"Ponderynge together yestardayes promise, and two-dayes doyng"
(Hall's Chronicle - 1548)


"Goronigl gwyr yr Ynys" (Lewis Glyn Cothi - 1450)

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Cantre'r Gwaelod


Out today on the nature reserve at Ynys Hir. 'Ynys' means island in Welsh and the various bits of higher land along this area of salt marsh and peat bog called 'Ynys -' would once have stood above the waters of an area re-claimed from the water spirits who, nevertheless, hold on to a liminal existence here along with the earth spirits who have only half possessed it. The way to the reserve is through a woodland of gnarled sessile oak (sometimes called Welsh oak) which now is bare of leaves that lie as a soggy carpet on the ground. This looks level, but from here the path runs down to the marshy area along the edge of the Dyfi salt marsh and the estuary. 

 It is here that, according to one version of the story, the rush cradle containing the wonder child Gwion, who was re-named Taliesin, was found by Elphin. A village nearby is named 'Tre Taliesin' and the remains of a Bronze Age burial chamber up on the higher ground overlooking the estuary is called Bedd Taliesin (Taliesin's Grave). Look at these legends too closely and their fabric begins to unweave. But they provide a cultural ethos to the experience of standing out on the marsh, the bog or the liminal green world between earth and water, the ynysoedd of this contested land where now, on a bright, sharp, cold winter day a dozen species of geese, waders and other water birds can be seen at a glance from the reserve hides. Little Egrets pad across the wet ground. A Hen Harrier hovers over them and moves on. A Red Kite sails across the distant perspective of mountains on the other side of the estuary. 

There is a story that Arthur leaped across these wide waters on his horse Llamrei, and the mark of the horse's hoof can still be seen in the rock over there.

But myth dissolves into reality down here on the low ground where only the spit built to drain fields on the sea side of the bog keeps back the waters that have drowned the land before. Cantre'r Gwaelod, the land which was, is attested by the remains of a semi-fossilised forest on the beach at low tide. Geology rather than mythology speaks of lost realms and legendary places. The map-makers mark Caer Wyddno out in the sea at the end of the Sarn, a rocky morraine that runs out for over a mile into Cardigan Bay. 

 If Rhiannon's Birds sing anywhere, then they sing here half way between Harddlech and Gwales, half way between the water world and dry land. Suspended between loss and homecoming I find my way to somewhere I always want to be but can never, quite, fully attain.


(Re-posted from one of my other blogs which is no longer current)

1 comment:

Lorna Smithers said...

What an area packed with stories! Some familiar, others unfamiliar (Llamrei's hoofprint). Great evocation of the physical and mythic.

In your description of this inbetween place and its flooding I thought of the way the Somerset Levels, also to prone to flooding are known as 'Sea Moors.'

I also feel a deep connection with 'water countries.'