Gelert and the Wolf

Published: Friday 14th Nov 2014

Written by: Ginnie James

Welsh history and its traditional literature is full of myths and legends and the Welsh landscape really does lend itself to truly picturing yourself back in those ancient times where the tales were passed down through generations of oral history. I hope to be able to write about a fair few on my blog but I will start with the one I knew first – Gelert and the Wolf.

One of the most well-known and loved folk-tales, I had the book when I was little and, even though I didn’t have any experience with dogs and the story made me sad, I read it again and again. Once we got our dog and I learnt what it meant to be a recipient of his unquestioning loyalty and affection, the tale had even more of a resonance for me.

There are many variations of the legend but the crux of the tale is this….

Prince Llewelyn the Great loved hunting in the countryside surrounding his castle on the banks of a river in Snowdonia and never more so than when he had his faithful wolf-hound Gelert by his side. On one fateful day when Llewelyn was visiting the castle with his family, Gelert was left to guard the nursery and the Prince’s baby son. On the hunting party’s return Llewelyn was greeted by a weary Gelert covered in blood, an overturned cot and the nursery in disarray. In his grief-fuelled anger Llewelyn plunged his sword into the dog he presumed had killed his son, but, as Gelert lay dying Llewelyn heard his baby whimper and discovered him safe under the cot with a slain wolf close-by. Llewelyn buried his brave companion outside the castle where the grave could be seen by all and it is said that in his remorse never smiled again.

The town of Beddgelert in Snowdonia has long been associated with the legend and people flock to visit ‘Gelert’s Grave’. If you follow the banks of the river Glaslyn out of the village you will discover a path leading to a stone monument and tombstone inscribed with the story in brief, centrally located in a field. The historian in me knows full well that the village is unlikely to be the actual sight of the legend and the version that a local C18th landlord played on the similarity of the names and created the grave to encourage tourists to the area is far more plausible, I still want to go!

Gelert and the Wolf is a relatively recent tale but it is not the only legend local to Beddgelert. Again on the banks of the Glaslyn stands a wooded hillock, Dinas Emerys, reputed to be the site where a young Merlin explained to the Celtic warlord Vortigen that his castle would never be secure as the white dragon of the invading Saxons and the red dragon of the British had been trapped in a pool beneath. Remains of a fortification dating back to C1st and C2nd have been found, but nothing of the dragons yet…….

Ginnie James
Ginnie James



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