1. The Sad Tale of Cecil Longshanks
Once upon a time, a thousand years ago, a strange young fellow called Cecil Longshanks lived at Trellyffaint, not far from Nevern. He was frightened by lots of different things, and he was especially scared of toads, because they were black and had warts on their skin and moved very slowly. He thought that they were poisonous and that they lived for hundreds of years....... One day Cecil fell ill, and straight away toads started to move into his house. At first there were just a few, and then there were scores of them, and then hundreds, and then thousands. Nobody had ever seen such a pestilence. Cecil was angry, and his friends gathered up the toads and threw them out of the house, but they kept on coming and after a few days they were everywhere, in the cupboards, all over the kitchen floor, and under the beds and tables. By now Cecil was terrified, and became quite certain that the toads were intent on eating him up. His friends did not know what to do, and in the end Cecil pleaded with them to put him inside a big leather bag, and to hang the bag by a rope from a tall tree in the yard. They all thought that was a very strange request, but they did as they were asked, and when it got dark they all went home, leaving Cecil fast asleep in the bag, hanging from the tree. In the morning they returned, planning to take Cecil down and give him some breakfast. But what did they find? They found that the toads had climbed the tree and eaten every single leaf and most of the bark as well. And hanging from a branch of the tree was a leather bag full of white bones, which rattled as the bag swung back and forth in the warm summer breeze.
(Told by Brian John)
2. Adam and the Viper
Adam de la Roche was a powerful ruler who governed the land around Roch, not long after the Norman invasion of Pembrokeshire. He built Roch Castle, high on a rocky crag, where he would be safe if the unruly Welsh people who lived in those parts should ever think of attacking him. But he was not as safe as he believed. Like all powerful men, he had enemies, and one winter’s day he upset an old woman who was known to be a witch. She was very angry with him. “Mark my words, Adam de la Roche,” she hissed. “There is a curse upon you, and before a year passes, you will die from the bite of an adder!” He laughed and sent her packing. But her words fixed themselves in his mind, and since adders were quite common in the dry places round the castle keep he became more and more worried that the prophecy might come to pass. Soon he was so affected by the curse that he shut himself away in the topmost room of the castle tower, refusing to come down even when the weather was so bad that there would be no chance at all of him encountering an adder. All his food and clothing and firewood had to be brought up to him by his servants. And so he lived the life of a recluse. Spring passed, and then the summer, and then the autumn. At last he began to relax a little, and after Christmas the castle was buffeted by the winter storms, and still he refused to come down from the tower. With just one day to go to the end of the curse, Adam declared that the witch was just a silly old woman who enjoyed frightening people. It was a bitterly cold evening, and as the light faded he ordered his old servant woman to bring up a bundle of logs and kindling from the wood store so that he could keep a good blaze going in his hearth overnight. This she did, and after stoking up the fire Adam moved his bed into its warm glow. He was in high spirits, and enjoyed a goblet of wine. Then he settled down and went to sleep. But unknown to both the old servant and her master, an adder had chosen to hibernate in the bundles of sticks in the wood store, and had been carried up into his room. As the warmth spread across the room the added woke from its hibernation. When the servants came up to Adam’s room next morning, they found their master dead and cold in his bed, poisoned by the bite of an adder, just as the old witch had foretold.
