The Bells of Aberdovey
Many centuries ago, in the sixth century to be exact, the King of Ceredigion was Gwynddo. He owned great wealth, and ruled over vast lands, but none was more fruitful than that part called Cantre’r Gwaelod.
More people lived in that district than in any other part of Wales. Twenty fortified towns had been built on it, and the busiest ports of Britain were on it’s shores. Not only were they busy ports, but they were very old ports, known to traders in every part of the world. In the very early days, Phoenicians visited them when they came to our island in search of tin. They called our country Bri-tin, the island of tin.
The greater part of Wales is high mountain and moorlands, but Cantre’r Gwaelod was low lying. It was below sea level, and the men who lived near the coast built a great dyke to stop the tide from flowing onto the land.
“We will build watch-towers along the dyke,” the builders cried, “we will set guards in them, and they will warn us of any weakness in the dyke. The guards will serve under Prince Seithennin, who lives close at hand in the port called Port Gwyddno.”
Prince Seithennin was a mighty warrior. He had one great vice, he drank too much. He was one of the three greatest drunkards of Britain.
The prince placed the guardianship of the dyke in the care of his steward, busy with other matters, entrusted the care of the dyke to his assistant. Another prince had charge of the dyke at the far end, at Mochras near the hills of Ardudwy. He was called Teithrin, and he was an excellent guard.
Teithrin entrusted the care of the dyke to no one but himself. One day, he was inspecting the dyke and saw a gap in it. He went to see Seithennin.
“Come to my castle, a feast is prepared.” Prince Seithennin greeted.
Teithrin accepted the invitation to the feast. Seithennin drank wine, but Teithrin refrained and kept a careful watch on everything. When the feast was over, Teithrin hastened to the palace of Gwyddno. It was a beautiful palace of white stone. It stood on the rocky banks of the river Mawddach, above the place where it ran into the plain of Cantre’r Gwaelod.
A guard stood at the castle gateway.
“Gwyddno holds a feast in the palace” said the guard. ”None may enter here unless he is a prince.”
“I am a prince, my name is Teithrin.” But the silly guard did not believe him. “You must bring a witness to declare that you are a prince,” he said. Teithrin sat down on a great stone near the moat;
“I will find Elphin, son of King Gwyddno. He will declare that I am the prince.”
The young prince Elphin was fishing in the river Mawddach, in the shadow of an ash tree watching the river swirl. All was quiet, except for the sound of the water. There was a sudden loud noise like the clash of thunder. “Beware! Beware! The oppression of Gwenhudiw.”
Elphin sat up in terror. He knew that Gwenhudiw was a mermaid, the shepherdess of the deep. He knew that the white waves were her flock. Young Elphin paced the banks in terror. He knew that his father, Gwyddno, had also received the warning, “Beware the oppression of Gwenhudiw.”
It was after the warning that Gwyddno had come to live in this palace, staying far away from the sea as he could. Elphin remembered how anxious his father had been. He shuddered and looked around. It was then that he saw a knight approaching. Teithrin greeted him. Elphin said; “I see you have travelled far. Who are you?”
“I am Prince Teithrin. My father was Prince Tathal.”
Elphin nodded; “I have heard of you, what brings you hither?” Teithrin answered; “I have come to seek the Prince of Cantre’r Gwaelod. I seek Elphin, the son of King Gwyddno.”
“Did you call out as you came towards me?” asked Elphin nervously.
“No, I did not utter a word.” Said Teithrin. “But you did, you cried out beware the opposition of Gwenhudiw!” Teithrin denied saying a word and said, “Please do not argue about it, I have far greater news to relate.”
He told Elphin how Prince Seithennin had neglected to repair the dyke, and the land was in danger of flooding. “We will go to my father’s palace.” Elphin declared. They hurried to Gwyddno’s palace.
“See here the fertile plain,” cried Teithrin, “with its rich farms trusting in the defence of the dyke. See yonder in the sunset the great and hungry sea eager to flow over the land. ”Elphin looked. “The dyke is our only defence,” he said.
Again Teithrin tried to pass the guard at the palace, but he was still not satisfied. “I trust young Prince Elphin’s word, but he is young. The stranger must bring another witness.”
Impatient at this further delay Teithrin said, “I will go to the drunken Prince Seithennin. I will tell him of the warning you have heard.”
“I will come with you,” said the young Elphin, eager to be of help.
