The legend of the Moddey Dhoo of Peel Castle, Isle of Man

Black Dog by Spettro84 – Public Domain Image

The Moddey Dhoo of Peel Castle goes back at least to the reign of Charles the Second of England.  In those days there were soldiers stationed at Peel Castle as guards.

Just inside the main entrance was the guard room where the soldiers were posted to keep guard.  From the guard room a passage led to an ancient church and through this to quarters of the Captain of the Guard.

In the evening as night fell it was the duty of one the guards to lock the great castle gate and take the key down the passage to the Captain of the Guard.  This duty was taken in turns and who ever locked the gate would be responsible to ensure the key was taken down through the darkness of the passage and placed into the Captain’s own hands, before returning back up the passage to the guard room.

In the gray evenings after the gate was shut the soldiers would get together in the guard room and light a fire to dispel the cold and gloom. There, they would spend the evening drinking ale and telling stories.

The Appearance of the Black Dog

When the first sightings of a large black dog with a long, shaggy, unkempt coat were reported, some accounts said it was like a huge spaniel.  No one knew who it belonged to, where it had come from, or how it got into the castle.

Its presence was a complete mystery, always appearing after the gates were shut.  Sometimes it would appear in one room, and at other times would be seen in different parts of the castle and grounds.

Every evening after the fire was kindled in the guard room fireplace and as the cold and gloom began to dissipate the dog would be heard padding down the passage to enter the guard room.

The huge creature ignored the frightened guards and making no sound lay by the fireside until dawn.  Then just before the sun rose it would get up and pad into the passage and disappear until evening when it would reappear again.

The dog is said to have had a supernatural appearance and although the guards were frightened of the beast they would ignore it.  Instead of drinking and rebelling they would tend to keep sober and quiet so as not to disturb, keeping on their best behavior.  However, now instead of one soldier taking the key to the Captain’s quarters, two would go.  No one would walk along the black passage alone after the appearance of the dog.

The Drunken Soldier

The legend tells that one night after the appearance of the dog one of the soldiers got drunk and boasted loudly that he would take the key down the passage to the Captain alone that night as he feared no dog, mortal or supernatural.

Although it was not his turn to take the key and his fellow soldiers did their best to dissuade him, he would have none of it and set off into the blackness of the passage alone.  To show his fellow soldiers his courage he taunted the beast, challenging it to follow if it dare.

Although the other soldiers tried to hold him back the drunk would not be restrained and plunged into the passage with the keys, again challenging the dog to follow to see if it was mortal, or supernatural.  The huge black beast slowly rose and followed him down the passage.

Silence fell upon the castle like a black cloak and those who remained in the guard room huddled together in fear and would not follow the drunken soldier into the blackness of the passage.   Time seemed to stand still, but after what could only have been a few minutes they heard the most deathly and terrible cries and screams coming from the passage, but none would leave the guard room to investigate, or give help.

The Return of the Soldier

Shortly, from the passage they heard the staggered footsteps of someone struggling back towards them.  The drunken soldier fell through the door into the room, his face white and twisted with fear, his eyes blazing in terror, his mind destroyed.

From then on he uttered not another sound and he could not, or would not, tell what had befallen him.  Three days later he was dead taking the secret of his ordeal to the grave.  After that night the black dog was never again seen in the guardroom, passage, or anywhere else in Peel Castle.

Could it be True?

It certainly makes a good story!  In many different places of the British Isles there are many legends of black dogs.  Many have associations with Viking settlements and the Vikings built Peel Castle which is actually situated on St Patrick’s Isle and linked by causeway to the Isle of Man.  In the Manx language ‘Mauthe Doog’ means ‘black dog’ and Moddey Dhoo is thought to be derived from this.

In England and Scandinavia phantom black dogs  are also strongly connected with early Christian church and graveyards where a black dog would be buried alive to protect the church and grounds from the devil.  The passage from the guard room was said to have run through an ancient church.

Intriguingly, an excavation in the castle grounds, in 1871, uncovered the remains of Simon, Bishop of Sodor and Man, who died in 1247.  At his feet was found the skeleton of a large dog.

References and Attributions

Copyright zteve t evans

The Folktale of Maude’s Elm

The folktale of Maude’s elm is a story of cruelty and injustice.   Time has blurred the edges of reality, and as the story was passed mostly by word of mouth it gained a degree of exaggeration and embellishment along the way.  Norman’s History of Cheltenham, by John Goding is one of the earliest and best narratives of the legend and Tony McKormack also provides a very good more recent account.

