Bala Lake

Llyn Tegid, Bala, Gwenydd

Shining brows and orange clouds

Cerridwen lives under Llyn Tegid, or Lake Bala, so if I didn’t find her on the Black Road yesterday, I may well find her here. This was where Taliesin served his apprenticeship, stirring Cerridwen’s cauldron for a year and a day until he accidentally imbibed the brew that was intended for her son, thus becoming the awen-filled poet with the shining brow. As such, Llyn Tegid was an unmissable stop on my Welsh pilgrimage and poetic odyssey.

My introduction to the lake was a little more prosaic: I took the narrow gauge railway along the southern shore from Llanuwchllyn to Bala. Along the way, I realised that one of my challenges would be to find access to the lake itself: the shores seemed to be mainly private land and those parts where the public did have access had the feel of a crowded beach resort.

That evening I drove out along the north shore and got lucky. From a deserted lay-by I found a steep path that led down to a secluded part of the lake shore. It was exactly what I wanted. I sat and began to listen. The water of the lake lapped against the stones at my feet in an ever-changing pattern. Nevertheless, the constantly changing and evolving lake song began to take on a steady rhythm. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do, but sit and be. I wondered if stirring a cauldron for a year and a day would induce a similarly meditative state. Perhaps that was a formative factor in Taliesin’s poetic development? 

I heard voices coming down the path. A man in his 20s spotted me first: “Don’t let us spoil yer evening, luv” he said. “Don’t worry” I said “you didn’t. I was just going.” I had nowhere to go, nothing to do and so I could just as easily go do it somewhere else.

Sunset Over Bala Lake

I just back to Llanuwchllyn in time to see these remarkable orange clouds. That, and the hot chocolate back at the B&B, were a perfect ending to the day.

Bedd Taliesin

Bedd Taliesin, Llangynfelyn, Ceredigion

cow intimidation and forgetting to listen

Today was a big day. For years, I have wanted to pay my respects at the grave of Taliesin, Primary Chief Bard of Britain. Never mind that this is a Bronze Age round cairn and the real Taliesin lived sometime in the 6th century. If you’ve read any of Taliesin’s poetry you’ll know that such a thing would present no problem at all to this shape-shifting and time-bending master poet.

Anyway, I’m not in the mood for the dry factuality of history. Today is a day for myth and poetry. Such a monumental day, in fact, that I was actually feeling a little jittery when I pulled up to the farm; not least because it felt weird driving through the closed farm gate, past the farmer and parking outside his house. 

The cows weren’t helping either. The first thing I heard was some very indignant bellowing in the field next to the cairn. Had they picked up on my nervousness? I tried saying hello to them, but they were not to be appeased. They just kept staring at me and mooing in a most disconcerting manner. I was glad there was a fence between us.

The cairn itself is in a glorious location overlooking the Dyfi Estuary, with Snowdonia shimmering away in the distance. I don’t doubt that the location of the grave was chosen exactly for its commanding position. It also appears to be on the crossroads between two ceremonial roads: Sarn Helen and The Black Road. Both roads are associated with Welsh goddesses: Cerridwen and Elen of the Roads. I had previously read that the Black Road led to a ceremonial site associated with Cerridwen. However, when I tried to find the reference again, there was no trace of it. Sarn Helen is said to be the road built by Macsen Wledig for Elen of the Roads, after she visited him in a dream. It links South and North Wales, from Carmarthen to Caernarfon, and felt a very appropriate road to walk as part of my south-north Welsh pilgrimage.… I looked longingly along the track…and then swung right and started walking up The Black Road. As Taliesin’s initiatrix, it was Cerridwen that I had come to meet.

Sarn Elen
Sarn Elen – The Road Not Travelled

 A bit along the road I realised that I had forgotten to listen at Bedd Taliesin. How on earth did I manage to do that? I was certainly in a giddy mood and the cows had really thrown me. But, I couldn’t blame the cows. I would listen as I walked instead.

It was a bright, warm August day with a light refreshing breeze. The skies were clear, the rowans were in berry and I could see the mountains of Snowdonia ahead of me. I was totally and utterly alone and I was off on an adventure in search of Cerridwen. I couldn’t have been any happier.

Until I met the cows. They were standing on the road and there was really no way around them.

I think they must be linked on some cow wavelength to the cows back at the farm, because it looked as if they had been expecting me. When one of them took a step towards me, I did what anyone with a shred of self-preservation would do: walked sharpish back the way I’d just come.

Cows on the Black Road

Well, I’d failed to listen to Taliesin’s grave and I’d failed to find Cerridwen, all because of the cows. All because of the cows? Just Listen to myself! Ah, Listen to myself. Perhaps THAT was what I should be doing here.

Back at the grave, it was just as I suspected it would be. The cows had gone. I sat down next to it and listened to myself, really and fully for the first time in a long time. To my hopes, dreams, longings, worries and regrets. Then, I told them all to Taliesin. Just in case he was listening too.