They reached Prince Seithennin’s palace, to find them feasting. “Welcome, my merry men all.” cried Prince Drunkard. “We are just two, on behalf of both, thank you.” Said Elphin. The drunken Seithennin grew sober when he heard that that the king’s son was his guest. “Be seated in the place of honour, my Prince,” he cried, but Prince Teithrin spoke saying; “You may honour the young prince in a feast on another day. We have come to see you on an urgent matter. The part of the dyke in your care has been neglected. It is no longer strong enough to hold the sea back.” Prince Seithennin struck the table with his clenched fist; “Yes, the dyke is old and broken in many places. But there is no danger, I assure you. I tell you truly there is no danger. Where is my page? Madoc, fill my silver cup with the flowing mead.”
Prince Teithrin leaned across the table. “Listen, Seithennin,” he said earnestly. “The stones of the dyke are loosened, the pillars are worn away, and each day the tide eats away the foundations.”
“Aha! How wise you are, you who would repair the excellent dyke built by the great builders of old. Fill yet another cup for me, Madoc.” Mocked Seithennin.
The other guests lay around in drunken sleep. “Come, Elphin,” said Teithrin. It were well that we leave this place. Seithennin will not see reason.”
When they were leaving the palace, they saw a beautiful maiden. “I am Rhonwen, the daughter of Prince Seithennin,” she explained. Let me take you to another part of my father’s castle.”
As the princes followed her across the entrance hall a mighty wind beat upon the castle walls from all directions. There was the sound of thunder, and after that a silence, and a voice called; “Beware the oppression of Gwenhudiw.” Teithrin ran to the dyke. He saw that a storm was approaching from every side. “We are in great peril,” he cried to Elphin and Rhonwen, who had followed him. “There will be floods in the river, and the tide is high. The dyke will not hold.”
“I have heard that voice before,” said Rhonwen, searching the skies. “At my father’s castle the winds blow from every side, and now it is the time of the full spring tide.”
Rhonwen clasped her cloak more closely about her. Followed by the two princes she ran back to the castle. The great noise has roused the drunken prince and his guests, and Prince Seithennin leaned against one of the pillars. His sight was blurred, but he could see the water encroaching on the land. The spume of the waves blew inland, so that Prince Seithennin thought it was a snowstorm. Then the sound of the thunder confused him.
“Wake father, wake!” cried Rhonwen. “The drunken guests still sleep,” said Elphin.
“Hasten,” cried Teithrin, “We must reach the east end of the castle.”
The castle walls fell even as he finished speaking. “Who is the enemy that attacks me?” cried Prince Seithennin. “My guards! Arm yourselves! See I have unsheathed my sword.”
“Your sword is useless against this enemy,” said Elphin bitterly. “Who dares say that?” demanded Seithennin. “Behold I go to prove the strength of my strong arm and my sharp sword.”
Prince Seithennin leaped from the ruins of the castle wall and waded far into the angry tide.
“Father! Father!” fried Rhonwen, holding out her arms, but Prince Seithennin was lost to sight under the sea. Elphin tried to comfort her.
“We must leave this castle immediately,” Prince Teithrin called, “or else we shall be buried in it’s ruins. Come follow me.” Teithrin led the way. “Arm yourselves with spears,” he called back. “Follow me to the top of the rampart.”
Teithrin headed the procession. Rhonwen and Elphin followed. After them came some of the retainers and maids of the castle. Last of all came the Bard. The storm continued, slowly they made their way in the dim light of the moon. They thrust their spears into the rocky earth, and with their help withstood the attack of the wind. They clung to one another, praying that they would reach safety.
Towards dawn the tide turned, and in the light of the day they saw the destruction the tide had caused. Teithrin stopped.
“Look around,” he exclaimed. The sea now covers the fertile land of Cantre’r Gwaelod.”
The pilgrims made their way to the palace of King Gwyddno.
“Welcome all!” cried the anxious king. “It is well that you have reached us in safety. There are others here from homesteads near the shore. They heard the cry, “Beware the oppression of Gwenhudiw”. They saw a great blazing light in the sky, and fled here for help.
Prince Seithennin leaped from the ruins of the castle wall
They all gathered on the hills of Ardudwy. King Gwyddno spoke sadly: “The fertile land of Cantre’r Gwaelod now lies under the sea. Aberdovey lies inland. Now see where it stands, close to the sea.
Years passed by. The land was never recovered. The plain of Cantre’r Gwaelod still lies beneath the sea.
If anyone doubts this story let him walk on the shore of Aberdovey at midnight. Sometimes far away and sometimes near, faint and far away, he will hear the sweet music as though of Church bells ringing a tune known to all as “The bells of Aberdovey>”
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