Tywyn’s Petrified Forest & The Welsh Atlantis

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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:

More pictures of Tywyn’s Petrified Forest taken 1st February 2014

Higher Resolution Images of Tywyn’s Petrified Forest

Take a look at some more pictures from our recent visit in January 2015.

 

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2 thoughts on “Tywyn’s Petrified Forest & The Welsh Atlantis

  1. Linda pringis

    We are currently holidaying in Wales and would like to visit Tywyn to see the petrified forest. Could you please let me know if the forest is still there before we make the journey .

    Reply
    1. Paula Post author

      Linda: Unfortunately, the forest has now been reclaimed by the sands. Most of the time the forest remains covered and is only revealed when the beach is hit by storms.

      Reply

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