Welsh Folklore: Llyn Cwm Llwch, the Invisible Island of the Tylwyth Teg and other Legends

This work was originally posted on the website of #FolkloreThursday 29th June 2017 titled:  Welsh Lake Legends and Folklore: Llyn Cwm Llwch and the Door of the Tylwyth Teg  by zteve t evans

Llyn Cwm Llwch is a small Welsh lake that is situated in the Brecon Beacons of Powys. It is associated with some rather strange legends and folklore, three of which I will discuss. The first of these legends involves a dangerous old woman. The second involves the Tylwyth Teg and an invisible island, and the third tells how an attempt to drain the lake was prevented by some kind of otherworldly guardian who appeared from the lake. He issued a warning, mysteriously invoking the token of the cat as evidence of his powers which told a rather peculiar story about the drowning of an unfortunate feline.

The Old Woman of Llyn Cwm Llwch

The old woman of the lake was said to prey upon those who were weak-minded, or who had a trusting nature and were easily led such as children. The legend tells that she used music to gain the attention of her victims and to lure them into the water where they were drowned. It may be that she was the Welsh equivalent of Jenny Greenteeth, who appears in English folklore as some kind of dangerous water hag. She may also have been and invention to deter children from playing around the edge of the lake. Whatever she was, her evil ways were motivated by her ambition to regain the beauty of her youth and to gain immortality. Apparently this could only be achieved by luring nine hundred victims into the lake to their deaths.

The Door of the Tylwyth Teg

According to local legend, the lake was the abode of the Tylwyth Teg, or the Fair Folk, who had a garden on an invisible island in the lake. On May Day every year, it was said that a doorway would appear in a rock by the lakeside. Those humans who were bold enough could pass through it into a passage, which would take them into an enchanted garden situated on the island in the lake. Although visitors to the island could clearly see the shores of the lake, the island and the garden were not visible from the lake’s shore.

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Welsh Folklore: Legends of Llyn Cwm Llwch

Llyn Cwm Llwch

Llyn Cwm Llwch is a small lake that lies below the highest peak in South Wales called Pen y Fan, which is situated in the Brecon Beacons of Powys and is the setting for some rather strange legends which are briefly presented here.

The Old Woman of the Lake

The first tells how an old woman who lived in the lake used music to lure those of a weak or impressionable mind into the water to be drowned. Tradition says that when she has claimed nine hundred victims she will regain her youth and beauty and gain immortality.

The Door to the Invisible Island

Another legend tells that there is an invisible island in the lake that could only be reached by a door that was set in a rock.   Every May Day the door would open and some of the bolder local people would enter and pass down a passage that opened up in a garden that was set upon the island.  Although the shores of the lake could clearly be seen from the island, the island remained invisible to those on the shore.

The Enchanted Garden of the Tylwyth Teg

Those who entered the door and visited the invisible island found themselves in an enchanted garden.  This garden was filled with the most beautiful flowers of the most wonderful colours and trees hanging with luscious fruit ripe for eating grew all around.  Beautiful birds sang happy songs in the trees and butterflies flitted between the flowers. It really was a most enchanted place.

The Warning of the Tylwyth Teg

The Tylwyth Teg always received their visitors with the utmost courtesy and hospitality. They would entertain their guests by playing beautiful music, telling wondrous stories and offering the finest food and drink the like of which could not be found anywhere else on earth.  It really was a rare and magical experience they freely provided for their visitors.  However, when it was time for their guests to leave they would always issue them with a stern warning. They would warn that none of the produce, the flowers, stones, leaves, or anything else from the island must be taken back down the passage and through the door to earth because of the sacred nature of their island.

One Foolish Visitor

The Tylwyth Teg had opened their island to visitors since time immemorial and there had never once been anyone who had not complied with this simple and reasonable request. Unfortunately one foolish visitor took it in his mind to take back one of the wonderful flowers from the garden as proof of his visit and the existence of the enchanted island.  As he left the garden he picked the most exquisite bloom he could find and hid it in the fastness of his jacket pocket.  He then walked nonchalantly down the passage and through the door thinking no one would notice as no checks were ever seen to be carried out.

