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Sunday, 12 February 2012

The other Bedd yr Afanc legend



Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I'll begin...... this is the better-known version of the Bedd yr Afanc legend.  The stream referred to here is of course the very one that flows past Craig Rhosyfelin, a bit further downstream.

Not  far  from  Brynberian there is  a  most  unusual  burial chamber  on  the bleak moorland. It is a long,  low  gallery  chamber which is said to have similarities with some of the Neolithic  burial chambers  of  Ireland dating from about 2500 BC.  There is no  other burial  chamber like it anywhere else in Wales.  It is shaped like  a wedge,  but along the centre is a double row of standing stones about 35 feet long. It is called Bedd-yr-Afanc,  which may  be translated as "Monster's Grave".  However, some  authorities believe that the word "afanc" originally meant "dwarf", whereas  in modern Welsh it means a beaver.

According  to  a very old legend there was  once  a  terrible water  monster  which  inhabited  a deep  pool  in  the  stream  near Brynberian  bridge.  It  caused great fear in  the  hearts  of  local people, stealing sheep and other animals and laying waste the country round about. At last it was decided that the afanc must be slain, and so  a plan was set in motion. It was known from ancient history  that water  monsters could not resist the sight of a fair maiden,  so  the fairest  girl in the village agreed to be used as a bait. At  dusk  a powerful team of oxen was brought to the vicinity of the pool,  while the  men  of the village set loops of strong iron  chains  along  the river bank, with the chains connected to the oxen.

Later,  when  the full moon was high in the sky,  the  locals waited  with baited breath for the afanc to appear, as it always  did on the night of the full moon.  The brave girl sat some way from  the river  bank,  looking very beautiful in the moonlight, and with  her long  hair falling about her in waves.  She felt  extremely  nervous, for  she  knew that long ago, according to legend, another  afanc  in North  Wales had torn off the breast of a maiden such as she when  it was captured.  At last the monster emerged from the pool. Seeing  the girl,  it was immediately entranced, and lumbered towards her  across the  dewy grass of the river bank. She waited till the last  possible moment,  and  then with a scream she fled. At the same time  a  great shout went up from the men who had been hiding nearby, and the  oxen strained on the iron chains. The chain loops on the grass closed, and the  afanc was caught around its legs.  With a roar of fury it  tried to  return to the sanctuary of its pool, and as it thrashed about  it temporarily  reached the water.  But the oxen were immensely  strong, and  as they were driven by their masters there was no escape for  the afanc.  Bit by bit the chains were drawn tighter about its body,  and bit  by  bit it was hauled out of the river and up  the  river  bank.  Then all the men attacked it, with whatever weapons they could muster -- axes, sickles, spades, scythes, forks and pointed spears.

At last, after a mighty battle, the bloodied monster lay dead on the grass.  A rousing cheer echoed around the moonlit countryside, and as the news spread people came from near and far to see the  dead beast. Nobody slept much that night; the ale flowed freely,  and  the celebrations went on until daybreak.  Then, in the morning, the  oxen hauled  the  dead monster up onto the moor. In a suitable  place  the chains were undone, and the creature was buried in a great tomb  made of  slabs of rock from the mountain.  It was covered with stones  and earth,  and  from that day to this the site has been called  Bedd  yr Afanc.


11 comments:

Phil M. said...

Hello Brian,

I feel sorry for the Afanc, perhaps he was just mis-understood or had a bad childhood. :-(

Sad Phil M.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes -- it is a sad tale. Monsters always have a hard time of it -- having studied them quite carefully over the years, I find that they are not necessarily EVIL -- it's just that they have bad social and eating habits, which leads to them being sadly misunderstood....

chris johnson said...

Thank you for telling the tales of the Afanc.

I don't know whether this is the only long chambered tomb in Wales - according to a superb recent piece of work by Dyfed Archaelogical trust funded by Cadw (www.cpat.org.uk/research) there could be another some 3 kms Eastward, and Chris Barker made mention of 50 chambered tombs in Pembs and Camarthen of which 31 were still extant in 1992.

Apparently Peter Grimes excavated at Beddr yr Afanc in the thirties and the results are unpublished as far as I know - perhaps he did not find anything worth writing about, but a shame nevertheless.

The Cadw work is fascinating and shows the extent of ancient remains, especially around Carn Alw and Carn Ingli.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Chris -- these are grey areas -- when does a long chambered tomb become a passage grave or a gallery grave? Which site are you referring to, 3 km to the east?

Yes, WF Grimes (not Peter) excavated Bedd yr Afanc and published on it in 1939 -- but he found very little.

chris johnson said...

See page 29 of the Cadw document (2010) with photo. PRN96872. I suspect you will concur that the site is open to multiple interpretations; the long barrow idea reportedly originates from Spaces 2003.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks for this ref, Chris. I had not seen this CADW report before -- full of fascinating info! Will digest and report further....

chris johnson said...

Gone a bit quiet here so I'll inject a mythological hypothesis. With Rhos-y-felin being a gateway to the underworld, is this the real reason the rhyolites were destroyed at the Stonehenge solar temple? A 23rd century BC version of Tom Robinson?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ho Chris

Actually I'm quite enjoying the peace and quiet. Nothing contentious at the moment -- all harmony and light.

What does intrigue me more than a little is the reference in the first Bedd yr Afanc legend to the local people throwing in white stones on top of the Afanc while he was digging his deep hole. Put this together with the reference to that site where white stones are scattered around on the ground -- see my post of the other day. Natural outcrop of a quartz vein maybe -- but in some of the bays between Newport and Cwm yr Eglwys the beaches are literally covered with beautiful white pebbles. Easy to collect and very pretty. Could the locals in Neolithic times have valued those white stones as ornamental features? Echoes of Newgrange. Could the legend of the people throwing white stones onto the Afanc be a distant folk memory of a lot of white stones lying around on the ground around the ruinous Bedd yr Afanc?

chris johnson said...

Fascinating idea. Evidence on the ground would be a big discovery - potential link with the Boyne and with a well-established myth. I suppose you are referring to Garnwen?

it would also be interesting to see the notes of WF Grimes if they still exist.

If I lived closer I would be taking a walk up there looking for white pebbles and my wife would think I had finally gone completely nuts.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes -- Garnwen. Never been there myself -- maybe one day I'll pop over and take a look.....

Mark Guest said...

hagetegFantastic...plan to visit soon and will take photos for my website....markguestphotography