Discover Welsh legends… history

North Wales is steeped in history, legends, myths and mythology. You’ll see this reflected in plaques and signage across the region, and in the grand castles and stately homes scattered across the landscape.

In the first of our series looking at some of the ‘Legends of Wales’, we’ve highlighted a handful of important, impressive and prominent historical figures from North Wales.

The Kingdom of Gwynedd

Following the rule of the Romans, the Kingdom of Gwynedd rose to prominence in Britain around the 5th century. Covering the north-west of Wales, the kingdom’s leaders were often proclaimed ‘King of the Britons’, demonstrating the area’s historical prestige; it became the most powerful region of Wales.

  • Gwynedd my land,
  • Golden on every hand to the myriad reaping.
  • For her bounty of mead I love her, winter content,
  • Where turbulent wastes of the sea but touch and are spent;
  • I love her people, quiet and peace, rich store of her treasure
  • Changed at her prince’s pleasure to splendid war.
  • Warrior poet, Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd.

Kingdom of Gwynedd, c.1247.

Owain Gwynedd

The quintessential powerful medieval ruler, Owain Gwynedd (born circa 1100) took control of Gwynedd in 1132, following the death of his brother Cadwallon. Under his rule, Gwynedd extended its borders into the Marcher lands (English counties running along the Welsh border). Owain also launched a brutal invasion of Powys.

Henry II invaded Gwynedd in 1157, forcing Owain to agree terms; however Owain later defeated Henry in battle alongside the other Welsh princes. Henry II never challenged Owain again. Owain died in 1170, an all-powerful ruler over the kingdom.

Owain Gwynedd is buried in Bangor Cathedral.

Llywelyn the Great

Llywelyn the Great, also known as Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (born circa 1173) was a King of Gwynedd who rose to rule all of Wales for almost half a century. Llywelyn was the grandson of Owain Gwynedd.

Llywelyn’s 1201 treaty with King John is the earliest surviving example of a Welsh-English accord. Friendly relations didn’t last long, however, and after a series of battles Llywelyn was appointed the leader of the Princes of Wales. Many historians agree that Llywelyn’s political power was never again matched by a ruler of Wales.

Image courtesy of Rhion Pritchard, 2006.

A statue of Llewelyn the Great stands in Conwy town square.

Owain Glyndŵr

  • The best of Welshmen, valiant man,
  • Lord of the land, of Pywer Llew’s line,
  • A slim, strong man, to him the court belongs,
  • That best of places, worthy to be praised.
  • Bard, Iolo Goch

Undoubtedly one of the most famous figures in Welsh history, Owain Glyndŵr was born circa 1349. His influence and legacy even extends to classic literature – he is described in Shakespeare’s Henry IV as “not in the roll of common men”.

The descendent of Welsh princes, Glyndŵr launched a revolt against Henry IV in 1400 – this became known as the Glyndŵr Rising. This was the last major uprising or violent insurgence in favour of Welsh independence, and its legacy meant Glyndŵr is still renowned as a bastion of Welsh nationalism, as well as the last Welsh Prince of Wales.

© Copyright Jeremy Bolwell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

‘All or nothing’ – statue of Owain Glyndwr, Corwen.

William Morgan

  • The English tongue is not understood by the greatest number of Her Majesty’s obedient subjects inhabiting Wales.
  • Act of Parliament, 1563.

Born circa 1545 near Betws-y-Coed, William Morgan studied at Cambridge University before becoming a Church of England clergyman. He later became the Bishop of Llandaff and St Asaph, though he’s best-known for his translation of the entire Bible into Welsh. The
translation was a watershed moment for the Welsh language and religion in Wales.

Image courtesy of Hefin Owen, via Flickr, 2013.