However, as soon as he set foot on the earth outside the door his mind became confused and he lost his senses. For the rest of his life he remained nothing but a gibbering wreck devoid of sense and reason until the day he died.  At the time the Tylwyth Teg appeared to pay no heed to this unique indiscretion saying their goodbyes to their guests with their accustomed courtesy, but they had indeed taken note.  Ever since this incident the door has never again been found to this day.

One Hundred Years On

About one hundred years later the local people got together to form a plan.  With the door to the invisible island not appearing they thought the Tylwyth Teg had left and thought that perhaps they had left their treasure in the bottom of the pool.  They decided they would drain it and a great body of local men arrived at the pool armed with pickaxes, spades and shovels and set about digging a channel to let the water out.  The men set about their task with great enthusiasm digging a channel some thirty yards long in no time.  As they reached the water’s edge they needed one last blow to break through but as the pick-axe and the shovels were poised for action a massive flash of lightning lit the rapidly blackening sky.  Thunder rumbled around the mountains causing the workmen to freeze in fear and awe at the sheer power of nature and the final blow was never struck.  Quickly, the men realized the storm was not caused by the power of nature and as they looked at each other in fear strange things began happening with the pool as its spirit began to awaken.

The Warning

The workers sprang out of the trench and ran to the edge of the water.  As the thunder died they saw emerging from the center of the pool saw small ripples which steadily grew in size and intensity.  The water began to churn and boil and from the center of the turbulence there arose the spirit of the water, a massive a figure of a man.  His beard must have been three feet in length and his hair draped down to his waist and he rose high above the water and glowered down upon the men and in a voice like thunder said,

“If you disturb my peace,

Be warned that I will drown

The valley of the Usk,

Beginning with Brecon town!”

(1)

And with that there was a terrific bolt of lightning and thunder crashed around the mountains and as the men threw themselves to the ground in fear a terrific storm broke upon them.  After the storm subsided the men got up and began to heatedly discuss the events.  The warning they had been given was clear.  Not wanting to risk the wrath of the lake spirit any further the local men went home leaving their work incomplete.

 © 06/12/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright December 6th, 2016 zteve t evans

 

The Forbidden Fountain of the Tylwyth Teg

Wales is an ancient land rich in folktales, folklore and legend that for many centuries were passed on orally before being written into texts.  Many of these legends and folktales are associated with natural features of the landscape such as springs, rivers, lakes, hills and mountains, indeed just about everywhere you look there is a legend or folktale, or custom and tradition that explains, or is associated with some part of the landscape.

According to myth and legend there were many strange creatures that lived within that landscape such as monsters and beings like the afanc, giants and the Tylwyth Teg, the Fairy Folk.  The folktale presented here tells how a poor shepherd boy found the Tylwyth Teg  while he was tending his sheep.  They invited him to join them and he stayed with them in their land for a time living a life of pleasure and luxury with all he could ever need and all he had to do was obey one simple rule which was that he was forbidden to drink from the fountain.

The Shepherd boy and the Tylwyth Teg

james_ward_-_a_shepherd_boy_-_google_art_project

Public Domain

This story is a version based on one called the Forbidden Fountain, from the Welsh Fairy Book by W. Jenkyn Thomas and begins with a shepherd boy who was instructed by his father to take his sheep to the Frenni Fach to graze early one morning in the month of June.  Obeying his father he took his flock to the pasture and because the weather on the hills and mountains of Wales can change quickly he looked across to the summit of Frenni Fawr for signs of change.  He had been taught that if the early morning mists  slipped down one side of the hill then he could expect fair weather.   If the mist slipped down the other side then foul weather would prevail.

The boy was pleased because he saw the mist slipping down the side of the mountain that promised a fair day ahead and he whistled happily while he tended his sheep.  His flock were happily grazing and it was indeed beginning to be a fair day and he looked around him idly.  In the distance his eye was caught by the movement  of a group of men.  At first he could not quite make out who they were and then he had the idea they were a group of soldiers busily engaged in some activity but couldn’t make out what.

