2017 is the Welsh Year of Legends. There are some amazing stories and I am hoping to be able to do some workshops centred on some of them. One of my favourites tells why Wales has a red dragon, and it is this story that inspired my latest embroidery.

The tale goes that Vortigern, known to the Welsh as Gwrtheryn, was king of Britannia in the fifth century. This was a time of great change, the Saxons were coming into the country. This was the first major invasion since Roman times. Vortigern had unwittingly hired saxon warlords as mercenaries to fight against the picts of the North. These Saxons revolted and gradually came to rule much of what we know as England today, thus forcing the native Britons to retreat into the western and Northern quarters of the island. Scotland, Cornwall, and Wales.

Vortigern appealed to his druids for guidance. They told him to withdraw to the high mountain ranges of Wales and find a place to build a stronghold from which he could govern and plan his counter attacks. He searched long and hard, eventually coming to the foothills of Snowden, Yr Wyddfa, the highest mountain in his lands. He chose a steep sided, flat topped hill near the river Glaslyn, and his men set to work quarrying stone and building great walls. Day after day they worked, but no progress was made. Each night the stone walls were demolished, and each morning the men would have to start again.

After some weeks Vortigern called a council of his druids and asked them to discover why he could not build upon the hill, and what magic wold counter the malevolent spirits stopping him . The druids advised that Vortigern  should seek out a boy who had no mortal father. If this boy was sacrificed upon the hilltop then the troublesome spirits would be appeased and the work could go on.

Vortigern sent men to search every corner of the kingdom, eventually some of them came to the old Roman town of Moridunum, modern Carmarthen. They cam across some boys taunting amother lad about his lack of father. The boy introduced himself as Emrys and took them to meet his mother. She was a princes of the area, who lived as a nun. She explained that she had been visited one night by a golden spirit and it was through this visitation that her son had been conceived.

The soldiers took Emrys back to Vortigern, and at dawn on a cold day in the depths of winter the druids led him to the summit of the hill. Realising what fate awaited him Emrys announced that killing him would not help, but instead that he knew what was causing the walls to fall.

“Beneath this hill is a lake, and beneath that lake is a stone. Beneath that stone is a deep cave with two chambers. in each of these chambers sleeps a dragon. as you build your walls during the day the weight presses down up the dragons backs so at night, when they wake, they shake the land and your walls fall.”      

Emrys advised that the lake should be drained and the capstone excavated to reveal the cavern. Vortigern’s men set to work and it was soon revealed to be as Emrys had said. That night Vortigern, Emrys, and the druids kept watch. Just as Emrys had predicted, as the last rays of light left the sky the two dragons, one white, one red awoke. All night they fought each other, eventually in what seemed like a last desperate attack the red dragon drove the white from the cave.

“what does this mean? asked Vortigern. “Sir” said Emrys, “The red dragon symbolises the Brythonic peoples, and the white is for the Saxons. This is a sign that in the end the native people of this land will withstand the Saxons.”

To this day the hill is known as Dinas Emrys – Emrys Stronghold. Amazed at the boy’s gifts of insight and prophecy the druids renamed him, a name given only to the wisest and most enlightened poets and seers. They Called him Myrddin – Merlin.

So that is the battle of the Dragons, stories of merlin and Arthur abound in Wales, Cader Idris is the seat of Arthur, a most beautiful place. There are many more stories to be read and lots of activities during the year so look out for them on the Visit wales sites. http://www.visitwales.com/…/traditions-history/discover-welsh-myths-legends