The Darling of the Village

In the village of Swindon not far from the town of Cheltenham there a lived a young girl called Maude.  She was regarded by everyone as the belle of the village and very much loved by all the villagers.  Her mother’s name was Margret Bowen. She and her daughter lived in a cottage, now known as Maude’s Cottage, with Margret’s brother, Godfrey Bowen.  Maude and her mother earned their living by spinning wool which was sold in the nearby town of Cheltenham.

Maude Goes Missing

One morning Maude had set off to sell some spun wool in Cheltenham but failed to return by nightfall. Her worried mother, frantic with fear, raised the alarm amongst the villagers who formed a search party.   It was a black night and the villagers finding no trace of Maude in the darkness were forced to give up. At dawn the search party resumed the hunt for the girl.

Her Body Is Found

Sadly, the lifeless body of the young girl was found lying face down in a stream of water known locally as Wyman’s Brook.   The body was naked and from the signs the villagers concluded she had been raped. Nearby on a bridge that crossed the water they found the body of her uncle, Godfrey Bowen.  In his hand was a ripped part of Maude’s dress.   Mysteriously, he had been shot through the heart by an arrow.

The Inquest

An inquest was convened and headed by the Lord of the Manor.  He concluded that Maude had been raped by Godfrey Bowen and overcome with shame had drowned herself in the brook.   He also declared that God had killed Godfrey Bowen for raping his own niece.

Buried At The Crossroads

In those days people who committed suicide were not allowed to be buried in hallowed ground.  Instead her body was taken to the crossroads that were nearest to her place of death. There a stake of living wood was driven through her heart pinning her dead body to the ground.  This was believed to prevent her soul from rising and wandering the land.  Godfrey Bowen was given the full rites of a Christian burial.

An Elm Tree Grows From Maude’s Heart

The stake of wood that had been driven though Maude’s heart slowly took root and began to grow into an elm tree.  Maud’s mother had been devastated by her daughter’s death and she took to tending the tree into her old age. Because Maude’s death had been declared a suicide the Lord of the Manor claimed her cottage as his own and evicted her.

Her Mother’s Madness

Poor Margret Bowen, now homeless and destitute became a beggar surviving only on the charity of the villagers and her old friends.   In her grief she was overcome by madness and wept constantly and  pitifully over Maude’s grave, so much so, it was said her bitter tears fed and nourished the young tree causing it to grow tall and strong.

Margret is Arrested

Years later the Lord of the Manor while taking his son to be baptised in Cheltenham had to pass the crossroads where Maude was buried.   Seeing Margret weeping over the elm made him angry so he ordered his men to move the old woman.  Margret refused to move so he commanded his men to drag her away.

An Arrow From the Forest

As the first man was about to lay a hand on her an arrow flew out of the forest and pierced his heart killing him instantly.    Although they searched the forest they could find no trace of the archer and the Lord of the Manor ordered his men to arrest the old woman.

Burnt To Death

Margret was charged with witchcraft and murder and sent to the infamous Gloucester Gaol to await her trial.  The judge accepted the Lord of the Manor’s evidence without question and she was sentenced to be burnt to death at the exact place where the alleged offense took place.

Margret was transported from Gloucester Gaol in a cart to the elm at the crossroads where Maude was buried.  There she was tied to the tree while faggots of wood were piled around her

An Arrow From The Trees

The Lord of the Manor had been drinking and such was his state of drunkenness that he moved towards the fire to jeer and taunt her to her face. Suddenly an arrow sped from the trees piercing his heart and he fell dead on to the fire at Margret’s feet.

The flames instantly burst into blazing inferno consuming both him and Margret Bowen in minutes.   As suddenly as they had blazed the flames disappeared leaving no trace of the dead bodies of Margret Bowen, or the Lord of the Manor.  Somehow the elm had survived the inferno and eventually grew to height of over eighty feet.

Walter The Archer

With the death of the Lord of the Manor the cottage that he had claimed from Margret was now ownerless and remained unoccupied for around half a century.Eventually the villagers noticed that a very old man had moved into the empty cottage.

He spent his days sitting under the elm and slept in the cottage at night. The villagers discovered his name was Walter the Archer (Walter Gray, or Baldwin in some versions of the legend) and he had been born in the village but had left many years ago.  On his death bed he revealed the true events that led to Maude’s death and explained the other mysterious circumstance around the tragedy.

