Legends and Customs of Wales

Legends and Customs of Wales

Wales has a rich heritage of legends and folk customs, many of which you can read about on the HistoryPoints website. Follow the links below to discover the stories – each comes with a map to show you the relevant location in Wales.

Some of the stories relate to the early Christian saints who worked miracles or established cells after suffering losses or seeing the error of their earlier ways. Later Christians performed rituals at wells dedicated to certain saints, often in hope of cures.

You can also read about witches, pirates, beasts, folk heroes, tomb raiders, mermaids, giants, the Tylwyth Teg (“fair folk”) and clever people who outwitted the devil. Other stories stem from historic literature, including the Mabinogion and tales of King Arthur. We also highlight places where you can see physical evidence of ancient traditions for yourself.

You can also tap into Wales’ remarkable tradition of nicknames, essential in a  country where there weren’t many names to go round. We also highlight some curious alternatives to official place-names.

North-West Wales

Anglesey

  • Llanddona - witches arrived by boat and held generations of residents in fear
  • Red Wharf Bay - home of poet of legendary strength who once freed a cart which three horses couldn’t move
  • Holyhead - after the Roman era, Caswallon defeated the Irish giant Sirigi
  • Llaneilian - devotees would visit the holy well on the eve of St Eilian’s Day
    Llaneilian – church founded by Caswallon has a 1667 chest, Cyff Eilian, for pilgrims’ offerings
  • Llanddwyn - Patron saint of Welsh lovers settled here in 5th century after an unhappy love affair


Gwynedd

  • Bethesda – hear a song about a giant Christmas pudding, sent to families in Britain's longest strike
  • Bangor - read and hear a ditty by the deluded ‘Cockle Bard’, who thought he was a fine poet
  • Caernarfon - church linked to Roman leader who saw a beautiful woman in a dream and found her in Wales
  • Caernarfon - sailors went to 'Four and Six Street' for a bottle of gin … and a female companion
  • Caernarfon - beside the tower where prisoners were hanged is an inn that’s said to be haunted
  • Dinas Dinlle - said to be childhood home of the Mabinogion’s Lleu Llaw Gyffes
  • Nant Gwrtheyrn - tragic tale of young lovers Rhys and Meinir
  • Nant Gwrtheyrn - named after British king Vortigern, who fled here from Saxons
  • Pistyll - the floor of St Beuno's Church is still covered with traditional rushes and herbs
  • Aberdaron - St Hywyn's Church was once a haven where any fugitive could stay for up to 40 days
  • Criccieth - generations of men have tried to lift the ‘feat stone’, probably once used for mounting horses
  • Porthmadog - where a duel was agreed between Pryderi and Gwydion, according to the Mabinogion
  • Shell Island - local red apples are said to stem from the 1825 wreck of glamorous New York ship
  • Blaenau Ffestiniog - Wales’ last wolf was reputedly slain at Coed y Bleiddiau (‘Forest of the Wolves’)


Conwy

  • Penmaenmawr - causeway to Anglesey left one saint with fair skin, another sun-darkened
  • Conwy - town cursed by mermaid after cruel fishermen refused to return her to the sea
  • Conwy - buoy on quay was moored near Llys Helig, a legendary mansion flooded as punishment
  • Conwy - hotel reputedly haunted until chambermaid’s body was exhumed and returned to Anglesey
  • Conwy - sailor’s pub where the smell of vanilla is said to be a portent of death
  • Llandudno Junction - pub opposite the railway station is still known as ‘The Killer’
  • Mochdre - tradition says church was begun by princess who married into a mighty Roman family
  • Mochdre - ‘Sue pais goch’ got her nickname when a gust of wind revealed her red petticoat
  • Mochdre - according to the Mabinogion, Gwydion stayed a night here when fleeing with stolen pigs
  • Llanrhos - where King of Britons reputedly died after ‘Yellow Lady’ approached him during plague
  • Llysfaen - St Cynfran’s well was the place to seek a blessing for your animals
  • Llysfaen - Tradition of 'canu Plygain’ on Christmas morning continued into 20th century
  • Llandrillo-yn-Rhos - church tower was a lookout post when African pirates were feared
  • Rhos-on-Sea - Prince Madog began his legendary journey to America from here in 1170
  • Glan Conwy - tribunal in 1594 decided that a herbalist was a witch, and she was soon hanged
  • Eglwysbach - where a terrifying beast known as the Garrog exacted posthumous revenge
  • Eglwysbach - once a week the Midland Bank would open for business in someone’s front room
  • Dolgarrog - ‘Dic Loco’ drove a train but he wasn’t mad, just a little mischievous
  • Llanbedr-y-cennin - mole-catching miller was called ‘Shôn Ffidl Dwrch’, as he also played the violin
  • Trefriw - church reputedly built by Prince Llewelyn Fawr for his footsore wife
  • Llanrwst - ‘Wil Comic’ thought he was Winston Churchill and dressed the part
    Llanrwst - see a child’s shoe which was once hidden in a shop wall as a symbol of good fortune
  • Llanddoged - 5th-century King Doged was reputedly killed by a man who wanted to steal his wife
  • Capel Curig - in the 1920s a resident cockatoo would insult tearoom guests at the ‘Ugly House’
  • Capel Curig - church reputedly built in thanksgiving by woman cured of skin disease
  • Mymbyr viewpoint - see the mountain where lies a giant who made clothes from his enemies' beards
  • Llyn Ogwen - is this where Sir Bedivere returned King Arthur’s sword to the Lady of the Lake?
  • Dolwyddelan - ancient beam depicts dragon who swam up the river and caused floods
  • Penmachno - church dedicated to a saint linked to the drowned lands of Cantre'r Gwaelod
  • Ysbyty Ifan - Knights of St John sheltered Mawddwy bandits, born from fairy-human union
  • The Pentrefoelas fairy trail - read or listen to age-old tales of the Tylwyth Teg, the Fair Folk
  • Cerrigydrudion - how a pretty woman and giant oxen helped to banish the devil to a lake
  • Llangernyw - butchers reputedly honed knives on Tudor font before market banished from churchyard in 1749
  • Llangernyw - visitors traditionally got a free drink for donating to pub’s ceiling bric-a-brac
  • Llanfair TH - sanctuary ring on door helped fugitives, who must then leave Britain


North-East Wales

Denbighshire

  • St Asaph - where 6th-century Queen Nest lost a ring, which reappeared in a surprising place
  • St Asaph - grave of ‘quarter idiot, three-quarters genius’ who reputedly knew 15 languages
  • St Asaph - destination of booze cruises when Sundays were dry in Wales, save for travellers
  • Tremeirchion - probable effigy of Dafydd Ddu, who outwitted a witch and the devil
  • Ruthin - thief and folk hero John Jones escaped from the town jail twice
  • Ruthin - listen for ghostly wails as you stand under gallows remnants at the former courthouse
  • Corwen church – a mark on a lintel was supposedly made by Owain Glyndŵr’s dagger
  • Llandegla - epileptics seeking cure carried a chicken three times round the well after sunset
  • Llandegla - Dafarn Dywyrch was originally built of turfs, according to writer George Borrow
  • Horseshoe Pass - ‘Dai the Mule’ had to fetch water for his upland café from St Collen’s Well
  • Llangollen - Thomas Jones’ tomb was raided twice by claimants of the ‘Pritchard millions’


Flintshire

  • Holywell - where St Winefride was decapitated by a spurned lover but returned to life by her saintly uncle
  • Holywell - see the church bell, which the bell-man had to carry around town before each service
  • Mostyn - Llety Gonest was reputedly named after owner who vanished but left the cash he owed workers
  • Mostyn - where customs men guarding smuggled wine were overpowered by curiously well-dressed colliers
  • Llannerch-y-Môr - see a window where lepers paid for beer via a bowl of disinfectant
  • Gwaenysgor - legend has it that Boudica fought her last battle against Romans at Gop Hill

Wrexham

  • Rossett - villagers buried Jeffrey the ploughman after his rotting body on a gibbet deterred trade
  • Marford - windows shaped like eyes are typical of the village’s whimsical vernacular architecture


Mid and West Wales

Powys

  • Welshpool - camp of Cadwallon, according to the Canu Llywarch Hen saga of the 9th or 10th century
  • Welshpool - reputed home of ‘Wild Humphrey’, famed for his ability to evade capture
  • Discoed - church still has pipe which sounded starting note for singers, before organ installation
  • Brecon - see the church’s dog door, specially built for ejecting rowdy canines

Ceredigion

  • Llanbadarn Fawr - St Padarn put his hand into boiling water to prove his innocence
  • Aberystwyth - ex-home of royal physician said by some to have been Jack the Ripper
  • Devil’s Bridge - where an old woman outwitted the bridge-building devil
  • Llansantffraed church - St Ffraed reputedly crossed the Irish Sea on a piece of turf
  • New Quay - stale bread used to hang from the Black Lion's ceiling, symbolising hospitality

Carmarthenshire

  • Carmarthen - where the ‘druidic’ Gorsedd of Bards first linked up with an eisteddfod
  • Carmarthen - tomb of granddaughter of King George III through reputed secret marriage
  • Carmarthen - ‘Johnny Bogus’ wore a wig and told tall tales

Pembrokeshire

  • Cemaes Head - where a fisherman caught and released a mermaid, who later saved his life
    Llanychaer – New Year is still celebrated here on 13 January, the ancient Hen Galan
  • Carew - beautiful Princess Nest was reputedly stolen from her Norman husband by a Welsh lover
  • Bosherston - where towering cliffs moved to protect St Govan from Lundy Island pirates
  • Tenby - harbour church replaced Fisherman’s Chapel, where clergy were paid in seafood


South Wales

Swansea

  • Mumbles - gallery devoted to lovespoons, once carved by amorous - and hopeful - young men

Neath Port Talbot

  • Neath - town’s first policeman was so unpopular he was dangled over a bridge till he promised to quit

Cardiff

  • Clwb Ifor Bach - named after folk hero who kidnapped earl from Cardiff Castle
  • Rummer Tavern - watch out for ghosts in the toilets and cellar

Newport

  • Newport - warlord Gwynllyw was told in a dream to build a church wherever he’d find an unusually marked ox
  • Caerleon - home of the fabled Round Table, Tennyson believed as he penned his Arthurian epic here
  • Nash - church has a leper’s squint, an aperture where lepers outside could watch the priest conduct services

Monmouthshire

  • Abergaveny - where naughty schoolboys would be hoisted up to the rafters for the day
  • Skirrid - did the mountain split when Christ was crucified or when the wizard Jack o’ Kent leapt onto it?
  • Chepstow – effigy of lady-in-waiting rumoured to have smeared Anne Boleyn’s name
  • Chepstow - waterfront was known as ‘Hell’s Acre’, with good reason
  • Portskewett - where the ancient tradition of fishing with lave nets continues