Folklore is tantalising. Around the coast of Wales and indeed the British Isles, stories, themes and fantastical creatures appear time and time again. It conjures up a sense of a past filled with goblins and witches, tylwyth teg, sirens and selkies. Of course some of these appear in the stories of other lands too, albeit with a slightly different cultural slant. I’m a storyteller, so I’m not going to venture into the debate about whether or not these creatures are or were ever ‘real’. For me, they are alive in our storied imagination, in our landscape and in the shallows and depths off our coast.
A Great Story to Tell
The north Pembrokeshire coast between St David’s and Fishguard is a haven for mermaids! Every other cove it seems has a mermaid sighting or story connected with it. In fact, the sea captain Daniel Huws, reported seeing a mermaid town beneath the waters near Trefin when he sheltered there in 1858. A little closer to St David’s is Porth y Rhaw, where earlier in 1780 quarry men from Penbiri reported meeting a Mermaid. Here is their fishy tale…..
On fine summer days it was their custom to walk down to the sea to eat their lunch. This day was particularly glorious, with hardly a cloud in the sky or a breeze across the blue surface of the sea and only small waves lapping the shore. As they chatted and settled to their lunch, one of the quarrymen noticed a gwenhadwy- a mermaid sitting upon a rock in the shadow of the cliffs.
According to their account, she was quite preoccupied with combing her long, golden tresses. The men noted that nothing much distinguished her upper parts to other ‘lasses of Wales’, but that her bottom half was clearly that of a fish. A couple of the braver quarrymen ventured closer – close enough to exchange a few words. They tried in vain to engage her in conversation, and while it was clear that she understood Welsh, all she would say to them was “medi yn Sir Benfro a chwynnu yn Sir Gar” which means “reaping in Pembrokeshire and weeding in Carmarthenshire”. Then she slipped off her rock and disappeared into the waves of Cardigan Bay, leaving the quarrymen eternally perplexed as to what she meant… but with a great story to tell!
Watch Out for Mermaids!
Porth y Rhaw can be visited via the Wales Coastal Path. There’s also a circular walk you can do using footpaths from the hamlet of Yspytty, skirting the old and now disused Peaberry Quarry site – which would have been the workplace of our quarrymen – to join the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. By following this along the coast heading north east, you can follow in the story’s footsteps and enjoy a spot of lunch and mermaid spotting in Porth y Rhaw!
After lunch, continue along the path towards Ynnys Gwair and Castell Coch promontory Fort. This monument comprises the remains of a defended enclosure, which probably dates to the Iron Age period (c. 800 BC – AD 43). Its location on a narrow coastal promontory above the sea, creates part of the defensive circuit. The construction of two lines of ramparts placed across the neck of the promontory on the south divide it from the mainland. The northern end of this slopes steeply down to the sea. The original entrance lay at the western end of the defences where the inner bank had a slight in-turn; this has since been lost to coastal erosion.
After a look at the fort, walk along the coastal path for about a quarter of a kilometre before turning inland along a permissible path towards Tremynydd Fawr farm where you’ll join a public footpath towards the hamlet of Waun Beddau and the lane which will lead you back to Yspytty where you began. It’s about a 6.5 KM walk in total.
Enjoy…and let us know if you meet any mermaids!