Walter Reveals The Truth

Walter told the villagers that he and Maude had been in love and they had wanted to marry.  He explained that Godfrey Bowen was a man of great greed and had wanted ownership of the cottage.   His sister, Margret, was the rightful owner, but should she die then Maude would inherit.  In the hope that he would gain control of the cottage Godfrey has asked Maude to marry him.  Maude refused which made him furious.

To make matters even worse, Maude had caught the eye of the Lord of the Manor who greatly desired to make her one of his mistresses.  Although Maude had rejected all his approaches the Lord of the Manor was determined.

An Evil Bargain

To achieve his desire he made a bargain with Godfrey Bowen where they would both rape Maude and then murder her.  Bowen would then be heir to the cottage and the Lord of the Manor would have his way with Maude.  Walter had learnt of the plot determined to protect her.  Even so, he knew he could not openly challenge the powerful Lord of the Manor and he did not want to alarm Maude so he took to secretly following her.

On the day that Maude had gone to Cheltenham he had followed her at a distance while keeping out of sight in the woods. Sadly, he had been too far away to save her when the two attacked.

Walter told the villagers that the Lord of the Manor and Godfrey Bowen had attacked her near the bridge, stripping the clothes from her and taking turns at raping her.   Walter arrived on the scene to witness Bowen in the act while the Lord of the Manor stood watching.

Walter Kills Bowen And Goes Into Hiding

Walter had quickly fitted an arrow to his bow and shot Bowen through the heart killing him instantly.  The Lord of the Manor escaped into the woods.  Maude, traumatized, fell into the brook and drowned before he could reach her.

Fearing the vengeance of the Lord of the Manor and that he would be put on trial for the murder of Godfrey Bowen, Walter had fled the village.  He took a false name and lived at an inn near the main Gloucester road called  ‘History – House in the Tree‘ which still existed at the time of writing.

He would often be visited at the inn by Margret Bowen who he would help the best he could.  Margret the only person alive who knew he and Maude had been sweethearts and he took to secretly guarding her.  It had been he who fired the arrows that killed the Lord of the Manor and his men.

A Famous Landmark

Maude’s elm grew to become a famous landmark and visitor attraction and survived until 1907 when it was struck by lightning and then felled for safety.

Rest In Peace

Although it is difficult to verify how authentic the story is there are still parts of it that exist today. Maude’s Cottage, The House in the Tree Inn can still be seen. Maude’s elm was cut down but the existence of an elm at the crossroads can be verified although most likely was not the same one that grew from Maude. Nevertheless, it is a sad and brutal story and if true, we can only hope that poor Maude and her mother now rest in peace.

References and Attributions
Norman’s History of Cheltenham – by John Goding
Tony McCormack
Maude’s Cottage 
History - House in the Tree

The legend of Gelert

Wales is an ancient and mysterious land of mist-covered mountains, hidden valleys and wild woodlands. It is a land of history and mythology and many legends and tales of folklore originate from the mountains and valleys. The legend of Gelert tells a tragic tale how a judgement made in haste can easily lead to terrible and tragic consequences for the innocent.

Attribution: Tirwhan [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Some parts of this legend cannot be verified and there are many different versions. For example in some versions Gelert is a greyhound while in others he is a wolfhound. It is likely that the story was added to and embellished over the centuries; nevertheless it is an important part of Welsh legend and still has meaning to this day.

Prince Llywelyn

Llywelyn the Great (1173 – 1240) was a prince of Gynedd in North Wales in the days of King John of England who was his liege lord. He was a major figure in the power struggles of Wales and also involved with the politics of England, allying himself with the Barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. Over a period of forty years through war, diplomacy and strategic planning, he came to be regarded as acting leader and principle power over most of Wales. He was one of only two Welsh princes to earn the title ‘Great.’ His ancestor, Rhodri was the other. Although Llywelyn had sided with the Barons over the Magna Carta there had been times when he had been an ally of King John. In thanks, John had given is daughter, Joan, to be Prince Llywelyn’s wife, possibly to cement their alliance.

The legend of Gelert

The Prince was a great huntsman and as a wedding gift King John had given him a most magnificent and massive Irish wolfhound who was named Gelert. Around people the dog was gentle, friendly and obedient. In the hunt Gelert was a tireless and fearless hunter and soon rose to be leader of Llywelyn’s hunting pack. He was also loyal and faithful to his master and soon became a great favourite of Llywelyn’s.

