Monday 31 July 2017

The Survivors of Camlann

An.93. Gueith camlann in qua Arthur et Medraut corruerunt.
[The Strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell]1

The Battle of Camlann
It is argued that the earliest reference to the battle of Camlann is found in the 10th century Welsh Annals (Annales Cambriae), recording the conflict in the year An.93, usually interpreted as around 520 - 539 AD.

The entry is often considered to be a genuine historical reference to Arthur, leader of battles. A second entry in the Welsh Annals, 21 years previous, suggested dates range from 490- 510, refers to Arthur's victory at the Battle of Badon:

An.72. Bellum badonis inquo arthur portauit crucem domini nostri ihu xp'i . tribus diebus & tribus noctibus inhumeros suos & brittones uictores fuerunt. 
[The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights upon his shoulders and the Britons were the victors]2

The Camlann entry in the Annales Cambriae
This entry would appear to confirm the twelve battles listed in section 56 of the 9th century Historia Brittonum (often, incorrectly, attributed to one 'Nennius'), culminating in the battle of Badon:

“Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the military commander ["dux bellorum"]. His first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein. His second, third, fourth, and fifth battles were above another river which is called Dubglas and is in the region of Linnuis. The sixth battle was above the river which is called Bassas. The seventh battle was in the forest of Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth battle was at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of holy Mary ever virgin on his shoulders; and the pagans were put to flight on that day. And through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the blessed Virgin Mary his mother there was great slaughter among them. The ninth battle was waged in the City of the Legion. The tenth battle was waged on the banks of a river which is called Tribruit. The eleventh battle was fought on the mountain which is called Agnet. The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one day 960 men from one charge by Arthur; and no one struck them down except Arthur himself, and in all the wars he emerged as victor.”3

The author of the Historia states that Arthur was victorious in all his battles, presumably just the twelve as he does not include Camlann, which is found in the Welsh Annals appended to the Historia in Harlian manuscript 3859. The so-called Arthurian battle list has been said to be based on an old Welsh poem celebrating the victorious Arthur, such as Taliesin's poems in praise of Urien of Rheged. However, others argue that many of the battles in the list, such as the City of the Legions is a reference to the battle of Chester which occurred about a hundred years after Badon in 615 AD, could not have been fought by the same man and has been incorrectly attributed to Arthur to simply make the total up to the significant number of twelve.

That Badon was a real event is not disputed as the battle is recorded by the contemporary Gildas, and later by Bede. But the Badon entry in the Welsh Annals looks suspiciously similar to the section on the eighth battle at Guinnion in the Historia Brittonum in which Arthur carried an image of the Virgin on his shoulders. Camlann then is often argued for as the only genuine historical reference to Arthur. The entry begins with the word “Guieth”, Welsh for “battle”, when the Badon entry begins with the Latin word “Bellum”. This signifies a Welsh source for the Camlann entry; however, the use of the word “guieth” is not unique to this entry; indeed, there are several uses of the word in the Welsh Annals which all may reflect a Welsh source.

It is often argued by academics favouring a northern Arthur that the site of the battle of Camlann was at Camboglanna, a Roman fort on the western sector of Hadrian's Wall, usually identified as Birdoswald. No doubt the Post-Roman re-occupation of the fort adds to the Arthurian association, yet the fort at Birdoswald has now been correctly identified as Banna, not Camboglanna which was actually the Roman fort of Castlesteads, situated above the river known as the Cam Beck, which may actually provide a better explanation for the name, although sadly nothing remains above ground today of the Roman fort there.