(Told by Brian John)
3. The Devil comes to Cilgwyn
More than 200 years ago, at a farm called Dolrannog lsaf, something very strange happened. A wicked old farmer, who hated everybody and who had far more enemies than friends, said that he couldn’t care less whether he went to Heaven or Hell when he died. But at last he fell ill and passed away, and his family had to make the arrangements for the funeral. So according to custom he was laid out in his open coffin in the parlour of the farmhouse, with lit candles at his head and feet. The gwylnos or wake night went on as normal, with many people calling to pay their last respects. As usual, there was much merriment among family and friends. When at last peace descended on the house in the early hours of the morning, a few of the male members of the family maintained their vigil in the kitchen. Suddenly the relatives were startled to hear the sound of horses' hooves approaching at a gallop. They heard several horses stop outside the front door, but before they could investigate the house was plunged into darkness as all the candles were mysteriously blown out. They heard the sound of heavy footsteps outside; then the front door was opened and the footsteps came into the house. They were all frozen with fear. Nobody spoke and nobody moved. But they all felt and heard the invisible intruders go past them into the room where the corpse of the old farmer lay in its open coffin. Then the intruders went out again. The heavy footsteps reached the front door, which was then slammed shut. Everybody heard the sound of the horses being mounted again, and then off they went at a gallop into the distance. At last, all was silent again. But then somebody recovered enough to re-light the candles, and the feeling of terror began to subside. Cautiously, the men entered the room where the body had been laid, only to find that the coffin was empty. In spite of a frantic search the body was never found, and it was decided by all the family and neighbours that the Devil had come to claim his own. The coffin was filled with stones and later buried in Cilgwyn graveyard, with very little ceremony, just for the sake of appearances.
(Told by Brian John)
4. The Battle in the Sky
Once upon a time there was a whitewashed farmhouse on the bleak and windswept slopes of Mynydd Morfil. It was inhabited by a farmer, his wife and two young sons. They made their living as shepherds, tending their flocks on the wild moorlands round about. One evening the farmer was out onto the hills with the two bays when the strangest thing happened. The sun was setting over Mynydd Cilciffeth and to the east great clouds were piled up over the summit of Foel Eryr. A golden path seemed to be laid across the sky by shafts of light from the setting sun. Suddenly the clouds darkened and a gust of wind disturbed the silence. Then a distant sound like thunder rolled over the hills. The shepherd thought it was thunder, but then he realized that he was hearing the sound of galloping horses' hooves - thousands of them, thundering across the sky and echoing through the darkening valleys and hills. He could hardly believe is eyes when he looked to the north-east and saw that a battalion of toot-soldiers was marching over the horizon, seeming to come from the base of the clouds which now masked the summit of Foel Eryr. He could see their shields, armour and spears glinting and gleaming in the golden rays of the setting sun. He could ear a drum-beat as the soldiers marched steadily on, and then he saw the mounted soldiers too, holding back their horses as the army advanced.
The shepherd’s two sons were looking in the opposite direction, transfixed by what they saw. “Look, father!” they shouted. "Look at Mynydd Cilciffeth!” The shepherd turned and he too saw that over the top of that bleak moorland summit came another army, rushing at full speed towards the foe. Again there were foot-soldiers and horsemen, and again their weapons and armour flashed as they came out of the setting sun. The watchers felt their blood run cold as they heard the whine of thousands of flighted arrows overhead, and then the yells of the soldiers as the two armies joined in battle. As the silver-edged clouds raced overhead the shepherd and his sons saw flails, swords and battle-axes used to terrible effect. Metal clashed with metal. Horses reared up and fell, mortally wounded. Men engaged with one another in bloody conflict. Shields and helmets were battered or split. Long spears and darts arched through the air, and men screamed and shouted, some in triumph and others in agony. The battle was fierce and bloody, and lasted for more than an hour as darkness fell. Then a huge flash of lightning split the sky as black thunder clouds closed in above the mountains, and a torrential downpour swept across the landscape, accompanied by daggers of lightning and deafening peals of thunder directly overhead. The shepherd and his sons had never experienced such a storm; they found shelter beneath a rocky drag, and there they remained for more than an hour. At last the rain stopped and the clouds cleared, and the three made their way homewards in right moon-
light beneath a velvet sky.
The storm was remembered for many years by others in the locality, but the shepherd and his two sons were the only people to see the phantom battle. They never forgot it, and the memory was passed down from generation to generation. And two centuries later the little whitewashed farm on the flank of Mynydd Morfil was abandoned and reduced to a pile of stones lost amid the heather and gorse.
