Re-telling Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad II

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.

Evergreen Grove, Loch AweThe 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’.

Loch Awe and MountainsI 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.

Inistrynich GroveVisiting 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.


7 thoughts on “Re-telling Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad II

  1. Pingback: Re-telling Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad | From Peneverdant

  2. My Dear, You are always doing such creative things like telling stories to the trees, elementals, etc. as you travel the land.!! I do hope you publish a book of prose about all of this sometime soon. I was fascinated to see how much harder it was to tell your stories in the North and the response of nature to them there. This really confirms why we are such rootless nomads in North America, or at least I do feel so often that way. You and your creativity are so rooted and blooming from your life in the here and now.

  3. You raise some interesting questions about connection, locality and origin… while the written story of Culhwch ac Olwen might originate from the area around Strathclyde, with references that root it in that landscape, I can’t help feeling there is a bigger story behind it all, which can take root in any fertile ground. A study of folklore often reveals that the same types of stories springing up again and again in different localities, yet each with unique local details that root it firmly in its specific landscape; I get the feeling that the oral traditions which gave rise to the written mythos of Brythonic lore might be helpfully approached from a similar perspective. There are huge, complex root systems deep beneath the surface, and each unique local story is an offshoot. And although the role of Awenydd is to quest beneath the surface to reach those roots, the surface is still the doorway: the surface is what enables relationship, and relationship is what opens the door. That is my experience and perspective, anyway.

    I always get a strange feeling when travelling through the Brythonic lands of the Scottish borders – a sort of push-and-pull attraction and repulsion. I would love to spend some more time there, but I also have an intuition that it will not be an easy landscape to get to know. But it looks *beautiful* 🙂

    1. Thanks Angharad, the ‘root systems’ is an interesting way of looking at things… all roots lead to Annwn??? I’d certainly agree with it being necessary to connect with the surface landscape to reach the depths. Scotland… was like… diamond. Whereas not much further south on the borderlands of the Solway Firth at the Nith estuary I was blown away and felt very connected. Maybe because I live near the Ribble estuary and am more familiar with that kind of landscape than mountain and loch?…

  4. I’ve always felt that the Highlands of Scotland are a very different place than the Lowlands (though some of the so-called ‘Lowlands’ are quite ‘high’!). There might be something in the fact that the northern part of Scotland has a very different geological history than the southern part. And of course the Brythonic-speaking people stretched up through the southern part of Scotland while the Goidelic speaking people inhabited the northern part. So in spite of the current political unity of Scotland, historically (and in more recent history too) its not so much the line of Hadrian’s Wall that divides it from England , but the line of the Antonine Wall further north.

    Certainly the ‘Old North’ of the later Welsh bards is the area either side of the current Scottish border rather than the lands further north.

  5. I found this a very moving and profound record of your journey of discovering more of the wheres of your experience. The call to dig deep the the ground where you live is clearly real and has already produced fruit as you pull nourishment in to your creative soul from the Ribble area and the Awen flows through you and Gwyn seeks and speaks to you.

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