Did you know that Wales has more castles per square metre than anywhere else on earth? With that sort of history, you can understand why Visit Wales is promoting 2017 as The Year of Legends, encouraging visitors to explore the country’s unique culture, heritage, and stories.
I spoke to Mari Stevens, Director of Marketing for the Welsh Government, about Wales’ mythical past, starting with their most famous legendary figure. “We believe that King Arthur originated in Wales,” said Mari. “He’s certainly mentioned in Welsh manuscripts and traditions and there are strong links between King Arthur and all corners of Wales, so it’s worth exploring.”
Most people assume the legends of King Arthur are just stories, but there are actually ancient place names in Wales that are linked to the key figures. “The Welsh name for Carmarthen is actually Caerfyrddin, which derives from Myrddin, the welsh for Merlin. And we are in the process of developing a Merlin festival to take place in Carmarthenshire in the spring,” said Mari.
“Another interesting place to visit as part of the Year of Legend is Snowdonia and the town of Beddgelert,” said Mari. “It means ‘the grave of Gelert’ and again, this line between history and myth is blurred.” Mari recounted the story about the 13th century Prince Llewellyn, who had a hunting dog called Gelert. “One day the prince came back to find the dog covered in blood and his son’s cot empty. Llewellyn killed the dog instantly, thinking it had savaged the baby. But on going outside, he found a dead wolf, killed by the dog while protecting the child. Beddgelert is where the dog is said to be buried.” Only there’s a twist, as Mari explained. “In truth the story was actually made up by a local innkeeper back in the 18th century to draw people into the area!”
Mari said many of the old legends had a meaning, which is why they’ve endured. “A lot of Welsh folklore and customs have a little moral twist in the tail, which is why they probably were passed on through oral history through the years.”
Some of the big events taking place this year will be linked to the legends theme. “Over the summer there are a huge variety of festival taking place throughout Wales,” Mari told me. “Many of them are inspired by legends including the Green Man Festival in Crickhowell, Festival No 6 and the Haye Festival. It’s one of the worlds’ biggest celebrations of literature and is thirty this year.”
There are also events to tempt in food lovers. “Into the autumn Wales is generally a good place for food festivals. And this year, we’ll be celebrating legendary recipes, produce and chefs, to bring the stories to life,” said Mari.
Go to VisitWales.com website to find out more.