Llyn Barfog is a small lake in Snowdonia occupying high ground above the northern banks of the River Dyfi. Covered by yellow water lilies in the summer and surrounded by rushes that give it a bearded appearance. However, Celtic Folklore suggests a different derivation for the name: it has been suggested that the lake was originally called Llyn y Barfog or The Bearded One’s Lake. The Bearded One was some ancient mythical being who lived there. The lake is also linked to King Arthur, a monster, and elves.
Travelling from Tywyn, look out for the sign for Happy Valley on your left. Once on this road you will travel for 15-minutes. The car park for Llyn Barfog is signposted on your right. Exit the car park through a metal gate immediately passing Llidiart y Llyn cottage on your left. Walking up a slight incline you will reach a barn on your right at which point the track will fork to the left. Follow this track around and to the right and you see a white farm cottage directly ahead. Turn left at the cottage and proceed through a couple of metal gates on to a broad pathway which ascends for around 300-metres to the summit of Mynydd y Llyn (Mountain of the Lake). You will pass through three more gates before you arrive at the lake.
A short distance from the lake is echo point. Keeping the lake on your left, follow the track through a small gate. You will soon approach a slate slab with the words ‘To Echo’ written on it. Continue forward and you will be presented with a plateau and rock face opposite. Test your echo here.
To visit ‘Carn March Arthur’, or ‘Stone of Arthur’s Horse’ (more on this later), walk back towards the lake and then turn left around 100 yards before the gate on to another track. Follow this track until it meets another; turn right and walk uphill. You will approach another slate slab with the words ‘Carn March Arthur’. Nearby is Llamrai’s hoof print made as it did battle with Llyn Barfog’s Afanc.
King Arthur and the Afanc
Afanc’s are water demons that are said to dwell in the depths of a few Welsh lakes. These monstrous beasts were said to sleep for a hundred years but when awoken would rain havoc on local villages and devour those foolish enough to swim in their waters. Descriptions of the beast vary; it has been described as resembling a crocodile, beaver or dwarf-like creature or even a combination of all three.
It is said that an Afanc had made Llyn Barfog its home and had caused such mischief to the people of Aberdyfi and the surrounding area that they implored King Arthur to rid them of the beast. Arthur visited the lake on his trusty steed Llamrai and lassoed the monster with strong magical chains dragging it clear of the lake before despatching it. The battle was so arduous, and the Afanc so massive, that it caused Llamrai’s hooves to press down and make an indentation in the rock. An alternative ending is that rather than killing the Afanc, Arthur dragged the monster to the isolated lake of Llyn Cau on the slopes of Cader Idris where it wanders still. The rock with the hoof print can be seen today and is called “Carn March Arthur” or “Stone of Arthur’s Horse.”
Other legends describe a doomed attempt to rid the lake of the monster by attempting to beguile it with a lullaby song by a beautiful Welsh maiden. The maiden’s song would bewitch the creature enabling it to be chained and hauled from the lake where it could be slaughtered. Unfortunately, the Afanc awoke as it was dragged ashore and devoured the hunting party and trampled the maiden.
Do not be fooled into thinking that, judging from the size of the lake and its depth (around 10.5 metres), Llyn Barfog’s Afanc was a small creature: the lake was much larger in King Arthur’s time.
The Elfin Cow of Llyn Barfog
Another legend associated with Llyn Barfog explains the origin of Welsh black cattle. The following has been extracted from British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions written by Wirt Sikes.
Elfin ladies used to haunt the neighbourhood of Llyn Barfog appearing at dusk clad all in green, accompanied by milk-white hounds. These hounds guarded beautiful milk-white cows, called Gwartheg y Llyn, or cows of the lake. One day an old farmer had the good fortune to capture one of these mystical cows as it had taken-up the habit of straying near to his own herd. From that day the farmer’s fortune was assured as the elfin cow produced more milk in one day than the rest of his herd produced in one week. The elfin cow’s beautiful mike-white calves were also as productive and were famed throughout the land for their flesh, milk, butter and cheese.
The farmer, who had been poor. became rich due to the fertility of these new cows and his beasts roamed the mountains in huge herds.
Time passed and the farmer took with the notion that the elfin cow was getting old and decided to fatten her up for market. She grew huge and her size was remarked on by all the farmer’s neighbours to the extent that a large crowd gathered on killing day to witness her slaughter. The old farmer was already counting his coin when the butcher bared his right arm and prepared to bludgeon the poor creature. As the butcher’s arm came down a deafening shriek was heard from on high which stalled the killing arc. All eyes were drawn to a green lady standing on a crag high over the lake who, with a voice like thunder, said:
Dere di felen Einion,
Cyrn Cyfeiliorn—braith y Llyn,
A’r foel Dodin,
Codwch, dewch adre.
Come yellow Anvil, stray horns,
Speckled one of the lake,
And of the hornless Dodin,
Arise, come home.
At once the elfin cow broke free of its tether and raced at full tilt towards Llyn Barfog where it was joined by all her progeny. Here the mystical cows entered the lake, witnessed by the mortified farmer, never to be seen again. Only one cow remained of all the farmer’s herds and she had turned from milk-white to raven black. It is this cow that gave rise to all Welsh black cattle. The farmer grew poor, and in despair, drowned himself in the lake.