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The Legend of Beddgelert: A Welsh Folktale

Amongst rugged mountain peaks, the distant echoes of Celtic kings dance among the shadows of ancient druids. Wales – the land of the unknown, the land of myths and tales that flow freer than the waters of the Menai Strait.

Yet, one tale stands above all the rest. It’s a tale every man woman and child blessed to have their hearts coursing with Welsh blood knows about this story. And that is why you’re here today.

It’s time for you to learn the story of Gelert – Wales’ greatest folktale.

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Before we get into that, we first have to dive deep into the mythical heartland of Eryri National Park (NOT SNOWDONIA), which stretches across almost the entirety of northwest Wales. Here lies deep the humble little village of Beddgelert, the home of our story today.

beddgelert story
The gorgeous architecture of Beddgelert where the story is based

It’s pretty much exactly what you envision a typical countryside village to be like. Cobbled streets wind their way amongst stone cottages and slate-roofed local taverns. The silence of these picture-perfect views is only broken by the gentle trickling babbling brook running alongside the village edge. Picture perfect in every way imaginable.

Despite its incredibly humble nature… it holds a history that predates civilization itself! Medieval burial chambers have been discovered nearby, and many believe the village was settled as early as the late 7th century.

Evidence of these early settlements can be seen in the parish church of St Mary’s, which is believed to have been built in the 12th century.

St Mary’s Church. Photo by Llywelyn2000CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The region of Beddgelert is also steeped in Welsh mythology and folklore. Tales of vanishing mountains echo with legends of Merlin giving his first prophecy from the castle of Dinas Emrys. That same castle is also believed to be one of the possible sites of the Holy Grail!

Possibly the most nationalistic story is that of the red Welsh dragon bravely defeating the invading white English dragon, with that epic battle supposedly happening around the lands of Beddgelert.

The area is also thought to have hosted some of the most iconic Welsh and Celtic, including Llewelyn ap Iorwerth (Llewelyn the Great), King of Gwynedd – the same King that finds himself intertwined with history as part of Wales’ beloved folktale.

Our story begins in the 13th century, Llewelyn ap Iorwerth lived in a castle close to Beddgelert with his family, newborn child and his faithful companion, Gelert – his beloved Irish wolfhound.

Gelert was renowned for his bravery and his loyalty to his master. Together they explored the wilderness, hunting animals that roamed the surrounding meadows.

One fateful day, Llewelyn prepared for a rigorous day of hunting with his comrades. As he left the castle for that day, he entrusted the care of his newborn son to Gelert’s watchful eyes, secure in the knowledge that he would be safe. But destiny had other plans.

Upon his return, Llywelyn was greeted by a scene of total devastation. A blood-soaked crib and blankets lay strewn across the floor, and no sign of his cherished son. Panic gripped Llewelyn, and in that moment, total despair as he saw Gelert’s jaws dripping with blood.

Blinded by grief and rage, Llywelyn drew his sword and plunged it deep into the side of his once faithful hound – betrayed by his closest companion.

Gelert’s dying yell was answered by a faint cry. Rushing to the source, Llywelyn discovered his son lying amongst the fallen blankets, completely unharmed, lying beside the bloody corpse of a slain wolf.

beddgelert story
An oil painting depicting the heroic Gelert

Regret swept over Llywelyn as he realized Gelert had in fact sacrificed himself to protect Llywelyn’s own blood and soul. His last act on this Earth was putting the well-being of his master and his son before his own. It’s said that Llywelyn never smiled again after that fateful day.

Overcome with sorrow, Llywelyn buried his loyal friend with honours in a meadow near the river in a town which now beholds his honourable dog’s name – Beddgelert, or Gelert’s Grave.

It may be a tragedy greater than Marley & Me and Mufasa dying, but did it actually happen? Well…probably not… actually it didn’t happen at all.

The grave was built in the late 18th century by a man called David Pritchard, who just so happened to be the landlord of the local Goat Hotel. He cleverly drew upon pre-existing mythology he revived and partly reinvented the beloved Welsh folktale to attract more tourists to the area…and it worked!

beddgelert story
Gelert’s grave

It’s no Cabo or Bangkok of course, but this obscure little village in the heart of Wales’ sheep country suddenly was the spiritual home of the country’s greatest folktale.

Even if it’s nothing more than a fairytale, who really cares? Much like how the Lock Ness Monster surprisingly has little basis in reality, by now, it doesn’t even matter.

As far as the people of Wales are concerned, Beddgelert is the home of this wonderful tale that has stood the test of time. A tale of a good old boy who served his master to the very end. That tale will continue to live much like the town that surrounds the fictitious grave.

Rest in peace mighty Gelert.

Thank You for Reading! Check Out These Other Helpful Links!

Thank you so much for reading The Legend of Beddgelert: A Welsh Folktale! Check out these other helpful articles! See you next time!

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