Hedd Wyn

Ellis Humphrey Evans was born in 1887 in Trawsfynydd, Meirionydd. He was always a talented poet and competed in several Eisteddfodau. He received his Bardic name Hedd Wyn (meaning Blessed Peace) in 1910, and won Chairs (a prestigious honour in Welsh literature) at the Eisteddfodau in Bala, Pwllheli and Llanuwchllyn.

Though he was a pacifist, Ellis heroically enlisted in the army to spare his younger brother. Many of his most famous poems were inspired by the war. Ellis was tragically killed within the first few hours of the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. He remains one of Wales’s greatest writers and artists, and his National Eisteddfod-winning poem Yr Arwr is still widely celebrated.

  • An extract from Rhyfel (War)
    • Mae’r hen delynau genid gynt
    • Ynghrog ar gangau’r helyg draw,
    • A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,
    • A’u gwaed yn gymysg efo’r glaw.
    • ———
    • The harps that once could help our pain
    • Hang silent, to the willows pinned.
    • The cry of battle fills the wind
    • And blood of lads – it falls like rain.

Yr Ysgwrn, near Blaenau Ffestiniog

Betsi Cadwaladr

  • An unconventional Welsh woman who was ahead of her time.
  • Author, Ffion Hague.

One of 16 children, Betsi Cadwaladr was born near Bala in 1789. Cadwaladr, later changing her name to Davis, spent much of her early life working as a maid, which led her to travel, including to France at the time of the Battle of Waterloo. Here she was greatly affected by the injured soldiers on the battlefield.

Upon returning to Britain she trained as a nurse in London and joined the military nursing service at the age of 65. Against the will of upper-class ‘celebrity’ nurse, Florence Nightingale (who held a rather dim view of the Welsh), Betsi went to work in the Crimea. Though the two clashed repeatedly, Nightingale and others acknowledged Betsi’s essential and life-saving work on the front lines. She is often remembered for her determination and willingness to fight against bureaucracy to get her job done. Betsi is remembered as a pioneer of nursing, and a North Wales Local Health Board is today named after her.

Donna Mead [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

At the dedication of the Headstone at Betsi Cadwaladr’s grave in Abney Park Cemetery. Funds for the headstone were raised by nurses working Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.

T.E. Lawrence

Born in Tremadog in 1888, Thomas Edward Lawrence was a renowned archaeologist, army officer and diplomat. He worked in Syria for the British Museum in the early 1910s, and later volunteered for the army and was posted initially in Egypt.

In 1916 he was dispatched to Arabia, where he worked alongside Faisal, a leader of the Arab Revolt. Following the war, Lawrence worked for the Foreign Office and eventually retreated from public life, later publishing Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his account of his experiences in Arabia. The famous film Lawrence of Arabia is based on Lawrence’s life.

  • The world looks with some awe upon a man who appears unconcernedly indifferent to home, money, comfort, rank, or even power and fame. The world feels not without a certain apprehension, that here is some one outside its jurisdiction; someone before whom its allurements may be spread in vain; some one strangely enfranchised, untamed, untrammelled by convention, moving independent of the ordinary currents of human action.
  • Winston Churchill.
Image courtesy of Levan Ramishvili, via Flickr 2017.

Winston Churchill (second from left) and T E Lawrence (fourth from left) in Cairo, 1921.

Keep an eye on our blog and discover more Legends of North Wales next month!!

Seeing stars: stargazing in Snowdonia

Along with cleaner air, peaceful countryside and quieter streets, one of the real upsides to North Wales’s lack of pollution is the crystal-clear sky. Perfect for examining the cosmos in all its glory, the skies in North Wales promise even the most novice of astronomers a celestial experience not to be missed. Stargazing is a fantastic way to experience the majesty of the North Wales countryside and makes for a unique experience during your stay here.

International Dark Sky Reserve

Snowdonia National Park was named an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2015 – becoming just the tenth area in the world to be given this award. At the time of writing there are still just 13 designated Dark Sky Reserves, which goes to show just how prestigious an honour this is.

So, what exactly is an International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR)?