(Told by Brian John)
5. Seithennin and the Lowland Hundred
Many, many years ago much of the land now submerged beneath the murky waters of Cardigan Bay was fertile and beautiful farmland, with 16 wealthy fortified towns and a busy and happy population. It was called Cantre’s Gwaelod or the Lowland Hundred. The land was protected from the sea by a great embankment. There were also sluice gates which were opened at low tide in order to let the river water out, and then closed again as the tide rose. lt was a great honour to be Keeper of the Embankment, for a year at a time. So it happened that Seithennin, the son of the King of Dyfed, was appointed to that post. But although he was of royal blood, he was so fond of his ale and his cider that he was later remembered as "one of the three immortal drunkards of Britain". One day, reputedly in 520 AD, the Lord of Cantre’r Gwaelod, one Gwyddno Garanhir, was holding a great banquet for his nobles. As the revelry reached its height, the guests were entertained by a harpist, who suddenly warned them that doom was at hand, and cried out to them that they should flee. Lord Gwyddno, however, held up his hand. “Do not worry, my friends,” he said. "There is nothing to fear, for the gates and embankment are in the good hands of Seithennin." But then the assembled guests noticed that Seithennin was sprawled in the corner of the banqueting hall, drunk and fast asleep, and oblivious to the peril which confronted them. As warned by the harpist, he had forgotten to close the sluice gates as the tide rose. Panic broke out among the guests. They shouted and screamed as they
scrambled for the doors of the hall. But it was too late. As the wind howled and the waves lashed against the embankment, the sea flooded through the open gates and rose remorselessly, flooding the whole of the Lowland Hundred and causing the death of most of the population by drowning.
Just a few people, including Lord Gwyddno and the harpist, escaped to North Wales. Next morning, as the king lay on the beach, looking out over the endless expanse of grey water across Cardigan Bay, he could find no words to express his horror. Instead, he uttered a mighty sigh, so loud that it echoed along the shore and across the waves. Cantre’r Gwaelod was never reclaimed from the sea. Those who live along the present coastline will tell you that out to sea, when the water is clear and the weather calm, you can still see the ruined buildings far below, on the sea floor. And if you listen carefully, you can still hear the church bells sounding faintly beneath the dark waters............
(Told by Brian John)
6. Black Barti the Pirate
Bartholomew Roberts was born in Little Newcastle in 1682, the son of poor farming folk who brought him up to be honest and hard-working. When he was ten years old he went to sea; and so started a career which was to make him the most famous pirate of all time. He was dead before he reached the age of 40.
Barti became third mate in a slaving vessel sailing between Africa and America, but in 1719 his ship was attacked by pirates led by a fellow Welshman, named Hywel Davies. Barti and Hywel took a liking to each other, and when Hywel offered the young man a job as first mate on his pirate ship, called the “King James”, he leaped at the opportunity. Piracy offered good prospects for a poor uneducated Welshman, and Barti decided to live "a merry life and a short one”. The new pirate was a good companion, a skilled navigator and a natural leader of men, and when Hywel Davies was killed only six weeks later in a skirmish with another vessel, Barti was elected captain in his place. From then on Barti ruled his men with a rod of iron, allowing no gambling, no quarrelling, no alcohol, no
women on board, no smoking below decks, and no piracy on Sundays. He was a strict teetotaller all his life, and preferred a nice cup of tea. He loved music, always having a wind band on board; and he loved flashy clothes, preferring to dress in flamboyant scarlet from head to toe when going about his work. But in spite of his eccentricities he was an excellent captain, greatly admired by his men. He even provided them with a sort of pension scheme, and those who were injured in action were often retired onto dry land with cash enough money to set themselves up in style.
During the next two ears, Black Barti took over 400 ships, with a total value in gold of over £51 million. His seamanship and his bravado were greatly acfmired, even though the merchants and navies of Spain, Portugal, Great Britain and other seafaring nations treated him as Public Enemy Number One. Most of his triumphs were achieved without a fight, for Barti was a master in the art of sea warfare, always using his small and manoeverable Welsh collier called “Royal Revenge” to great effect. He was also renowned for his dislike of unnecessary violence. The women passengers of captured vessels were always safe in his hands, and their captains were invariably invited to tea and musical entertainment with Barti while their treasure chests were removed by the pirate crew. His most famous capture was the Portuguese “Segada Familia”, a huge warship which contained the entire treasure of the King of Portugal - worth £21 million.
