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The story of Beddgelert, real tragedy or urban myth? 
(Beddgelert = The Grave of Gelert)
Beddgelert has been described as "a few dozen hard grey houses ... huddled together in some majestic mountain scenery". Just south of Snowdon, the village owes its fame to a story guaranteed to upset practically everyone. In ancient days, Prince Llewelyn ap Iorwerth decided on a hunting trip and left his infant son in the charge of his faithful dog Gelert. On his return, the prince was greeted by Gelert and Llewelyn noticed first that the dog's muzzle was soaked in blood and then that his precious child was nowhere to be seen. In a frenzy Llewelyn attacked the dog which fell to the ground, covered in blood. Within minutes, however, he heard a cry and stumbled through nearby bushes only to find his son, safe in his cradle. Beside the cradle lay the body of a giant wolf covered with wounds, the result of a fight to the death with hound Gelert. Llewelyn strode back to his faithful dog which licked his hand as it quietly expired. 

Dog lovers will be relieved to know that this story is a complete fabrication, put about in the nineteenth century. Some say that local traders were responsible, in an attempt to lure Snowdon's visitors to their village. It is thought that the place name actually refers to Celert, a sixth century saint from the area. The "Legend of the dog" was "known to most people" by the time George Borrow visited Beddgelert in 1854 as part of the journey through the country he published in 1862 as Wild Wales.  "The tomb, or what is said to be the tomb, of Gelert stands in a beautiful meadow just below the precipitous side of Cerrig Llan: it consists of a slab lying on its side, and two upright stones. It is shaded by a weeping willow, and is surrounded by a hexagonal paling. Who is there acquainted with the legend,  whether he believes that the dog lies beneath these stones or not, can visit them without exclaiming with a sigh "Poor Gelert!". 

The story of the faithful hound is in fact an example of an international folk tale and is known in the literature of various countries. An early Welsh version of such a folk tale is to be found in the Mabinogion (see note on Charlotte Guest and her translation). The central plot of Culhwch and Olwen (c.1100) illustrates the folk tale of the hero who sets out to marry the daughter of an exalted person - in this case a giant, but he could have been a king. Previous suitors have failed to complete strenuous tests set by the father and have been killed for their temerity but Culhwch enlists the help of companions with magical skills to attain his goal. 

George Borrow calls the valley of Gelert "a wondrous valley - rivalling for grandeur and beauty any vale either in the Alps or Pyrenees". A more recent visitor e-mailed to tell us about "the lovely village with the best ice cream parlour for miles around" (maybe that should be "the only ice cream parlour for miles around"). Sounds well worth a visit. 

J.W. 

 
 
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