Faerie Brides, Drowned Towns and the Door to the Otherworld in Welsh Folklore

This article was originally posted on the #FolkloreThursday.com as Folklore of the Welsh Lakes: Reflecting on Faerie Brides, Drowned Towns, and the Otherworld by zteve t evans September 28th, 2017.
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Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Welsh Lakes

There are may lakes scattered around Wales, each with their own unique characteristics and history. Many also have the most amazing legends and folklore associated with them, and the purpose of this work is to discuss some of them. This work does not attempt to be academic or scholarly. Instead, it attempts to explore thoughts that are more intuitive and reflective, and hopefully look towards stimulating ideas within the reader to construct their own interpretations of the folk tales and lakes mentioned should they wish to. 

A few things to note: Articles on the following lakes (Lake Bala also known as Llyn Tegid, Llyn Barfog, Kenfig Pool, Llyn Coch or the Red Lake, Llyn Cwm Llwch and Llyn y Fan Fach) all appear on the #FolkloreThursday website and links are placed in this article for easy access to them. The term ‘llyn’ is the Welsh word for ‘lake,’ and they are often used interchangeably. There are also a great many more lakes in Wales than can possibly be mentioned here, and many of them have other folk tales and folklore. Finally, there are many different versions of the same legends, and the ones mentioned here may be different to the ones you know. 

Origin of the Tales

Although only six lakes are discussed, it will be seen that these have a rich heritage in folklore and in some cases share similar stories. In other cases, the stories appear very different though there may be threads that link some together. The age of the tales and folklore is very much open to debate. Many scholars think they date from the Middle Ages but have far older elements built into them. These elements may be of Christian, Celtic, or possibly even older cultures. For example, are the legends of drowned towns and cities distant, faded memories of real towns (or at least settlements) that once existed either alongside or were built over a lake/replaced by a lake in some sudden flooding or disaster? It may that each succeeding human culture altered or added to the stories to reflect their own beliefs and situation, as will be discussed later. There is also a possibility that they were transported to the lakes from outside Wales, perhaps in the early movement of people across Europe from as far away as the Black Sea region.

The Doorway to the Otherworld

The Welsh lakes are often remote and situated on the edge of human society. In some tales they are presented as the doorway to the Otherworld in Welsh folklore, as is the case with the Red Lake, Llyn Cwm Llwch, and Llyn y Fan Fach. The lakes themselves are not the Otherworld, but the portal that is passed through to enter and exit it. The faerie brides, their fathers, and their sisters can pass through and visit earth, and sometimes they bring animals with them. In certain other Welsh fairy tales this occasionally happens to humans, as is the case with Llyn Cwm Llwch where an island of the Otherworld was made available to human visitors every May Day. This privilege was withdrawn after it was abused. For humans who visit the Otherworld or have dealings with it there is often a sad ending. They are often betrayed by their own frailties and, in many ways, it is the human frailties that are explored in the stories referenced here.

The Faerie Bride and the Mirror of Nature

The story of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach also looks at human frailties. In her first appearance at the lakeside, the lady is brushing her long, fair hair with a golden comb and using the lake as a mirror. It is a scene that is reminiscent of descriptions of mermaids on the seashore. Yet she is not half fish as a mermaid is, and is not really human either and this is not by the seashore. Neither is the female in the story of the Bride of the Red Lake. Both are unmistakably not human and appear to be more of a mere-maid, possibly of the Gwragedd Annwn, the female dwellers of the Otherworld of Annwn who according to Welsh folklore also appear from Llyn Barfog.

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Welsh Folklore: The Legend of the Drowned Town of Kenfig Pool

This post was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com on May 25th, 2017, titled Welsh Lake Legends and Folklore: The Drowned Town of Kenfig by zteve t evans.

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Kenfig Pool by Nigel Homer [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Many Welsh lakes have legends and myths connected to them, and Kenfig Pool is no exception having associations with a legendary drowned town under the lake and a real town buried under sand nearby.  Situated near Porthcawl, Bridgend in Glamorgan, Wales, it is also known as Pwll Cynffig. There has been a human settlement in this area at least since the Bronze Age, and perhaps because of this long history it is steeped in legend and folklore from many ages. One of the most mysterious is the legend of a drowned town under Kenfig Pool and, adding to the mystique and romance, there was also a real town of Kenfig. This town was abandoned after being completely covered by the shifting sands of a massive dune system which once ran along the Welsh shoreline.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the legendary town supposedly submerged under Kenfig Pool. First, a description of the abandoned town of Kenfig which was known to exist will be provided. This will be followed by a discussion of how Kenfig Pool was thought to have formed, and then the legend that tells the story of the drowned town will be presented and the conclusion will offer a few thoughts to ponder.

The Drowning of the Legendary Town of Kenfig

According to local tradition, the lord of Kenfig had a daughter who fell in love with a young local man of low birth and no money. Still, they say love is blind and the couple wanted to marry. Love may be blind, but the girl’s father was not impressed by the lowly social status and lack of money of his daughter’s suitor, so he ruled against the marriage. He told the couple in no uncertain terms that the young man was not a suitable partner.  Filled with despair, the young man decided that the only chance he had of marrying his true love was to leave Kenfig and strike out to another town in the hope of finding or making his fortune. After discussing his plan with his lover, it was reluctantly agreed and he set off alone to find his fortune.

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Welsh legends: The drowned town under Kenfig Pool

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David Lewis [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Kenfig Pool

Not far from Porthcawl, Bridgend in Glamorgan in South Wales lies Kenfig Pool that according to legend has a drowned town beneath its waters.  Kenfig Pool is now part of a Kenfig National Nature Reserve which is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and also a part of an important active sand dune system along the Glamorgan coast.  The original borough of Kenfig was a place of some significance centred around or near Kenfig Castle.  Both castle and town became buried by shifting sands during the late medieval period and the residents resettled further inland.

The drowning of Kenfig

According to local tradition the Kenfig Pool is said to be fed by seven springs and is bottomless. It is actually known to be about 12 feet deep.  There is also supposed to be a whirlpool that drags boaters and swimmers to their doom called Black Gutter.   Another  legend  tells that where the lake now stands there was once a thriving town that sank and became covered by water.

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