did not attempt to engage any local, instead making straight for the excellent Fron Goch Camp rising above. Superb viewpoint, it has to be said.

Moel y Garnedd, Gwastadros (Cairn(s))

Bala Lake

Long, long ago, there was a fertile valley where now roll the waters of Bala Lake.

"At last he reached the top of a hill, some considerable distance 'from the palace".... Although the story isn't specific - mythical legends, eh? - I guess it's not utterly unreasonable to suppose Moel y Garnedd, overlooking Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake), may have been the inferred destination of the harper... being an old man and presumably not up to a trek up any mountain proper:

Dyffryn Mymbyr (Cairn(s))

More fairy capers involving the "Fair Family", this time concerning changelings at Dyffryn Mymbyr:

Yr Wyddfa (Cairn(s))

The Mantle of Kings' Beards:

An account of the titanic, legendary struggle between King Arthur and Rhitta Gawr. Needless to say Arthur emerged victorious - well he would, wouldn't he? - the story (arguably) lending credence to the theory that Yr Wyddfa Fawr (Snowdon) was once crowned by the premier Bronze Age cairn in all Wales:

"...And Rhitta gave up the ghost, and was buried on the top of the highest mountain of Eryri, and each of his soldiers placed a stone on his tomb. The place was afterwards known as Gwyddfa Rhitta, Rhitta's Barrow, but the English call it Snowdon."

Mynydd Pen-cyrn (Cairn(s))

Concerning one Ifan Sion Watkin - apparently once generally known as Ianto Coedcae - and his far out trip away with the fairies upon Mynydd Pen Cyrn. With "an abundance of strong ale and old mead to drink" one is tempted to hypothesise that the gentleman was pissed... however isn't it funny how such legendary antics find themselves associated with great Bronze Age sites?

Carnedd Lwyd, Tyrrau Mawr (Cadair Idris) (Cairn(s))

The Fairy Harp:

A reminder to visitors out and about in the environs of this fine mountain to keep an eye out; not just for his giant-ness, Mr Idris (shouldn't be too hard to spot, to be fair)... but also the diminutive fairies at the other end of the scale, which, according to local lore, used to do the rounds knocking on locals' doors. Suffice to say it would appear wise not to upset the little people. Good for your elf, one might conclude:

oh, and... The Man with the Green Weeds:

A cautionary tale for those intent upon venturing to the summit of Cadair Idris - yeah, Idris's Chair itself. You have been warned!

Mynydd Mawr (Round Cairn)

The Fairy Wife... apparently there were interesting goings on around Llyn y Dywarchen (the Lake of the Sod) back in the day:

Dinas Emrys (Hillfort)

Dimas Emrys... Why the Red Dragon is the Emblem of Wales... and why every proud Welshman/Welshwoman (not to mention Briton... or anyone else, for that matter) able to make a visit to this haunting site really should do so:

South Wales (Region)

Travelling upon the South Walian uplands can inspire... stimulate introspective analysis of what it really means to live in 21st Century Britain... or provide context for a pre-existing world view. Guess it is a personal journey which is nigh on impossible to relate to others with the necessary emphasis without sounding trite. Photography has been my chosen medium to make the attempt, for better or worse. However I wanted to share the Mam C's short verse, something which, in my opinion, transcends the perhaps not so 'all seeing' view of the optical lens:


For My Brother

The souls of the shoes
That have slipped here before
The cut of the water
Through hill side and more
The March of the winds
Up the blind alleys veil
The history that's shouting
"Do you understand now?"
Straight, solitary but never alone
The heaviest of platforms
That hide the blue bone
A continuum in the Crows
Defiant merry go round
Please understand this
It's our common ground.

Cairn Coinneachan (Cairn(s))

Further to Tiompan's fieldnotes, Canmore gives the following regarding the origin of the name of this cairn - which, translated, means 'Cairn of Kenneth', or 'Kenneth's Cairn'.....

'A very large barrow called Carn Chainichin, The Cairn of Kenneth. Chalmers (1887) links this tradition with 'Kenneth IV, King of Scotland' who was slain in battle in 1003 AD at Moigh-a-bhaird, now corrupted into Monivaird. Anderson gives the text of various Chronicles. It is clear that Chalmers statement is incorrect. No Kenneth IV is listed as King of Scotland and in fact Kenneth III reigned from AD 997-1005. There are inconsistencies in the accounts but Chalmers "Kenneth IV" is apparently Giric (called erroneously Grim) son of Kenneth III who was killed in Monzievaird between 997 and 1005. Anderson suggests that he ruled over some district under his father Kenneth. He was buried in Iona.

