To understand Wales, one must listen to its most celebrated voices.
Authors and novelists. Poets and musicians. Movers and shakers. This small, yet ancient nation is steeped in an immense tradition of storytelling. Something about its sprawling countryside has cultivated centuries of creativity, urging its great minds to pick up a pen or quill and join the cultural symphony to merge myth, legend, and history in an attempt to immortalize their experiences for future generations.
In Wales, Roald Dahl envisioned a chocolate factory and a young boy who discovers a golden ticket, Philip Pullman imagined a world in which human’s souls took the form of animals, and Dylan Thomas urged his readers to not go gentle into that good night, to rage, rage against the dying of the light.
It’s in this spirit of storytelling that Wales celebrates the Year of Legends in 2017. From tales of epic heroes such as King Arthur to those of local heroes — cheese-makers, wildlife protectors, adrenaline junkies, the masters of their fields who make Wales a nation built on the stuff of legends.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous Welsh legend is the one that adorns the nation’s red, white, and green flag: the dragon.
To explore the origin of the country’s relationship with the giant winged beasts, travel to Dinas Emrys in northern Wales. While admiring the views of the countryside dotted with cows and cascading waterfalls, know that underfoot lies a hidden cave that once held a legendary battle between a red and a white dragon. The red dragon’s victory was said to prophesize the coming of King Arthur.
Though sightings are rare, the keenest observers may catch a glimpse of these mythological creatures around Wales today. Visitors touring the ancient castles around the nation last year claimed to spot the colossal beast soaring through the skies and seeking a new home, so keep an eye out as you explore these historical structures. While dining, look for the fiery dragon of Gwynt y Ddraig, a refreshing Welsh cider with a name that means “Dragon’s Wind.”
To follow in the footsteps of one of Wales’ most beloved and well-known legends, make your way to Carmarthen in the South West.
You may recall the old rhyme: “When Merlin’s Oak comes tumbling down, down shall fall Carmarthen Town.” It was here that the wizard who went on to serve as King Arthur’s advisor was born, and you can see a fragment of the oak tree he bewitched in the County Museum. Don’t believe the legend? When the oak tree was felled in 1878, the town was ravaged by the worst floods in its history. And don’t forget to stop by Bryn Myyrdin, or Merlin’s Hill, in the northeastern part of town, where he was once imprisoned. Listen carefully — some say you can still hear him groaning!
Of all the Welsh legends, perhaps the most important to the nation’s history and culture is that of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales.
Journey to his cathedral in Pembrokeshire to admire its historical architecture — in the 12th century, the Pope declared that three pilgrimages there were equivalent to one to Jerusalem. Note the white doves that grace the sculptures and stained glass depictions of him. Once, as David was preaching to the village of Llanddewi Brefi, a white dove perched on his shoulder, causing the ground beneath him to rise up and allowing his voice to carry over the crowd more easily. This is considered his most famous miracle.
A visit to Wales is incomplete without an exploration of the many legends that form the cultural foundation of this rich nation.
To find the right path for you, check out the Land of Legends travel planner at http://www.landoflegends.wales/. Every legendary voyage begins with a single step. Your journey awaits.