Barti then moved north and became the terror of the New England coast, causing the English government to construct forty fortresses in a vain attempt to protect the colony from the sea. Barti and his men razed many of the fortresses to the ground, and burned or sank many of the vessels that supplied the colony. He also terrorized the coasts of Africa and the West Indies. Governors pleaded with him to desist, and he was even offered a free pardon by King George I. But he refused to accept it, and that was his downfall. He invited the King and Parliament to be "damned with their Act of Grace", and so something ha to be done. At long last, a task force of two frigates under Commander Ogle was sent to hunt down this bothersome Welsh pirate who was the scourge of the high seas.
ln 1722 Ogle shadowed Barti along the coast of Africa, becoming more confident of success since the pirate had by now exchanged his little Welsh collier for a larger and more cumbersome French vessel called the “Victoire”. It was loaded down with loot, and Barti now had so much treasure that he needed two other smaller ships to carry it about. His little fleet was now almost unmanageable, and maybe he thought that he was pistol-proof after two invincible years in charge of his pirate band. Somehow, Barti was out-manoeuvred by Ogle when the critical encounter came. The naval commander first tempted one of Barti's smaller ships into a gun battle; and having disposed of that one he moved in with his superior fire-power and engaged Black Barti himself. There was a fierce battle with hand-to-hand fighting, and Barti was killed by a sniper’s bullet, the marksman having been attracted by the pirate captain’s magnificent scarlet outfit.
So died Barti Roberts, and with him a legend; and so ended the great age of piracy. Ogle returned home a hero, and since nobody asked about the where-abouts of Barti's treasure, he mysteriously became a very rich man. But Barti is still remembered as one of Pembrokeshire's famous sons, as the man who invented the skull and crossbones, and as the man who gave the pirate flag the name "Jolly Roger". For it was Barti himself, with his swagger, is wit and good humour, and his scarlet clothes, who was referred to by his French enemies as "Le Joli Rouge".
(Told by Brian John)
7. The Bleeding Yew Trees of Nevern
Once upon a time there was a monastery in Nevern, which had been set up by a holy man who is remembered as St Brynach. The monastery remained in use for many centuries after Brynach died, used by thousands of pilgrims who were given shelter and food by the monks when they passed through as pilgrims, heading for the great holy shrine at St David’s Cathedral. They would stop the night here, before heading westwards through Newport. It so happened that one of the monks from the monastery was accused of a crime that he did not commit. He pleaded his innocence, but the magistrates accepted the story of his accuser, and so he was condemned to death. He was hanged from the gallows, but before the rope was put around his neck he shouted: “I swear before God that I am innocent of this crime! In hanging me, you commit a terrible injustice, and as a remembrance of it the ancient yews in the churchyard will bleed, from this day and to the end of time!” And so it is that several of the yew trees in Nevern Churchyard bleed a strange sticky sap which is the colour of an innocent man’s blood........
(Told by Brian John)
8. The Pembroke Castle Dragon
Two hundred years ago Pembroke Castle was in a ruinous state. However it was a perfect playground for small boys, who would explore among the battlements and cellars and piles of rubble, allowing their imaginations to run riot. Beneath the Castle there is a natural limestone cavern called ”The Wogan”, and over the centuries many attempts have been made to block its entrance from the riverside. One day some local boys were walking along the river near the Castle. As they approached The Wogan they noticed that there was a small opening through the wall which blocked its mouth. The boys dared each
other to go through the opening, fearing that the would find ghosts and monsters inside. At last one or two of the lads plucked up the courage to creep into the cave. They had a small dog with them, and the dog went through the opening first. The dog sensed that there was something inside, and the boys heard it growl as they peered into the darkness. At first the boys could hear nothing but the regular drip, drip, drip of water from the cave roof onto the slimy floor. Then they heard a sound that was difficult to describe, as if something heavy was dragging itself along the floor of the cave. As their eyes became accustomed to the darkness they saw a long snout with rows of gleaming white teeth. With horror they saw the jaws snap shut and then open again. Quite convinced that they were being chased by a dragon, the boys screamed and fled. As they scrambled out through the narrow opening their poor dog was left behind, and just as it emerged into the daylight
they saw the terrible jaws close over one of its back legs. The dog managed
to scramble away from the cave but it was very badly injured, and it died soon afterwards. Even more frightened and now quite convinced that what they had seen was real rather than imagined, the boys ran to the Castle watchman and described the creature to him as best they could. They said that it was huge, with bright eyes and a scaly body and short legs with big claws on its feet.