Long ago Leslie Alcock argued that the name Camlann is derived from the Brittonic *Cambo-glanna (“crooked bank (of a river)”), as found in the name of the Roman fort of Camboglanna, (“crooked glen”).4

Alcock argues that the Romano-British name of “Camboglanna” would have evolved into “Camglann” in Old Welsh, whereas the entry in the Welsh Annals appears as “Camlann” (minus the “g”) as it would have appeared in Middle Welsh. This has been interpreted as indicative of a later, rather than contemporary, insertion into the 10th century Annals.5

This has then raised doubts on the authenticity of the Camlann entry in the Welsh Annals; if it is indeed an insertion by a later hand it may not be a genuine reference at all, although Arthur is always associated with Camlann in Welsh tradition. Unless a reference was known to exist in another Middle Welsh source the entry could indeed appear to be spurious. The Camlann entry in the Welsh Annals is said to be unique and not referenced in any earlier source; this is not correct, as there is an earlier text which may have provided the source the Welsh Annals.

The 13th century Black Book of Carmarthen contains a list of the graves of the heroes of Britain, known as 'The Stanzas of the Graves' (Englynion y Beddau). The series of englynion, or short stanzas, in Middle Welsh, is thought to be considerably older than its earliest manuscript, possibly dating to the 9th century on linguistic evidence. The Stanzas of the Graves is often neglected in the search for a source for the battle of Camlann, but the 12th stanza records:

The grave of Osfran's son at Camlan, 
after much battle; 
the grave of Bedwyr on the slope of Tryfan.6

If only we knew who Osfran's son was and where he was buried we could locate Camlann.

Cause of the Battle
The Welsh Annals provide no clue as to the location of Camlann or indeed the cause of the battle, yet Welsh tradition remembers the battle as a futile event that resulted in much slaughter on both sides.

Significantly, Welsh sources never remember the Battle of Camlann as a major event in the wars against advancing barbarians during the post-Roman years in Britain. On the contrary, Camlann is remembered as being caused by in-fighting between the Britons; perhaps confirmed by the 6th century account of Gildas who recorded in section 26 of his complaint against the clergy and the kings of Britain (De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae), that following the victory at Badon foreign wars ceased, but civil troubles continued.

The tale of Culhwch and Olwen includes a short line that suggests that the battle was planned, perhaps with the deliberate intention of bringing down Arthur. In Culhwch we find that “Gwyn the Irascible, overseer of Cornwall and Devon” was one of the nine who plotted the battle of Camlan.7

This scheming of Camlan is confirmed in the later tale of the Dream of Rhonabwy (Breudwyt Rhonabwy). In his dream, Rhonabwy is riding across the the Plain of Argyngroeg, towards Rhyd y Groes on the Severn, when he meets a rider. The horseman identifies himself as 'Iddawc the son of Mynyo', also known as ‘Iddawc Cordd Prydain’, meaning the ‘Agitator of Britain’, so named, he explains, because of his role as provocateur in the battle of Camlan. Idawc tells Ronabwy that he was sent as a messenger by Arthur to his cousin Medraut in order to secure peace between him and Arthur at Camlan. Iddawc tells how Arthur’s effort failed because he did not pass on Arthur’s fair words, but instead he passed on insults to Medraut, thus provoking the battle. Three nights before the end of the battle Iddawc left them, and went to the Llech Las in North Britain to do penance for seven years.8

The Triads of the Island of Britain (Trioedd Ynys Prydein) record the battle as the worst of “The Three Futile Battles of the Island of Britain” because of a quarrel between Arthur's wife Gwenhwyfar and her sister Gwenhwyfach.

Camlann is recorded in five of the Triads of the Island of Britain, as detailed by Rachel Bromwich:

[30] Three Faithless Warbands of the Island of Britain; the warband of Alan Fyrgan who deserted him during the night and let him go to Camlan, where he was slain.

[51] Three Men of Shame of the Island of Britain; the third and worst was Medrawd who took the Island while Arthur was on the continent in conflict with the emperor. This late Triad, which Bromwich dates to around 1400, clearly follows Geoffrey of Monmouth's fictional Arthurian history and can be rejected as being of any use in the search for Camlann.

[53] Three Sinister Hard Slaps of the Island of Britain; the second was when Gwehwyfach struck Gwenhwyfar, and because of this the Battle of Camlan took place.

[59] Three Unfortunate Counsels of the Island of Britain; the third, the threefold division by Arthur of his men with Medrawd at Camlan.

[84] Three Futile Battles of the Island of Britain; the third was the worst, that was Camlan, which was brought about because of Gwenhwyfar's contention with Gwenhwyfach.9

Bromwich adds that the Triads contribute substantially to the body of evidence which shows that knowledge of the battle was prominent in early Arthurian tradition and was well known to the Gogynfeirdd, the Poets of the Princes, who flourished from the 12th to the second half of the 14th century.

Then there are those that argue for a mythological explanation for Camlann. Because of the battles persistent association with Gwenhyfar, Thomas (Caitlin) Green, among others, argues for an Otherworldly conflict rather than a historical basis. Green stresses that Gwenhyfar is one of Arthur's possessions that he brings back from the Otherworld along with his knife, shield and sword (as argued by Patrick Ford10). Indeed in an early account of Gwenhyfar's abduction by the king of the summerland, Arthur rescues her from Avalon (Annwn). Caradoc of Llancarfan's account of the abduction of Gwenhyfar, as contained in the Vita Gildae, betrays traces of an Otherworld adventure, belonging, with the likes of the poem Spoils of Annwn, a Celtic supernatural excursion. This echoes the earliest abduction stories such as the possibility of influence from the Greek Persephone myth.

'King Arthur's Stone' Slaughterbridge, Cornwall

The Survivors of Camlann

The British antiquarian view tended to follow Geoffrey of Monmouth in locating the battle on the river Camel in Cornwall. The attraction no doubt being the 6th century inscribed stone said to mark the spot where King Arthur and Medraut fell at Slaughterbridge between Camelford and Tintagel. The stone, often referred to as 'King Arthur's Stone', bearing both ogham and Latin inscriptions ('Latinus son of Macarus lies here') is now accepted as a memorial to an unknown local Celtic leader with no connection whatsoever with Arthur.

The early Welsh poets clearly remembered Camlann as a particularly bloody affair with few survivors, yet always connected with Gwenhwyfar. As with the earliest accounts, the battle is clearly an episode in Welsh history, fought on Welsh soil, and the recorded survivors are also from Wales.

The tale of Culhwch and Olwen survives in only two manuscripts. The earliest version survives as a fragmented version in the early 14th century White Book of Rhydderch, while a complete version can be found in the later Red Book of Hergest (c.1400). Scholars argue that linguistic evidence indicates the tale took its current form by at least the 11th century, making it the earliest Arthurian tale, a century before Geoffrey of Monmouth produced his Arthurian pseudo-history.

Culhwch and Olwen records three survivors of Arthur's battle at Camlann:

“... Morfran son of Tegid (no man placed his weapon in him at Camlan, so exceeding ugly was he; all thought he was a devil helping. There was hair on him like the hair of a stag), and Sandde Angel-face (no one placed his spear in him at Camlan, so exceeding fair was he; all thought he was an angel helping), and Cynwyl the Saint (one of the three men that escaped from Camlan. He was the last to part from Arthur, on Hengroe0n his horse).....”

Culhwch is given forty difficult tasks (anoethau) to complete by Ysbaddaden chief-giant if he wants to win the hand of his daughter, Olwen. One such task is “The cauldron of Diwrnach the Irishman, the overseer of Odgar son of Aedd king of Ireland, to boil meat for thy wedding guests.

Culhwch's ordeal may be alluded to in a 9th century poem attributed to Taliesin known, as The Spoils of Annwn (Prieddu Annwn), which features a raid on the Otherworld to retrieve the cauldron of the chief of Annwn. At the end of each verse the poem repeats that “none, save seven, returned.

A similar account is recalled in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, Branwen, Daughter of Llŷr. When the battle erupts the Irish start to use a magic cauldron to revive their dead. The battle ends in mass slaughter for both sides, with only five pregnant women surviving to repopulate Ireland and, in addition to Branwen, only seven survivors remained of the army of the Island of the Mighty to return to Britain. Clearly there is much synergy between the two tales, where, in the Tale of Branwen and Culhwch and Olwen, Ireland has become a euphemism for the Otherworld. It is tempting to see this as three accounts of the same tale, perhaps the original Arthurian tale.

Indeed, a later account found in 17th century manuscript suggested that, just like the Tale of Branwen and the Spoils of Annwn, there were in fact seven survivors of Camlann:

“Here are the names of the men who escaped from the battle of Camlan: Sandde Angel's form because of his beauty, Morfran son of Tegid because of his ugliness, St Cynfelyn from the speed of his horse, St Cedwyn from the world's blessing, St Pedrog from the strength of his spear, Derfel the Strong for his strength, Geneid the Tall from his speed. The year of Christ when the battle of Camlan took place was 542.”

The Location of Camlann
We saw above how The Stanzas of the Graves (Englynion y Beddau) associate the grave of Osfran's son with the site of Camlann. Osfran is only known from one other work, a 12th century poem to St Cadfan by Llywelyn the Bard. Cadfan, a 6th century Breton nobleman, is said to have sailed to Tywyn, Merionethshire, with twelve other saints. He is claimed to have founded a church at Llangadfan in northern Powys before moving on to Bardsey, around 516. If Osfran's son was contemporary with Cadfan he would have been the right age to have fought at Camlan.

The A470 at Bwlch Oerddrws in winter
Notably, most of the early Welsh accounts always refer to 'Camlan', spelt with one 'n'. We find the name spelt exactly this way at Camlan, a township in Mallwyd parish, Merioneth, on the river Dovey, two miles south of Dinas Mawddwy, now part of Gwynedd. The location survives on modern maps as Camlan Isaf, Camlan Uchaf, Bron Camlan and Maes Camlan. Significantly, Camlan is located near the pass of Bwlch Oerddrws on the main A470 road between Dinas Mawddwy and Dolgellau, a strategic pass between North and South Wales.

Just a little north of Dolgellau we find the Afon Gamlan, a river rising on the south side of the Rhinogydd mountain range that runs down from Cwm Camlan into the Eden and then joins the Mawddach at Ganllwyd, north of Dolgellau. The old Roman Road known as Sarn Helen would have crossed the Gamlan in this desolate valley.

In conclusion, all the evidence points to the site of the battle of Camlan(n), and its subsequent survivors, being located in mid-Wales.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

Notes & References
1. The Welsh Annals, The Annales Cambriae, James Ingram, translator, Everyman Press, 1912. The primary text of this translation is from the Harleian manuscript, the earliest copy of the Annales Cambriae which has survived.
2. Ibid.
3. The History of the Britons (Historia Brittonum), Chapter 56 translated by Alan Lupack, The Camelot Project
4. Leslie Alcock, Arthur's Britain, Penguin, 1979, p.67.
5. John T Koch, Celtic Culture, ABC-CLIO, 2006.
6. John K Bollard, Anthony Griffiths, Englynion y Beddau: The Stanzas of the Graves, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2015.
7. Culhwch and Olwen, in The Mabinogion, translated and edited by Gwynn Jones and Thomas Jones, Everyman Press, 1967.
8. The Dream of Rhonabwy, in The Mabinogion, translated and edited by Gwynn Jones and Thomas Jones, Everyman Press, 1967.
9. Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, Third Edition, UWP, 1996.
10. Patrick K. Ford, ‘On the Significance of some Arthurian Names in Welsh’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 30, 1983.

* * * 

Monday 24 July 2017

The Land of Taliesin

“Then I was for nine months
In the womb of the hag Ceridwen
I was originally little Gwion,
And at length I am Taliesin”

Taliesin's Grave
To start at the end. Marked on Ordnance Survey maps as Bedd Taliesin this little dolmen near Gwar cwm uchaf in the Parish of Llanfihangel Genau-y-Glynn is situated close to a minor road east of Tal-y-Bont on the west-facing slopes of Moel-y-Garn overlooking the Dovey Estuary in mid-west Wales. Said to be the remains of a Bronze Age round kerb cairn, this enigmatic megalithic structure has been badly disturbed with the comparatively small capstone, barely six foot long, today propped up on a pile of stones, it seems the original supporting stones were long ago robbed for gateposts, exposing the stone-lined cist grave many years ago. This is the traditional grave of the Bard Taliesin.

Bedd Taliesin
Coflien, the online database for the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW), describes the site as being “situated on a level shelf below a craggy hill to the SE, an asymmetrical cairn, 12m NNE-SSW by 13m, showing elements of an apparent kerb, c.6.0m in diameter, having a ruinous cist, 2.0m by 0.5m, a displaced capstone, 1.75m by 1.1m lying to the N: the burial place of Taliesin.”1

This prehistoric burial-mound has never been properly excavated by archaeologists, although it has clearly been disturbed on several occasions and a skull was reportedly removed from the site before 1800. Possibly owing to its isolation Bedd Taliesin is ignored by most studies of prehistoric chamber tombs in Wales. Scott Lloyd's recent publication 'The Arthurian Place Names of Wales' (University of Wales Press, 2017) fails to mention the grave of the bard. Perhaps the reason why Bedd Taliesin is ignored by so many is that it does not fit within the usual convenience of geographical grouping, such as The Black Mountain Group, The Gower Peninsula, Anglesey, Harlech and so on. In most of these groups tombs are found within a couple of miles or so of each other, rarely in isolation.

Indeed, Daniel's inventory omits Bedd Taliesin altogether. Under Cardiganshire (Ceredigion) Daniel writes, “At the present day there are no undoubtedly authentic remains of burial chambers in Cardiganshire, but there can be little doubt that some sites formerly existed along the coast, from the literary references that exist.2 He goes on list twelve 'lost' sites in the area but does not include Taliesin's grave.

Odd that Daniel is aware of the additions to Edmund Gibson's edition of Camden's Britannia (1695), by the antiquary Edward Lhuyd, which he references in his catalogue of prehistoric chambered tombs,3 yet this is precisely where we find the earliest reference to Bedd Taliesin:

“Gwely Taliesin, in the parish of Llanfihangel Genau'r Glyn . . . ought to be the grave of the celebrated Poet Taliesin ben beirdd, who flourished about the year 540. This grave or bed . . . seems also to be a sort of Cistfaen, 4 feet long,- and 3 in breadth, composed of 4 stones, 1 at each end and 2 side-stones ; whereof the highest is about a foot above ground. I am far from believing that ever Taliesin was interred here.”4

In 'A Gentlemen's Tour Through Monmouthshire and Wales' (1781) Henry P Wyndham described the site thus, “The spurious sepulchre of the Bard Taliesin, who flourished in the 6th century and one which stood near the highways, has, within these five years, been entirely plundered and the broken stones are now converted into gateposts.”5

As a prehistoric tomb Bedd Taliesin seems genuine enough and said to date from the Early Bronze Age but has the typical appearance of a Neolithic monument. So why is it ignored; is it the association with Taliesin? There is a similar ignorance with 'Bedd Arthur' situated on the Preseli ridge in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales, another site never excavated.

The Bard Taliesin 
Taliesin is regarded as a genuine poet of the 6th century. He is first mentioned in the 9th century Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons); “at that time, Talhaiarn Tataguen was famed for poetry, and Neirin, and Taliesin and Bluchbard, and Cian, who is called Guenith Guaut, were all famous at the same time in British poetry.” The Historia adds that this was during the time of Maelgwn Gwynedd, who according to the Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals) died in 547 of yellow plague.

Of these five early poets only the works of Aneirin and Talisen has survived. Aneirin is famed for 'Y Goddodin', a series of elegies to the men of the North British kingdom who died in battle at Catraeth. The poetry attributed to Taliesin is found in the 'Llyfr Taliesin' (The Book of Taliesin) a 14th century manuscript (Peniarth MS 2) containing a collection of some of the oldest poems in Welsh, many of them in praise of Urien Rheged (c.530-590) and his son Owain ab Urien, rulers of the kingdom of Rheged, and Cynan Garwyn, ruler of Powys who flourished in the second half of the 6th century.  Ifor Williams identified twelve of the poems in the manuscript as being the work of a historical Taliesin, or at least contemporary with Urien and Cynan.6

The Book of Taliesin also contains prophetic and legendary poems such as 'Preiddeu Annwfn' recalling Arthur and his warriors journey to the Otherworld to steal the cauldron of the Head of Annwfn in which only seven return, presumably Taliesin is one as he includes himself on the trip. Preiddeu Annwfn has been dated to the 9th century, so could not have written by a Taliesin of the 6th century. Llyfr Taliesin was copied by a single scribe in south-east Wales in the 14th century. By the middle of the 17th century The Book of Taliesin had reached the famous library of Robert Vaughan (c.1592-1667) at Hengwrt, a mansion near Dolgellau in Merionethshire.

It is thought that the historical Taliesin was probably born in Powys, as demonstrated by the poems to Cynan Garwyn, 6th century ruler of the region. It should be of no surprise that the same community would also want to claim his grave but the prehistoric tomb Bedd Taliesen clearly has no proven connection with the historical Taliesin.

Indeed, the location of the Bard's grave seems to have been influenced by the 16th century 'Hanes Taliesin' (Historia Taliesin, or The Tale of Taliesin), which locates the story in North and Mid-Wales rather than the British Kingdoms of the Old North (Yr Hen Ogledd) with which the historical poet was associated. The 'Hanes Taliesin' is a legendary account of the life of Taliesin first recorded in the mid-16th century by Elis Gruffydd, consequently Ifor Williams postulated that there are essentially “two Taliesins”; one historical, who existed in the 6th century, the other a mythical, medieval creation.

The Tale of Taliesin 
This tale is set in the days of Arthur when the legendary Taliesin started life as Gwion Bach, a servant to Ceridwen, wife of Tegid Foel. She was a witch who had a son named Morfran (Great Crow), who was so ugly he became known as Afagddu (or Y Fagddu) after the pitch black night. Ceridwen sought to give him the gift of wisdom and knowledge to compensate for his ugliness. She consulted her book on the arts and made a special brew from the herbs of the earth to give him Inspiration (Awen). This brew has to be cooked for a year and a day in a cauldron that is continuously stirred.

Ceridwen assigned a nameless blindman to stir the cauldron, while Gwion Bach stoked the fire underneath it. The first three drops from this cauldron would give the recipient extraordinarily wisdom and the gift of prophecy and the rest of the brew would be a fatal poison. While Ceridwen was asleep the three drops splashed out of the cauldron on Gwion Bach, instantly giving him the gift of wisdom. We hear no more of Morfran who, deprived of the brew, remains ugly and unenlightened, but in Culhwch and Olwen he is named as one of the three survivors of Camlann, Arthur's final battle.

Knowing that Ceridwen would be very angry once she found out Gwion ran away. Once she awoke Ceridwen ran after him. He first turned himself into a hare and she became a greyhound in pursuit. He then changed into a fish and leapt into a river: she then turned into an otter. He then turned into a bird in the air, and she became a hawk. Eventually, Ceridwen forced Gwion into a barn, where he turned into a single grain of corn. She then turned into a hen and ate him.

Ceridwen became pregnant because of this. Knowing it was Gwion she carried she resolved to kill the child at birth; but when he was born he was so beautiful that she couldn't bring herself to do it, so she had him put into a basket and throw him into the sea. The baby was found in a fish weir by Elphin, the son of Gwyddno Garanhir, the Lord of Ceredigion, while fishing for salmon. On seeing the boy's 'radiant forehead', he names him “Taliesin”. The babe then sang poetry to Elphin who took him home and gave him to his wife, where they raised him as their own. At the age of thirteen Taliesin wins a contest against Maelgwn's bards to release Elphin who is held captive following a chastity test of his wife.