The prince goes hunting

In those days the countryside was wild and open with great forests that was home to many wild and dangerous animals. When Llywelyn went hunting sometimes he was away for days on end. This did not please his new wife, Joan who persuaded him to build a network of hunting lodges in the wilds so that she could accompany him One day Prince Llywelyn set off with his pack of dogs for a day of hunting from one of these lodges taking his wife Joan with him and leaving their baby son in the care of a nurse and some servants. Growing bored in the lodge with the baby, the nurse and servants decide to go outside for a walk, leaving the baby alone in the lodge unguarded.

Gelert goes missing

Meanwhile, Llywelyn and Joan are away hunting and the Prince becomes aware that Gelert has gone missing. Concerned because Gelert was always the most eager and enthusiastic of his dogs and the pack leader, he decides to abandon the hunt and try and find him. Reasoning that Gelert would probably return to the lodge if he became separated from the pack the hunting party headed back there. On reaching the lodge and after dismounting from their horses, the Prince is delighted to see Gelert come bounding towards him barking with joy and wagging his tail at seeing his master. But delight turns to fear as Llywelyn sees the dog’s jaws are dripping with blood and he and his wife rush into the lodge calling out their son’s name.

Blood on the cradle

The scene that greets them in the lodge fills them with fear. There is blood all over the floor and the baby’s cradle is lying askew on the ground. The baby’s blankets are bloody and strewn around the room. They can see no sign of the infant. Stricken with grief and anger Llywelyn draws his sword and plunges it into the dog. As Gelert dies he lets out a cry that is answered by the baby boy lying out of sight behind the fallen cradle. Llywelyn gently lifts the cradle to discover his baby son safe and unharmed. Lying along side of him was the body of a massive wolf covered in blood with its throat ripped out. Instantly, the Prince understood what had happened. The wolf had entered the lodge while the nurse and servants were out leaving the child unprotected. Gelert must have had some kind of premonition of the baby’s danger and had returned to the lodge in time to save the child and fight and kill the wolf. Now, it is said the Prince Llywelyn was so distraught from grief and guilt from his hasty deed that he never smiled again. Llywelyn buried Gelert in honour in a nearby meadow and placed stones over the body.

The facts of the legend

Although the legend cannot be fully verified there are certain elements that are fact. The main characters, Prince Llywelyn, his wife Joan and her father, King John are all known to have been real people. The village of Beddgelert which some claim to have been the final resting place of Gelert exists and there is a grave with stone placed over it dedicated to Gelert. There are two plaques inscribed with the legend; one being in Welsh and the other being in English. However the stones are believed to have been placed there by David Pritchard, who was landlord of the nearby Royal Goat Hotel and other local entrepreneurs in the late 18th century in an attempt to stimulate tourism. Beddgelert is said to mean, ‘grave of Gelert.’ But many scholars think the name is derived from Celert, or Cilert, who was a Christian missionary to the area in the 8th century. The legend was further romanticised in poetry and song by poets and writers such as William Robert Spencer, Richard Henry Horne, Francis Orray Ticknor, Walter Richard Cassels and others throughout history.

Origins of the legend

Nevertheless, the theme of the legend is possibly older than the late 18th century and may have been associated with the area before the deeds of David Pritchard and his associates. Variations of the legend can also be found in many other countries around the world, where the central theme is a warning about jumping to quick conclusions and taking action in haste that is later regretted. It usually involves two animals with one saving the life of a human baby from the other, or of a loyal servant who receives rough justice from their master after a heroic act. One of the earliest known versions is from India and the animals involved are a mongoose and a snake. The mongoose kills a snake that is threatening a baby and is killed in turn by the grieving mother who mistakenly believes it had killed her baby. Another Welsh variation can be found in the Mabinogion and Aesop’s fable also contains a version.

Do not act in haste!

It cannot be proved or disproved that Gelert the faithful hound ever existing. Even so it is an enduring and interesting story of times and people who we know did exist and who had an influence and roles in shaping modern day Wales and the United Kingdom. With that in mind and with the theme of the legend, when we try and judge the truth of the legend, it may be best not to act in haste.

© 06/10/2013 zteve t evans

References and Attributions Copyright October 6, 2013 zteve t evans