The boys were so clearly in a state of shock that the watchman had to take their story seriously, especially when he saw the mutilated body of the little dog. He gathered a dozen men together, and after they had armed themselves to the teeth they went off to The Wogan to fight the dragon. They entered the cave with torches, and sure enough they found the monster in the corner. After a frantic battle they manage to kill it, and its body was then taken away and burnt in tar down by the shore. It had tumed out not to be a gigantic dragon at all, but really a rather small and pathetic crocodile. No one could say where it had come from, but maybe some sailor visiting Pembroke Quay had it as a pet, and had brought it ashore. Maybe the creature had grown to such a size that the sailor could no longer look after it. So he had dumped it in The Wogan, where the poor creature had almost starved to death when a small dog provided it with an opportunity of grabbing a decent meal.
(Told by Brian John)
9. The Carew Castle Ape
In the early seventeenth century the terribly wicked Sir Roland Rhys was the lord of Carew Castle. His son was a very unpleasant young man, who got into trouble all the time. He did some great wickedness to the daughter of a Flemish tradesman called Horwitz, who was one of Sir Roland’s tenants. Horwitz complained to Sir Roland’s steward, but he refused to listen and sent him packing. Undeterred, the Flemish tenant turned up at the
castle to complain about the young man's conduct, but the lord would not hear a word against his son and following a furious argument he set his tame ape on the unfortunate fellow. Poor Horwitz was almost dead before Sir Roland called the ape off; and he then led the brute away, laughing at the fun he had had at his tenant's expense. Horwitz had to spend the night in the castle in order to recuperate, while being looked after by some sympathetic servants. Hardly able to move because of fatigue and loss of blood, he cursed Sir Roland under his breath and prayed that he would suffer as he had done.
Later that night, while Horwitz was still in a state of shock and trying to obtain some rest from the pain of his ordeal, he was startled out of his wits to hear screams of terror echoing through the castle. On and on they went, growing gradually weaker and changing at last to great sobs and gasps of distress. Then the sounds died out altogether. Petrified by what he had heard, Horwitz hardly dared move, but then he smelt smoke and realized
that there was a fire burning in the castle. Painfully he dragged himself down the steps into the Great Hall, where he beheld an appalling sight. Sir Roland lay dead in a pool of blood, mutilated by his pet ape. In the struggle the ape must have dislodged some burning timber in the fire, and now the ape, too, lay dead in the midst of a blazing inferno. The terrified
tenant staggered to the castle gate and made his painful way home, vowing never to return. A large portion of the castle was destroyed in the fire.
It is said that the shadowy figures of Sir Roland and his ape can still be seen haunting the ruins of Carew Castle, and to this day local people talk of terrible sounds sometimes disturbing the dead of night and echoing around the castle walls.
(Told by Brian John)
10. The Legend of Bedd Morris
Bedd Morris is a tall standing stone located on the misty upland ridge of Carningli and Dinas Mountain, at the highest point on the road between Newport and Pontfaen. According to some, it is a Bronze Age boundary marker, or a waymark, or a memorial to some ancient chieftain. But these theories are not at all romantic, and there is a local legend which helps to explain the name, which means “the grave of Morris.”
According to the story, Morris was a highwayman who terrorised the old road across the mountain and who relieved many travellers of their possessions. There was in fact a crossroads here, since the road over the mountain crossed the ancient trackway that ran along the mountain ridge from east to west. Morris lived in a cave up among the crags of Carningli or Carn Edward, and his only friend was a little white dog. But at last the locals organized a posse and attacked his cave. He was caught, together with the dog. The dog's throat was cut and Morris was hanged by the roadside on a gallows erected for this purpose. As his corpse hung there on its taut rope, swinging back and forth in the constant wind that buffets the mountain, the authorities determined to erect a stone which would act as a reminder to following generations that highway robbery does not pay.