This tale, like the poems of the historical Taliesin, is set in the 6th century and the days of Maelgwn Gwynedd, but it is essentially two tales in one; the first part, before Elphin's appearance, is known as 'The Tale of Gwion Bach' and is found in many manuscripts. The second part, 'The Tale of Taliesin' records the exploits of the young boy Taliesin, and is not so common but was recounted by Thomas Love Peacock's later novel 'The Misfortunes of Elphin'.

Celtic scholar Patrick Ford sees the separation of the two parts as straightforward, as 'The Tale of Gwion' deals with magic potions, shape-shifting and set in the days of the legendary King Arthur, a supernatural world similar to that found in 'Culhwch and Olwen'. Whereas the second part,  'The Tale of Taliesin', feels to have more of a historical bias. Ford states that, “while the two parts are chronologically consecutive, they are worlds apart in setting, and perhaps, in audience.7

Although indeed an ancient tale, the earliest account of The Tale of Gwion is found in the 16th century work of  Elis Gruffydd which he related to an oral account. Although Ifor Williams is surely correct in arguing that Bedd Taliesin has no connection with the historical poet Taliesin, this land of Wales is undoubtedly the home of the later Taliesin of legend and folklore.

Surviving Camlann
As we have seen above Morfran disappears from The Tale of Gwion Bach when Gwion gains wisdom, but enclosed within a Triad in Culhwch and Olwen he is named as one of the three survivors of Camlann, Arthur's final battle:

“....and Morfran son of Tegid (no man placed his weapon in him at Camlan, so exceeding ugly was he; all thought he was a devil helping. There was hair on him like the hair of a stag), and Sandde Angel-face (no one placed his spear in him at Camlan, so exceeding fair was he; all thought he was an angel helping), and Cynwyl the Saint (one of the three men that escaped from Camlan. He was the last to part from Arthur, on Hengroen his horse)...”8

Later tradition records seven survivors of Camlann which agrees with the seven survivors of the raid on the Otherworld to steal a magic cauldron recorded in the poem 'Preiddeu Annwfn' from the Book of Taliesin, the bard himself is presumably one as he accompanies Arthur on the journey and returns to tell the tale. This theme recurs in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, the tale of 'Branwen uerch Llyr' in which the army of the Island of the Mighty carry out a raid on Ireland over a Cauldron of Rebirth. In this version, again, only seven survive, and once more, Taliesin is among them.

However, both accounts of the survivors of Camlann, Culhwch and the later account, include the three, Sandde Angel's Form, Morfran son of Tegid, and St. Cynfelyn which seems to hold some geographic significance to the tradition of Arthur's final battle. Indeed, by plotting the location of these survivors we may be able to pinpoint the battle site.

The Tale of Gwion Bach starts at Bala (Llyn Tegid), as Morfran son of Tegid affirms. About 20 miles south west of Bala is a valley called Camlan, at Mallwyd on the A470 road, near Dinas Mawddwy, south-east of Dolgellau. A further 20 miles south west of Camlan we are back at Bedd Taliesin.

Adjacent to the parish of Llanfihangel Genau-y-Glynn, and midway between the towns of Aberystwyth and Machynlleth in north Ceredigion, is the parish of Llangynfelyn centred on the villages of Tre-Taliesin and Tre'r Ddôl and the settlements of Llangynfelyn, and Craig y Penrhyn. The parish is named from the church of St Cynfelyn, about a mile north-west of Tre-Taliesin. The church, a Grade II listed building unfortunately now derelict, is situated within a roughly circular churchyard, indicative of an early Celtic 'llan'. A healing well, Ffynnon Gynfelin, is situated on the north side of the churchyard.