Statistical Account (OSA) 1793; A O Anderson 1922'

Yr Wyddfa (Cairn(s))

The highest summit in Wales is generally known as Snowdon, no doubt since it is often snow-clad during the winter months. In Welsh, however, it is known as Yr Wyddfa, which translates as 'the tomb'.... I've also heard it referred to as Yr Wyddfa Fawr, 'the great tomb', or 'burial place'. Legend has it that the summit cairn, at 3,560ft, marked the final resting place of Rhita Fawr, a war-like giant finally put in his place by none other than Arthur (yes, him again). Must have been a pretty big cairn to ostensibly cover a giant, one would have thought? More's the pity - nay, calamity - therefore, that it has been thoroughly decimated, not only by countless visitors to the summit, but by the construction of the railway and summit cafe, thus leaving Carnedd Llewleyn's monument as surely the highest surviving of it's type in Wales.

According to The Gwynedd Archaeological Trust (PRN13943) Yr Wyddfa's cairn is:

'A presumable Bronze Age funerary cairn located on the summit of the highest mountain in Wales. The original cairn has been altered beyond recognition by generations of hill walkers, mountaineers and sightseers. A trig point marks the highest point.'

What might have been, eh? It's also interesting to note that the great eastern face of Yr Wyddfa is known as Clogwyn y Garnedd ('Crag of the Cairn') and overlooks Glaslyn, source of the Afon Glaslyn. Enough said, perhaps?

Picws Du, Y Mynydd Du (Round Cairn)

A full account of the 'Lady of the Lake' legend is given in W Jenkyn Thomas' 'The Welsh Fairy Book' (1907)... "High up in a hollow of the Black Mountains of South Wales is a lonely sheet of water called Llyn y Fan Fach....."

However there is an overview for the curious - maybe contemplating a visit? - here:

Pen y Fan (Cairn(s))

Cwm Llwch, the great glacial valley below and to the north west of Pen-y-Fan is rich with folklore regarding the Tylwyth Teg, 'the little people'.

Below is an extract regarding the valley's circular lake taken from 'The Welsh Fairy Book', W Jenkyn Thomas (1907):

'..In very ancient times there was a door in a rock hard by, which opened once in each year — on May Day — and disclosed a passage leading to a small island in the centre of the lake. This island was, however, invisible to those who stood upon the shore. Those who ventured down the secret passage on May Day were most graciously received by the fairies inhabiting the island, whose beauty was only equalled by their courtesy to their guests. They entertained them with delicious fruits and exquisite music. and disclosed to them many events of the future. They laid down one condition only, and that was that none of the produce of the island was to be carried away, because the island was sacred...'

More of the legend here:

Carnedd Dafydd (Cairn(s))

Behind the mist
That shifts and stirs, to lap itself again
Round the enduring patience of the crag
A sheep, somewhere amid old drifts of snow
Wails out its wet and solitary grief
And gets no answer but the moss's drip....

(E H Young - Ysgolion Duon)

Ring of Brodgar (Circle henge)

If those stones could speak - 'Do not wish too loud.
They can, they do, they will. No voice is lost.

(Edwin Morgan, Ring of Brodgar - Sonnets from Scotland 1984)

Castell Dinas Bran (Hillfort)

Gone, gone are thy gates, Dinas Bran on the height!
Thy warders are blood-crows and ravens, I trow:
Now no one will wend from the field of the fight
To the fortress on high, save the raven and crow

Roger Cyffyn (17th Century, arr Borrow)
Hi, I'm Robert ... with a passion for attempting to understand the lives of the pioneering prehistoric inhabitants of these British Isles, seeking out the remains they left behind in order to ask myself "why here ... why did it matter so... why such commitment?".. Needless to say, I'm still pondering such intangibles. Just as an empty house appears to retain echoes of past humanity... so does the stone circle, the chambered cairn, the long barrow and the mountain-top funerary cairn. Visiting them, I think, helps engender a certain 'connection' with this land of ours, with ourselves - our past, our present and our future; a reference point for those of us perhaps struggling to make sense of this so-called 'computer world' Kraftwerk warned us was a'coming in 1981.... danke, mein herren. And thanks also to those who picked up their gauntlet and ran with it.

Should my posts provide inspiration for others to venture into the Great Outdoors, please bear in mind the hills and mountains of these Isles are unpredictable, potentially dangerous places. Ensure you have map/compass/waterproofs... and learn how to use them. It could save your life. Weather conditions can change bewilderingly quickly - even in high summer - so don't get caught out. Please engage with landowners wherever possible... being a cartoon 'class warrior' might be jolly good fun for the narcissistic 'rebel'... but not for those who may choose to follow.

Joni Mitchell - 'Don't it always seem to go; That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?'

George Orwell - 'The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.'

Martin Gore - 'Like a pawn
On the eternal board
Who’s never quite sure
What he’s moved towards
I walk blindly on'...

Truman Capote - 'Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour.'

Oscar Wilde - 'The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.'

John Lydon - 'It is a reward to be chastised by the ignorant.'

Winston Churchill - '“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” [Perhaps one day people may finally grasp the reality that, for all his many faults, Churchill is the reason we are currently able to proffer personal views today that are not dictated by a totalitarian state.]

Charles Bukowski - “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

Ultravox - 'Taking shelter by the standing stones
Miles from all that moves....'

Catch site videos from the Citizen Cairn at:

My TMA Content: