Friday, 29 February 2008


Carmarthen is synonymous with Merlin. Writing in 1188, Geraldus Cambrensis started the ball rolling by saying that Merlin was born in Carmarthen. Just outside of the town there is a dominant hill (Merlin's Hill) with an Iron Age hillfort on top of it, and at the base, there is a spring which also has connections with Merlin. Despite Mary Stewart writing about Merlin in The Crystal Cave, there was a fair amount of artistic licence in her descriptions! The farmers who own Merlin's Hill have now opened up a little visitor centre, but I haven't been up there.

In a field called Parc y maen Llwyd (field of the grey stone?) on the other side of the A40 from Merlin's Cave is Merlin's Stone. It is also called Cararg Myrddin or Carreh Fyrddin. Local legend has it that Merlin once predicted that one day a raven would drink a man's blood from that stone. In the 19th century, a young man was killed when he was digging under the stone in the hope of finding treasure, and the stone fell on him. It was subsequently re-erected.

There is also a small stone in Abergwili churchyard which I believe may be part of an original alignment (Merlin's stone included and others long lost in the mists of time) which led straight up the Towy Valley to Nantgaredig, where, behind modern housing, are a couple of stones which are all that remain of a Neolithic Henge monument. A few hundred yards North of this, at the side of the A40, and hidden by trees in a dell, is a Holy Well which was probably worshipped as a water deity when the Henge monument was in use.

The names King Arthur and Merlin are synonymous with one another. Whether and when they existed is largely conjecture. I feel that King Arthur was a composit of a number of minor princelings in Dark Age Britain. There are claims which link him to Scotland as much as to the West Country. The figure of Merlin (as Ambrosius or Emrys as he is also known) was embroidered upon as much as Arthur. He was said to be the bastard child of a Royal Princess of Dyfed who had taken the veil, so of course his father was a "magical" figure - an angel in fact. The Romans were very much a part of British life when Merlin was born. The old Roman road from Carmarthen (and it has been traced further Westward beyond the town towards Whitland) running East towards the Roman fort at Llandeilo and then on towards Llandovery, runs beside the A40 in stretches where it has been discovered and Roman troops marched right between Merlin's Hill and Merlin's stone.

After the Roman withdrawal from Britain, the Saxons arrived, swords in hands. Vortigern fled England, where he had been fighting the Saxons, to the rocky refuge of North Wales, where he tried to build a castle at Dinas Emrys, but the building constantly collapsed. Vortigern's advisors told him that only the sacrifice of a fatherless child would enable the castle to be built. Merlin was chosen to be the sacrifice. He used his visonary powers and saw that a red dragon (the Britons) and a white dragon (the Saxons) were fighting in a pool beneath the mountain. Ultimately, the red dragon succeeded in killing the white. Merlin predicted that Vortigern would be slain (which he was) and Ambrosius Aurelianus would accede to the throne, then his brother Uther, and ultimately Arthur. The rest, as they say, is history - or bunkum, depending on how much reading you have done and what you believe. I think there are threads of truth there, but much embroidery . . . Who knows, perhaps Arthur and his men DO still dwell beneath a hill somewhere - Alderley Edge in Cheshire is one of the places connected with this legend :

Interestingly, Merlin is connected with a "Lady of the Lake" and here in Carmarthenshire we have our very own "Lady of the Lake" - at Llyn-y-Fan-Fach. Watch this space . . .

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on the subject of Merlin . . .

This local site has some amazing photographs of the beautiful Carmarthenshire countryside. Enjoy:


MammyT said...

The stories of Arthur and Merlin captivated me at once when I first discovered them. I do think I've read everything ever written about them from Idylls of the King to the Mary Stewart you mentioned, and even Mark Twain's "Connecticut Yankee". I do know what it is about the whole thing that is so compelling. I think it is that we WANT it to be true. Like the children clapping to let Tinkerbell know that we DO believe in fairies. We want there to have been an honorable round table of knigts who believed in "right over might". We want there to have been a Camelot with all the magic associated. We want the noble heart of Arthur to have beat once upon a time in the earth. And we want a wise and wonderful magician to point the way for the good of man. Thanks for the memories.

Bovey Belle said...

How I agree with you Nancy - we could certainly do with Arthur and his knights around right now to try and sort this world of ours out. He can start with our politicians! We have quite a few books on Arthurian legend too, and a couple about Merlin, and some about Druidry (from my Archaeology days). Fascinating reading.