He thought it most strange that soldiers should be active in the hills so he climbed to the top of a nearby hillock for a better view.  When he reached the top he saw to his surprise that what he thought had been soldiers were too small and realized that they must be a troop of the Tylwyth Teg.  He had often heard stories about them from his elders and he had seen the rings of mushrooms that sometimes appeared in different places where they had been  but never had he seen one of the Fair Folk himself.

The Tylwyth Teg

To his excitement he realized what he saw was indeed a group of the little people and he thought about running home to tell his mother and father.  On second thoughts he realized that by the time he had run home and returned with his parents they may well have gone and perhaps he would then be accused of being a liar and get into to trouble for leaving the sheep. He decided not to say anything yet thinking it would be safer.

Nevertheless, he was fascinated by the thought that it might be the Tylwyth Teg and decided to get nearer to get a better view of what they were up to.  So slowly and stealthily he crept towards them and managed to get close enough without disturbing them to get a very good view of what they were doing.

To his surprise and delight he saw they were indeed little people of both men and women all inside a great circle of mushrooms.  The men were very handsome and the women were very beautiful and some of them were dancing in circles with one another, others were playing and chasing with each other, while others were galloping around on little white horses.

fairy_rings_and_toadstools_by_r_doyle

Public Domain

They were wearing mostly red, white and green clothing.  The men wore red caps and the women wore a green head dress, which flowed behind them in the breeze as they danced. Although he could hear no music it looked like the entire company was singing and laughing and a happier sight the shepherd boy had never seen before.

The boy was enchanted and stood to get a better view.  Seeing him stand the smiling Tylwyth Teg beckoned and called for him to join them.  Cautiously he edged towards them and stood outside the circle looking in.  Laughing and calling to him they urged him to step into the circle and as he did so his ears were struck by the sweetest music.  It was both merry and serious and more melodious than any music he had ever heard before.

Looking around he was shocked to discover he wasn’t in the fairy ring on the mountainside but in a wonderfully beautiful palace of shining gold, glittering silver and lustrous pearls.  He was stunned at all of the treasures and jewels that he saw and the people were so friendly offering every type of pleasure for his enjoyment.

The warning of the Tylwyth Teg

The Tylwyth Teg allowed him to move around as he pleased and he was attended to every second by the most beautiful maidens.  They offered him food and drink the like he had never tasted before, or even dreamed of and served it up on silver platters.  They urged him to eat and drink his fill which he did, but they placed  but one small restriction upon him.   They warned him not to drink from the fountain in the garden in which swam wondrous fishes of gold, silver and many other colors and he agreed not to.

He stayed in the palace of the Tylwyth Teg for many a day and all the time he was given wonderful food to eat, the best beer and the sweetest wine and he was entertained wonderfully.    New pastimes and activities were invented solely to please him and each new face he saw seemed fairer than the last if such a thing was possible and he lived in a state  of idleness and joy.  Here he was a poor shepherd boy who had only ever known poverty and hardship now living a life of luxury and ease everything he needed or even dreamed of was at his beck and call, yet something still gnawed at him.

The forbidden fountain

Although the Tylwyth Teg had warned him there was a curiosity that burned in him.  He would often find himself drawn to the forbidden fountain but just managed to remember the warning.  One day though he found himself gazing at the fish of gold and silver and many other colors that swam here and there in the waters of the fountain.

When he thought no one was looking he gently tipped his hand in the water. Immediately the fish disappeared.  He then cupped his hands and filled them with water from the fountain and raised them to his mouth to drink.  As soon as the water wet his lips a hideous scream ran through the garden.

The fountain vanished, the garden vanished and the palace dissolved into nothing and he found himself on the mountainside in the exact place he had entered the fairy ring.  Looking round in shock he saw his flock quietly grazing on the mountain pasture exactly as he had left them and the mist on the Frenni Fawr had not moved.  Although he had thought he had been with the Tylwyth Teg for years in fact it had only been a few minutes.

Time and humans

And such is the case for time flows differently in the land of the Tylwyth Teg and a few earth minutes can seem like years.  For most humans this is too great a thing to bear.  There is always a desire to enjoy new sensations and experiences so even though the boy could have spent his life enjoying a life of ease and pleasure that were readily available to him he just had to drink from the forbidden fountain.

© 31/05/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright May 31st, 2016 zteve t evans