North Wales is a mystic land of craggy mountains, mist-shrouded peaks and glassy lakes. Its association with myth and legend dates back eons, the stories inextricably intertwined with the landscape. Originally passed down from generation to generation by tribal elders, our stories are – literally – as old as the hills. It’s this heady mix of land and lore that makes our country irresistible to visitors.
With North Wales a backdrop for some of the most famous literature in Welsh history, it’s no wonder some of our landmarks have become synonymous with stories of heroes, villains and monsters. Lakes, in particular, hold a mystic allure for storytellers and Snowdonia has an abundance of lakes with stories to tell.
So take a walk of a different type and explore the lakes of Snowdonia. Stand on the shore and listen – you’re sure to hear a tale or two whispered in the wind.
Llyn Cwellyn – the fairies’ lake
A nineteenth century history book records the story of a man abducted by fairies on the shore of Llyn Cwellyn, a lake at the base of the Snowdon Ranger Path.
On spying the fairies dancing on the shore, he was irresistibly drawn into the circle by their sweet, mesmerising music. Under their spell, the man was magically transported to a beautiful country where everyone lived in perpetual bliss. Seven years passed before the man awoke from his reverie and he returned to the land of the living. Although he felt like only a few moments had passed, life had moved on.
On returning to his village, he was saddened to learn of the death of his parents. He received no welcome either; his brothers and sisters didn’t recognise him and his sweetheart had married another. With a heart broken beyond repair, he died not long after. The man learnt the hard way that there is always a price to pay when dealing with the tylwyth teg or the fairies.
Fancy your chances with the fairies of Llyn Cwellyn? Take a walk around the lake on the accessible Janus Path – a boardwalk route suitable for wheelchairs and buggies. The walk takes you through woodland and rewards with outstanding views of the surrounding mountains. But, remember, if you hear the sound of sweet, sweet music – don’t follow it!
Llyn Cau – what lies beneath?
Llyn Cau is located halfway up the mystical mountain of Cader Idris, south of Dolgellau. This can be a tricky lake to get to, being located within towering natural stone walls over 400m high. However, there could be a good reason for its inaccessibility – the walls were meant to keep something in.
Llyn Cau is reputed to be the home of a water monster, known as an afanc in these parts. Fed up of the creature devouring his subjects, the valiant King Arthur lassoed the monster and dragged it overland from its lair near Aberdyfi, up the steep slopes of Cader Idris to Llyn Cau, where he incarcerated it safely in the lake.
Beware though, the afanc has been known to attack unwary travellers swimming in the lake – it seems he still has a taste for human flesh after all these years. Llyn Cau is a popular wild swimming spot but, knowing what might lurk beneath, we’ll refrain from even dipping our toes in the water!
Llyn Tegid – Snowdonia’s very own Nessie
Another lake monster, this time of the more friendly variety, ‘Teggie’ is Llyn Tegid’s alleged draconian resident. More camera shy than her celebrity Scottish cousin, Teggie is rarely seen, more often felt. In fact, the last time she was actually caught on camera was back in 1976 so she’s not one for the limelight.
Retired lake manager, Dewi Bowen, famously recounted his run in with Teggie: “I was looking out at the lake and saw this thing coming towards the shore. It was at least 8ft long, similar to a crocodile, with its front and rear ends about 4ins above the water.”
More recently, a windsurfer reported being ‘lifted out of the water’ by something while many attribute boating incidents to the mischievous monster.
If there really is a mysterious inhabitant of Llyn Tegid, the reality could be far more fascinating. The lake is home for the rare Gwyniad – a small fish that dates back to prehistoric times. It only lives in Llyn Tegid, having become trapped in the lake after the last Ice Age. However, since this little fish can be cupped in the palm of your hand, it’s unlikely it could be mistaken for a monster!
If you enjoy a spot of monster hunting, jump aboard the Bala Lake Railway and enjoy a ride on one of North Wales’ historic narrow gauge railways while eyeing the horizon lake for Teggie’s tell-tale hump.
Llyn Geirionydd – the bard’s lake
“I being Taliesin, from the borders of the lake of Geirionnydd.”
The Mabinogion – the Red Book of Hergest
As the lakes of Snowdonia feature so prominently in Welsh literature it’s only right that our final watery abode has links to one of the most famous literary figures in Welsh history – the 6th century poet Taliesin.
The legendary home of the bard (a poet or storyteller), Llyn Geirionydd sits high in the hills above the Conwy Valley. Bards were the guardians of the oral heritage of the Welsh people. As well as preserving the ancient tales, bards composed their own melodic poems to impress and please their all too human patrons – after all, with no income to speak of, this was how a bard earned his living.
Among Taliesin’s fans numbered not one but three Welsh kings. He enjoyed long sojourns at all their courts – literally singing for his supper – and perhaps not realising his epic poems would go down in literary history.
Llyn Geirionydd is a beautiful lake for an afternoon amble and a popular venue for watersports. We wonder what Taliesin would have made of speedboats and windsurfers on his lake – would they have made it into a poem?
Images courtesy of: Llwyn Cwellyn © Copyright Jeff Buck and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence. Swimmers at Llyn Cau by Debjam via Flickr, April 2013. Llyn Tegid © Crown copyright (2010) Visit Wales, all rights reserved. Taliesin Monument © Copyright Alan Walker and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.