(Told by Brian John)
11. The Hobgoblin at Cilgerran
The Bwcci Bal was a horrible hobgoblin that lived in the woods near Cilgerran. It was of vast size, and would frighten the wits out of all those who encountered it. ln other parts of Pembrokeshire this creature would have been called a Gwyllgi or Hound of Hell - but the old people say it was more like a gigantic demon with a man-like form.
On 21st August 1850 a farmer was returning home from Ffair Laurens (St Lawrence Fair) in Cilgerran, having sold all his cattle and having enjoyed a jolly evening with his friends and neighbours. He had to walk alone along the road, and came to a place which is
overlooked by dark and gloomy woods populated by ancient oaks and soot-black shadows. Suddenly he heard rapid and heavy footsteps behind him, and assuming that somebody was wanting to pass him, he stepped aside. But nobody passed, and the footsteps fell silent. A little mystified and afraid, he continued on his way through the dark shadows, and heard heavy footsteps behind him again. He stopped, but again there
was only silence and the faint sighing of the wind in the trees. Now he was greatly alarmed, and walked as fast as he could. But as he walked faster, so did the heavy footsteps behind him. At last he dared to look over his shoulder, and he saw a huge
shadowy form beneath the trees not far behind him. He broke into a run and sped towards the safety of a little cottage that he knew was not far ahead - but even as he ran he could hear the steady thump of the gigantic feet thudding onto the roadway behind him.
At last he reached the safety of the cottage and banged on the door, but as soon as he arrived there was a crack of thunder and the Bwcci Bal disappeared. The farmer was shaking like a leaf, and he could not speak. But later on, when he had recovered, he showed the cottager the great splashes of mud on his back, which he swore had been thrown up from the muddy lane by the monster’ s feet.
(Told by Brian John)
12. The Jolly Sailor and the Hound of Hell
Once upon a time there was a jolly sea-faring man who lodged with his brother and sister-in-law in Cwm (Lower Town, Fishguard) when he came home from his voyages to far-off places. One night he went out to share a few too many drinks with his friends, and was somewhat the worse for wear. He sang merrily as he walked home from Cefn-y-dre along a dark and leafy footpath, with just enough light from the moon and the stars to see where he was going. With his lodgings in sight across the river, he approached the bridge which he had crossed many times before, and had a very unpleasant surprise. There, standing in his way, he saw the infamous Hound of Hell which was known to appear in that place every now and then. The infernal dog was of huge size, quite as tall as a man, sooty black, with flaming red eyes as big as oysters. It had a chain around its neck, which crashed and rattled as it bounded towards the sailor. The poor man was frightened almost out of his wits, and tried to run away. But the hound was too quick for him, and with one or two bounds it was right behind him. He could feel its hot breath on the back of his neck as he stumbled along, and he became quite convinced that the creature was going to seize him and carry him off to Hell, as a terrible punishment for all his sins. As the dog rushed at him with dripping red fangs and with a muffled roar like the sound of distant breakers in a hurricane, the sailor man cried out: “My time has come! May God forgive me!” The Hound of Hell was just about to sink its teeth into the sailor’ s leg, but as soon as the name of God was uttered the creature sprang back, with a howl of rage that rang from the top
of Pen Twr on the one side to Carn Mawr on the other side of the valley. Then, with a parting glare of fiendish fury, it leaped into the river and disappeared. The intended victim, when he saw that the bridge was now clear of the enemy, rushed to the front door of his brother's house and kicked and beat upon it in a panic. Then, when his brother opened it,
he fell in a faint upon the doorstep. The sailor’s brother and his wife were much affected by this incident. As for the sailor himself, it is said that he actually went to church on the
Sunday following his encounter with the infernal hound, and even gave up drinking ale until he had fully recovered his composure.
(Told by Brian John)
The ruins of Trellyffaint Burial Chamber, quite close to the setting for this story
Roch Castle, not far from Newgale -- the setting for the sad story of Adam de la Roche