The Gathering of A Great Host
The tale of Rhonabwy’s Dream is set on the modern England – Wales border, the site of many conflicts over the centuries. Perhaps this is the reason why the author selected this location?
The plain of Argyngroeg is today named 'Gungrog' near the town of Welshpool, known in Welsh as ‘Y Trallwng’, meaning the sinking or marshy land, historically in Montgomeryshire but today under the administration of Powys.
South of Welshpool is a strategic crossing point of the river Severn at Rhydwhyman. This ford was the main passage from mid-Wales along the valleys of the river Camlad and Rea Brook into Shropshire and Shrewsbury. The first structure built to guard this rite of passage was an Iron Age hillfort at Fdridd Faldwyn. North of the ford the Romans built the fort at Forden Gaer (Lavobrinta).
About a mile and a half from the ford the massive earthwork known as ‘Offa’s Dyke’, said to have been constructed by the Mercian king Offa in the 8th century, crosses the Camlad near Rhyd y Groes ('the ford of the cross').
Half a mile south is the remains of the motte-and-bailey earthen fortification of Hen Domen (old mound), commanding the ford across the Severn, built by Roger de Montgomery, the Earl of Shrewsbury shortly after the Norman Conquest. About 150 years later, during the reign of Henry III, the castle was established a mile south at Montgomery, in his campaign against Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. However, the Severn crossing at Rhydwhyman was not visible from here and it is thought the tower at Hen Domen was retained to watch the ford. Henry’s castle at Montgomery survived many attacks of the years, notably those in 1228 and 1231 by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, and again in 1245 by Dafydd ap Llywelyn, until is was demolished by Parliamentarians in 1649 during the English Civil War.
The author of Rhonabwy’s Dream seems to have selected this location as a site with a history of conflict between the English and Welsh. However, historians see this as an unlikely location for the battle of Badon. In the story, Arthur breaks camp at Rhyd y Groes, moves up the valley of the Severn toward Cefn Digoll then dismounts below Caer Faddon; Badon then, according to the storyteller, is somewhere near the north end of Long Mountain?
Cefn Diggoll is the Welsh name for ‘Long Mountain’, a mass of high ground extending in the southwest from Forden to Vennington, near Westbury, in Shropshire to the northeast. Ivan Margary traced a Roman road running over Long Mountain, crossing the summit at 1,339 feet (408m) and the hillfort of Beacon Ring, linking the Roman city at Viriconium (Wroxeter) to the fort at Lavobrinta (Forden Gaer). Margary only considered a highland route but evidence has been discovered since his study of a low level Roman road running along the valley of the Camlad.
The Triads of the Island of Britain (Trioedd Ynys Prydein) record a battle fought at Cefn Digoll in 630 between Edwin of Northumbria and a Mercian-Welsh alliance led by Cadwallon of Gwynedd and Penda of Mercia. The battle preceded a Welsh campaign into Northumbria, which ultimately led to Edwin's death at the Battle of Hatfield Chase.
Another Triad records the fetching of Myngan from Meigen to Llansilin as one of the 'Three Missions that were obtained from Powys'. The poem In Praise of Cadwallon (Moliant Cadwallon) lists a sequence of fourteen victories by Cadwallon over the English and includes the line, 'The camp of Cadwallon on the Severn and from the far side to Dygen, almost the burning Meigen'.
Clearly this is the site of Dark Age conflict, yet the relationship of the accounts in the Triads with the Welsh Annals entry for the battle of Meigen on the Kalends of January in 630, where Edwin and his two sons were killed by Cadwallon, and the Annals entry for 632 which records the slaughter of the Severn and the death of Idris in 632, is uncertain and may, or may not, be referring to the same events.
North across the valley from Long Mountain, in which runs the A458 road from Welshpool to Shrewsbury, is Dygen Freiddyn the old name for the Breidden Hills, a location preferred by Blake and Lloyd as the location of Badon. (Keys to Avalon, Element, 2000). However, no evidence of Dark Age occupation has been found there.
We are left to ponder if the author of the Dream of Rhonabwy consciously selected this location for the mustering of Arthur’s Great Army before the battle of Badon based on its historical setting for conflict between the English and Welsh; or did he hold some local knowledge of a now lost tradition of this being the site of Arthur’s greatest victory?
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