For Calan Mai, a friend and I headed north of the wall for the May Bank Holiday. We stayed in a cottage on Inistrynich beside Loch Awe. My original plan was to re-tell the story of Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad in Coille Coire Chuilc, one of the southernmost remnants of the Caledonian forest, as I had reason to believe the Strathclyde Britons associated it with Annwn.
However this didn’t happen. We got a bit too drunk on Nos Galan Mai and didn’t feel like travelling far. Instead I ended up telling the version written for Guests of the Earth by the loch in a grove of evergreens.
The surrounding landscape reflected the dynamics of the time of year; wood anemones and bluebells on woodland edges, marsh marigolds in damper nooks. In wetter areas we found American Skunk Cabbage (or Swamp Lantern) with brilliantly suggestive leafy spathes and yellow spandixes.
Whilst the flowery floor said May most of the trees were only just coming into bud. The loch was ringed by snow-topped mountains; Ben Cruachan ‘Conical Mountain’, Creag Mhor ‘Great Rocky Hill’, Beinn Na Sroine ‘Mountain of the Nose’, Ben Lui ‘Deer Calf Mountain’, Beinn A Cleibh ‘Mountain of the Chest’, Meall Nan Gabhar ‘Hill of the Goats’, Meall Nan Tighearn ‘Hill of the Lords’.
I found myself pondering whether this reflected the battle between Gwyn and Gwythyr for Creiddylad: winter and summer kings fighting for a fertility goddess, or whether it should be seen within the Gaelic context of the story of the Cailleach, Bride and Angus. Cailleach Bheur was one of the genii loci. Her failure to cover a fountain springing from Ben Cruachan resulted in the creation of the river Awe and Loch Awe. Turned to stone as a punishment she guards the Pass of Brander.
However I had an obligation to fulfil. I asked the spirits of place and spruce trees whether they minded if I told them an old Brythonic story. My request was met by a curious silence and agreement of tolerance. I decided to go ahead.
As I told the story I experienced less connection with the landscape than I do in Lancashire. Going through the words and figures, the bones of what happened, those bones seemed thin as wind. It didn’t touch the land or live. Afterward the spirits of place politely motioned us to leave.
Visiting Coille Coire Chuilc the following day I was glad I hadn’t chosen to tell the story there. I experienced the landscape and its spirits, disturbed by lead and gold mining and taken over by tourists, as hostile. Locating Annwn in the Caledonian forest may have been valid for the Strathclyde Britons in the Dark Ages but didn’t feel right for me.
On the whole, and most ironically considering I had linked Loch Awe with the Awen, I felt more distant from Gwyn as his Awenydd than I ever had. Although he told me deep magic could be worked beside the loch I could not grasp it. I could not see the beyond of the shore even when liminal rain provided the cloaked apparel of mist.
I was glad to get back to Lancashire. To the Greencroft Valley meadow with its wood avens, leafy ox-eye daisies, newly planted plugs and apple trees blossoming pink and white. My fragment of Avalon in Penwortham.
Walking through the Yarrow Valley’s banks of bluebells, woodlands where with greater stitchwort they formed an undulating sea stretching away for miles in heady glory, I experienced Creiddylad’s presence more strongly than I ever had.
Of course, Gwyn keeps telling me in various ways we’re here, immanent within this landscape. To believe in his assertion. Yet I fight him because he’s not a recognised genius loci and I worry about what people will think even though I know he speaks the truth…
Whilst my quest to uncover Gwyn’s neglected connections with the Old North continues, I now feel a deeper pull to explore how his mythos maps onto this land, its changing seasons and ways into Annwn. Hidden histories and multitudes of otherworlds. Years he has been here and infinite future possibilities.