We know little of the life of Saint Cynfelyn and his festival does not occur in any of the Welsh calendars. However he is considered a real person who lived in the 6th century. He is said to have become a hermit, probably after the slaughter of Camlan, setting up his cell in the area on the edge of Cors Fochno (Borth bog) where the church dedicated to the saint now stands. It seems significant that one of the survivors of the Battle of Camlann should spend his last days just 20 mile south-west of the only location in the land to bear that name.

Sarn Gynfelyn
Situated on the Ceredigion coastline, between Borth and Aberystwyth, is a reef or causeway, known as Sarn Cynfelyn, extending some seven miles out to sea. This causeway was popularly believed to be associated with the sunken land known as Cantre'r Gwaelod inundated in the 6th century. The five causeways (sarnau) extending into the Cardigan Bay are relics of glacial moraine deposited during the last ice age forming natural reefs of boulders and shingle washed clean by the sea over thousands of years.

The submerged forest 
About 5 miles north of Sarn Gynfelyn is the submerged forest at Ynyslas, which is also associated with the legend of the drowned land. Here on the coastline is the exposed remains of a forest of oak, pine, birch, willow and hazel tree stumps is revealed at low tide, estimated to be about 5,000 years old. This is clearly proof that land in Cardigan Bay was flooded years ago; the legend of Cantre'r Gwaelod is based on the ancient memory of a real event.

Legend claims that after the inundation the king of Ceredigion, Gwyddno Garanhir, brother of Maelgwn Gwynedd, relocated his court to dry land, and established his main port at Porth Wyddno (modern Borth). Nearby, between Aberdyfi and Aberystwyth, he had a fishing weir constructed. As recent as the 18th century there were reports of sightings of the remains of human habitation at the far end of Sarn Cynfelyn, where a collection of large stones and boulders some seven miles out to sea form a reef known as 'Caer Wyddno', the fort, or palace, of Gwyddno. This is one of the sites claimed to be where the babe Taliesin was found in the fish weir.

Bedd Taliesin may have no connection with the historical Taliesin of the 6th century. However, it is for the individual to decide whether the land of Wales, where every rock, every mountain, every lake has a story to tell, is richer for possessing the legendary and folkloric Taliesin of the later medieval tales, or poorer. For me there is only one choice.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

Notes & References:
1. Bedd Taliesin, Coflein website.
2. Glynn E Daniel, The Prehistoric Chamber Tombs of England and Wales, Cambridge University Press, 1950, p.215.
3. Ibid. p.118.
4. The first known mention of the grave is made by Edward Lhuyd in 1695 in the additions to Edmund Gibson's edition of Camden's Britannia, p. 647.
5. Chris Barber and John Godfrey Williams, The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge Books, 1989, p.118.
6. Ifor Williams, The Poems Of Taliesin, The Dublin Institute Of Advanced Studies, 1987.
7. Patrick K Ford, The Tale of Gwion Back and The Tale of Taliesin, pp.159-187, in The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales, 30th Anniversary Edition, Univerity of California Press, 2008.
8. Thomas Jones and Gwynn Jones, Culhwch and Olwen, from The Mabinogion, Everyman Press, 1993.

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Saturday 1 July 2017

Glastonbury Pilgrimages 2017

The Glastonbury Pilgrimages take place each year in the ruins of the ancient Abbey. This year the event tales place over the weekend 8-9 July.

The 2017 Anglican Pilgrimage takes place on Saturday 8th July under the title Joseph of Arimathea.

On Sunday 9th July 2017, the Roman Catholic pilgrimage comes to the Abbey.

The procession exits the Abbey grounds through the Abbey House Gardens, it proceeds through the town centre via Chilkwell Street, the High Street and Magdalene Street, returning to the Abbey through the Magdalene Street Gates. On return to the Abbey, Mass is celebrated in the Nave of the Abbey Church at 3.30pm

In some years the procession has been preceded by a Liturgy of the Word in the Tor Field, commemorating the martyrdom of Blesséd Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, and his fellow martyrs, Blesséd Roger James and Blesséd John Thorne. In 2017 this liturgy takes place in the Abbey Grounds, followed by the start of the procession at 2.15pm.

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