The Welsh Atlantis
The land of Cantre’r Gwaelod was in celebration on the day of Gwyddno Garanhir’s daughter’s wedding with the court busy in preparation playing host to visiting dignitaries and merchants from all over Britain who brought fine foods and wines in anticipation for the feasting that would follow the nuptials. Entertainers of all kinds had gathered to perform for the guests and the palace and courtyard was bedecked with flowers and fruits harvested from the fertile lands that surrounded the palace. The palace’s kitchens and bakeries filled the air with the sweet smells of roasting meats, fish and baking bread.
The whole of the kingdom seemed to be joyously at work excited by the prospect of the wedding of their princess to a local princeling. All except one. Seithennin was night-watchman responsible for policing the dyke that kept Cantre’r safe from the vagaries of the tides and winds. It was he who was responsible for opening and closing the sluice gates at the appropriate times and his heart was heavy. Seithennin, a long-time friend of the King, had fallen in love with the princess and could not bear the thought of watching his heart’s wish betrothed to another man. Seithennin took himself away from the celebrations and slunk into the corners and shadows fuelled by jealousy and spite.
At noon the prince and princess were brought into the palace church where their marriage was witnessed by the King and Queen, their families, and what appeared to be the whole of the Kingdom. Nobody noticed Seithennin’s absence.
After the wedding, there was much feasting. The kitchens brought forth fourteen courses, each more exuberant and fabulous than the last. Fine wines and meads were drunk from silver and horn goblets and the jesters kept all entertained with their foolery. Seithennin could not bear to watch such merriment, and, with tears in his eyes, took some bottles of mead from the kitchen and retired to the watchtower where he drank his fill watching the sunset and moonrise before falling into a drunken stupor.
He was still asleep when the storm blew-up from the south-west and heavy rain began to lash the walls of the palace. He was still asleep when the waves, fuelled by the spring tide and storm winds, began to breach the dyke and flood through the open sea gates.
Seithennin was eventually awoken when the cacophony generated by the storm penetrated even his dulled senses. Panicked, he immediately rose and looked-out to where the dyke should have been – there was no sea wall, just an angry, foaming sea. As the waves crashed against the palace and devoured the land around, Seithennin rushed to the church bell tower to raise the alarm. Nobody in the palace took heed as the bell was no match for the beautiful music coming from the harps, flutes and lutes of the musicians as they entertained the dancers. He ran to the hall and bellowed to the assembly to get out, to run for high land, but it was too late.
That night the land of Cantre’r Gwaelod and all 16 villages of Maes Gwyddno were claimed by sea. Few escaped the deluge as it caught most villagers asleep in their beds. Of the revellers, it is said that only the King, a few of his household, and a handful of guests managed the flight to high ground. Of Seithennin’s fate, little is known. The more generous wordsmiths say that Seithennin drowned attempting to guide his beloved princess and her husband to safety.
At low tide, and especially after a storm, the remains of the ancient forest that covered Cantre’r Gwaelod can still be found between Tywyn and Aberdyfi.
An earlier version of this tale suggests that Seithennin was actually a visiting local King in love with the fair maiden Mererid who was in charge of the sluice gates. One night he managed to entice her to a feast at Gwyddno’s court and his amorous advances, some say successful, distracted her sufficiently to render Cantre’r defenceless from the incoming tide. A still earlier version of this myth, captured in a poem entitled ‘Boddi Maes Gwyddno’ (The Drowning of Gwyddno’s Realm), portrays Seithennin as a hero and saviour of Cantre’r in battle who sees his land lost due to the treachery and foolishness of Mererid, the priestess of a fairy well in Cantre’r, who allows the water to overflow and flood the land. Whichever tale you choose it is clear that time has not been kind to Seithennin as through the centuries he goes from hero to accomplice to outright villain.
The Bells of Aberdyfi
The legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod has inspired the well-known song, ‘The Bells of Aberdyfi’, which became popular during the 18th Century in the music halls and is still popular in sing-songs in Welsh pubs today. It is said that if you listen closely on the promenade at Tywyn, or especially at Aberdyfi – Aberdyfi being the nearest place on dry land to Cantre’r Gwaelod – you can hear the bells of the lost church ringing out from under the dark waters of Cardigan Bay. However, be watchful: the old church bells are said to ring out only in times of danger or when storms rage!
JJ Williams’ The Bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod
A beautiful piece of Welsh poetry by poet JJ Williams was inspired by the myth of Cantre’r Gwaelod. Translation by Dyfed Lloyd Evans.
Clychau Cantre’r Gwaelod
O dan y môr a’i donnau Mae llawer dinas dlos, Fu’n gwrando ar y clychau Yn canu gyda’r nos. Trwy ofer esgeulustod Y gwiliwr ar y tŵr Aeth clychau Cantre’r Gwaelod O’r golwg dan y dŵr.
Pan fyddo’r môr yn berwi A’r corwynt ar y don, A’r wylan wen yn methu Cael disgyn ar ei bron, Pan dyr y don ar dywod A tharan yn ei stŵr, Mae clychau Cantre’r Gwaelod Yn ddistaw dan y dŵr.
Ond pan mae’r môr heb awel Ar don heb ewyn gwyn, Ar dydd yn marw’n dawel Dros ysgwydd bell y bryn; Mae nodau pêr yn dyfod, A gwn yn ddigon siwr Fod clychau Cantre’r Gwaelod I’w clywed dan y dŵr.
O! cenwch glych fy mebyd Ar waelod llaith y lli, Daw oriau bore bywyd Yn sŵn y gân i mi: Hyd fedd mi gofia’r tywod Ar lawer nos ddi-stŵr, A chlychau Cantre’r Gwaelod Yn canu dan y dŵr.
The Bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod
Beneath the wave-swept ocean Are many pretty towns That hearkened to the bell-rings Set pealing through the night Through negligent abandon By a watcher on the wall The bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod Submerged beneath the wave
When the sea was surging with gales upon the wave The gull, so pale, was failing to settle on their crest When waves crashed on the sea-shore with thunder in its wake The bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod are silent ‘neath the wave
But when the sea is quiet with waves that aren’t foam-flecked and day is gently slipping behind the far-hill’s slope sweet tones are heard a-rising and this I know as truth The bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod are sounding ‘neath the wave
O! ring-out bells of childhood on ocean’s salty floor for early strains of living sound in their song for me Whilst live the shore I’ll think of on many quiet nights and bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod still ringing ‘neath the wave
Check-out the links below for more pictures:
Take a look at some more pictures from our recent visit in January 2015.
Who are we?
TywynHolidays offers self-catering holiday accommodation in Tywyn, Snowdonia. If you are looking for a holiday apartment right on the seaside, then give us a try!