An IDSR is an area of land, public or private, that experiences ‘exceptional or distinguished’ starry nights, due, in no small part, to concerted efforts to minimise light pollution. The IDSR is protected for scientific, educational, natural, cultural and heritage reasons. The area must meet specific criteria for natural darkness and quality. So, it’s official that some of the best nights in the world are to be had in the Snowdonia National Park!

Stargazing – How to Get Started

What to bring?

The main requirement for stargazing is stars, so heading to Snowdonia National Park is an excellent way to start. Other than that, there isn’t much restrictive or specialist equipment that’s considered essential – bring a blanket, a warm coat, provisions (a flask of hot tea is always a winner) and plenty of layers; nightfall, even during the summer months, can get very cold, so make sure to wear layers and bring weather-appropriate clothing.

A telescope or binoculars enhance your experience. A portable star map is extremely useful to help newcomers navigate the skies. Snaps from your stargazing adventure will be an incredible addition to your holiday photo album, so we recommend bringing a camera (or charging up your phone).

For phones, there are a number of really useful apps that can enhance your experience and make it that much easier – we love Star Walk (iOS) and Google Sky (Android) for letting you know which stars you can see where. A little less high-tech but incredibly useful is a compass – use it for locating specific constellations, or helping you out if you get a little lost!

Who?

Stargazing is a fun activity for all the family – as long as everyone’s wrapped up warm with plenty of snacks it can be an unforgettable educational experience for children. Gazing up at the celestial bodies can also be an endlessly romantic adventure.

When?

Fairly obviously, the best time for stargazing is at night. You’ll get the best visibility on clear nights, and for comfort its always best to try and choose a dry night (and one which hasn’t been preceded by rain, if possible). The night sky changes throughout the year, so if you’re lucky enough to return to North Wales during different seasons we recommend going stargazing more than once to enjoy different experiences and perspectives. The night sky is generally best for stargazing just before the moon is full, so it’s worth checking the lunar calendar before you head out.

Spectacular Snowdonia Stargazing Spots

Cadair Idris

To make the stargazing experience that much more magical, why not head to a place steeped in mythology? Legend tells that the fearsome giant Idris used this rock as his armchair as he gazed up at the stars. The best route up to the summit is the Minffordd Path.

Llyn Conwy

Just above Penmachno, the reservoir where the River Conwy begins its wending path through the hills enjoys incredibly dark and expansive skies. A lot of the charm of this place comes from its remoteness – so a map is definitely recommended! Wildlife enthusiasts will find plenty to look out for here too – keep your binoculars trained for nocturnal foxes and owls.

Cwm Idwal

Truly one of Snowdonia’s most breathtaking places, Cwm Idwal is a bowl-shaped valley containing the serene Llyn Idwal. Choose to visit on a clear night and you’ll enjoy a sky spangled with stars, and the amazing sight of them reflected in the lake’s waters.

Bwlch-y -Groes

For those not keen on hiking to find stars, Bwlch y Groes near Bala is a fantastic option. This is a mountain pass accessible by car – so if it’s a bit too chilly for you, you can simply roll down your windows and take a peek at the night sky! This is a Dark Sky Discovery Site, and the car park here is a great spot for standing telescopes for serious stargazing.

Llyn Geirionydd

With Betws-y-Coed nearby, this is a lovely scenic spot for exploring nature during the day and indulging your astronomical urges at night. Park at the lake carpark and find the perfect spot for admiring the dark skies here.

Llynnau Cregennen

Between Barmouth and Dolgellau, the twin lakes of Llynnau Cregennen are owned and maintained by the National Trust. There’s plenty of sky to examine here, and you’ll also be treated to spectacular landscapes and wonderful crisp, fresh air.

After your stargazing adventure, return to the warm environs of the Royal Victoria Hotel – superbly located in Llanberis. If we’ve inspired you to ‘look up’, choose Snowdonia and browse our selection of rooms here.