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  • Writer's pictureGraham Watkins

The Curse of Nant Gwrtheyrn

Gwrtheyrn was a British King who lived in Kent during the 5th Century. He was a timid man and his kingdom was weak. He employed mercenaries from Saxony to fight his enemies and paid them with gold. The Saxons, led by the brutal warrior Hengist, drove off Gwrtheyrn’s foes. King Gwrtheyrn was pleased and gave Hengist the Isle of Thanet as a reward. The Saxons bought their families to Kent and settled on the fertile island. Before long, they started to take more land. Seeing the danger he had invited into his kingdom, Gwrtheyrn negotiated a wedding to protect his throne. He asked for the hand of Alys, the beautiful daughter of Hengist, the Saxon leader. Hengist agreed to the match and a great feast was prepared with Saxons and Britons sitting together. Suddenly, as one, the Saxons jumped up, drew their daggers and stabbed the Britons beside them. Gwrtheyrn had been tricked. He escaped and ran for his life, accompanied by Druid priests.

Welsh Legends, Nant Gwrtheyrn

The King and his priests travelled far across the land looking for a remote part of Britain where the evil Hengist would never find them. After years of searching, they found a small valley, hidden behind a mountain on a remote peninsula. The land could be ploughed and there were fish in the sea. King Gwrtheryn had found his refuge and the little party settled in the valley. They built houses and soon a thriving village was established, a village that was so remote that it should never be discovered.

One hundred years later, three Christian monks found a tiny track leading down a steep mountain and followed it to the valley below. Near the sea, they found a village with a pagan church. The monks told the villagers to build a Catholic church but the people refused. They threw stones at the monks and drove them away. The retreating monks stopped on the track, high above the village and each monk cursed the tiny hamlet below them.

“The ground in this valley is unholy. No man shall be buried here,” yelled the first monk.

“The men of Nant Gwrtheyrn shall never marry the women of Nant Gwrtheyrn,” cried the second monk.

“Your village is doomed and will be ruined three times. The third time it falls will be for ever,” bellowed the third monk.

The people in the valley heard the curses and laughed at the monks.

“Words cannot hurt us,” they said.

The following day the men of the village took their boats into the bay to fish. A violent storm blew up and overturned the boats, drowning the men. The bodies disappeared into the sea. With no men, the women had no choice but to leave the village and start new lives. Nant Gwrtheyrn became a deserted ruin.

As the years passed people began to return to the valley to farm, but strange accidents happened to the men. Some fell into the sea and disappeared beneath the waves. Others vanished into the forest never to be seen again. Slowly the graveyard filled with headstones carved with the names of their widows. Wary of the curses, the people dared not wed each other. The men travelled away from the village to find their wives and bring them back to the valley. Small farms were started but they were so far from any market and the track out of the valley was so steep that the farmers struggled to make a living.

Welsh legends, Nant Gwrtheyrn

Eventually people gave up and drifted away until there were only three farms left at Nant Gwrtheyrn called "Ty Hen", "Ty Canol" and "Ty Uchaf".

Rhys Maredydd lived at Ty Uchaf with his sister Angharad. They were orphans. Their father had been consumed in a terrible fire that had destroyed the winter hay. Their mother had died of a broken heart. The orphans had a cousin, Meinir who lived with her father at Ty Hen. The three children were friends and would play together when their jobs were done.

As the youngsters grew older, Rhys and his cousin, Meinir fell in love. They wandered hand in hand on Mount Eifl above the farms. A great oak tree stood on the mountain where they would sit and plan their lives together, sheltered by the giant branches. When Rhys asked Meinir for her hand in marriage she willingly agreed and the happy couple ran down the mountain to seek her father’s permission.

“You cannot marry Rhys,” said her father.

“But we love each other,” cried Meinir.

“Rhys is your cousin. You cannot marry your neighbour. Remember the curse,” said her father.

Tears ran down Meinir’s face as her father spoke and his heart melted. He relented and embraced the young lovers, agreeing they could wed. Plans were made for the wedding. It was agreed they would wed far away from Nant Gwrthyren, at the church of Clynnog Fawr. Surely the curse would not hurt them there.

The morning of the wedding arrived. It was a fine summer's day. Rhys dressed in his Sunday clothes and walked across the fields to Meinir’s farm. Her father stood in the doorway solemnly refusing entry. Eventually, to the merriment of the gathering wedding guests, Meinir’s father grinned and stood aside. Rhys went inside to find his bride. Searching for the bride on the wedding morning is an ancient custom and Rhys went from room to room happily calling for Meinir to reveal herself but she did not appear. Meinir, eager to make Rhys work to find her, had slipped away to hide, long before her betrothed had arrived.

Enjoying the game, Rhys searched the barn and the cow sheds but they were empty. Meinir had vanished. He called her name but there was no answer. The wedding guests cheered and encouraged Rhys as he went from field to field looking for his bride. The morning passed and the sun beat down. Rhys grew hot in his wedding suit. He was no longer enjoying searching for Meinir. He called again. Still there was no answer.

“Perhaps she has gone to Clynnog Fawr and is waiting for you at the church,” said the wedding guests.

Welsh legends, Nant Gwrtheyrn

Rhys set off along the track, leading up the mountain towards Clynnog Fawr. The wedding guests followed behind as quickly as they could. But Meinir was not waiting at the church. Rhys turned and ran back towards Nant Gwrtheyrn desperate to find his bride. Meinir’s father, weary from the long walk to the church, borrowed a horse and galloped after Rhys.

The two men searched the farm again but could not find Meinir. The dark came but they did not stop. They cut torches and scoured the mountain through the night, calling for Meinir to reveal herself.

Rhys and Meinir’s father continued to search as the months passed. Then one night Meinir’s father did not return from the search. He was never seen again. Rhys was alone in the valley.

The corn went uncut and the cows grew wild as Rhys searched. Summer turned to winter but he would not stop. Each day Rhys would walk for miles called out, “Meinir, Meinir where are you?”

Each night he would sit huddled under the great oak tree on the mountain and cry softly, “Meinir, Meinir where are you?”

Welsh legends, welsh myths

Thirty years passed, then one night as Rhys sat shivering under the great tree, storm clouds gathered on the mountain. A flash of lightening struck the tree, splitting it in two. A hideous cry echoed across the valley for, in the flash of light, Meinir’s hiding place had been revealed. There, wedged between the broken branches, sat the twisted skeleton of a young woman. All that was left of the wedding dress, that was once so pure and white, were a few grey rags hanging from the bones.

A second lightening bolt hit the ground killing Rhys. At last, the lovers were together as they lay on the mountain, untouched and forgotten by the world. The curse of Nant Gwrtheyrn had left the valley desolate and empty for the second time.

It would be another 200 years before Nant Gwrtheyrn became ruined for the third and final time.

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