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  • Writer's pictureGraham Watkins

The Legend of the Lonely Shepherd

The shepherd spent his days on the mountains of Llangattock. It was a solitary life, wet and cold in winter, hot and dry in summer. Each season was different but all meant hard work for the shepherd. In winter his back strained as he carried fodder over the mountain to the pens so his sheep would not starve. In spring he worked through the nights to help them lamb. Before the hot days when the sun would be high in the sky he sheared the sheep and carried the

The Lonely Shepherd looks down on Crickhowell

heavy fleeces to market. In summer he would walk miles over the mountains searching for stray lambs. All year long he protected his flock from wolves and robbers. He didn’t mind. His sheep were his living. This was his life. But a shepherd’s life is lonely and a man that is alone grows sad.

One day the shepherd sat and looked around. His cottage was neglected and cold. His hearth un-swept and his clothes were un-mended. 'I need a wife,' muttered the shepherd. 'One who will look after me, mend my coat, keep a warming fire in the grate and put a hot supper on the table.'

The next day the shepherd went to town in search of a wife. He found a widow, a quiet, comely woman, in need of a home. He courted her and she agreed to be his wife. They married and she moved into his cottage. At first, the shepherd was pleased with the changes his new wife made. She cleaned the cottage and polished the grate. She scrubbed the table and repaired the curtains. She mended his coat and chopped wood for the fire. Each night they ate a hot supper and his wife would sew while he smoked. The shepherd was content.

One evening the shepherd came home after a long hard day on the mountain. He opened the door and went into the cottage.

'Get outside with those muddy boots. Can’t you see, I’ve just cleaned the floor,' yelled his wife.

The shepherd was shocked. His wife had never yelled at him before. He took off his boots and put them outside the door. The shepherd and his wife sat in silence as they ate supper. The following night the shepherd returned home from the mountain and found the cottage blazing with light. Laughter was coming from the open doorway and gay music filled the air. The shepherd went into the cottage and found it full of people. 'Who are these people in my house?' he cried.

'These are my friends, husband,' answered his wife and laughed. The shepherd was angry and threw the people out of the house.

'How dare you treat my friends, visiting me in my house, so badly,' cried his wife and threw the shepherd’s supper into the fire.

The shepherd went to bed in silence. The next day the shepherd got up early and roused his wife.

'Come, wife. There is work to do,' he said. He marched his wife up the mountain and made her help him gather the sheep. It was dark when they arrived home.

'Light the fire and get my supper,' ordered the shepherd in a loud voice. His wife was afraid of her husband’s mood and did as she was told. Once more they ate in silence. In the morning the shepherd woke his wife before the sun had risen.

'Get dressed. We have sheep to shear today,' commanded the shepherd. The shepherd made his wife work all day long shearing the sheep and moving them from pen to pen. It was dark when they returned to the cottage.

'Why is there no firewood by the grate? Where is my supper?' demanded the shepherd.

'I am tired, husband. I have been working all day with you,' replied his wife.

Hearing his wife’s answer, the shepherd flew into a rage. 'You lazy woman,' he yelled. Each day the shepherd made his wife work on the mountain until she was exhausted. Each night he scolded her for not doing her chores. 'The house is dirty,' he snapped. 'My clothes are not washed,' he sneered. 'You bake no bread and make no cheese. How do you expect us to eat?' he yelled. The husband’s cruelty grew worse as the months passed.

The shepherd’s wife grew weary and sadness filled her heart. One evening, when they returned from the mountain and her husband began to rant and rage once more, the shepherd’s wife ran from the house. Tears filled her eyes. She could take no more of her husband’s browbeating. The poor woman ran to the River Usk, threw herself into the water and drowned.

Later, when she did not return, the shepherd began to look for his wife but she was nowhere to be found. The shepherd was alone once more and grew sad. He missed his wife and knew that he had behaved badly towards her.

'If only I could find my wife and take back my hurtful words,' he thought. Every day he searched for his wife. Then, one day, he did not return. His sheep grew wild on the mountain and his cottage fell into ruin.

The people found the lonely shepherd high on the mountain. Because of his cruelty, the shepherd had been turned into a pillar of rock and stood like a silent sentinel looking down on the valley where his wife had vanished. The people named the rock Y Bugail Unig or, in English, the Lonely Shepherd.

Each Midsummer’s Eve, in the light of the moon, the rock returns to human form and the lonely shepherd once more roams the land, calling for his lost wife. For many years after his cruel acts the women of the valley, fearful of meeting the lonely shepherd, would whitewash Y Bugail Unig to be sure of seeing him approaching through the darkness.


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