David Atkinson walks the Wales Coast Path – Part 2 – Ceredigion: Aberystwyth to Borth
Job Title: Travel Writer & Journalist
Wales Coast Path – Part 2
Jack Evershed has a Welsh folk legend at the bottom of his garden.
The farmer from the Wallog estate lives by Sarn Gynfelyn, the glacial-rock causeway jutting into Cardigan Bay. This is said to be the gateway to the fabled undersea kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod.
The legend tells of a community of 16 fortified villages on a fertile plain, which were lost to the sea while the bells tolled out.
“We used to wind each other up as kids, pretending we could hear the bells when we played on the causeway,” says Jack, the chickens clucking around the yard oblivious to the marvel of local mythology right on their doorstep.
“I don’t hear the bells any more,” he says, “but, then, I am busy with lambing.”
Cantre’r Gwaelod’s watchman, Seithennin, was charged with closing the sluice gates at high tide to protect the domain of King Gwyddno from the sea. But, one fateful night, he neglected his duty, too busy drinking and trying to woo the king’s daughter at a feast.
The community was lost to the sea despite efforts to warn the residents of the flood by ringing the watchtower bell.
“The romance of the legend is etched in my mind from school,” says Nigel Nicholas, Coast and Countryside Area Ranger for Ceredigion County Council. “I now read it to my seven-year-old daughter, Priya.”
Nigel is walking with me on a misty day on the Ceredigion stretch of the Wales Coast Path, a five-mile day walk from Aberystwyth to Borth.
After a steep initial climb up Constitution Hill, we follow an undulating path, much of it over rugged, grassy pasture and dropping away steeply to rocky columns washed by swell of the foreshore below.
Local-nesting choughs fly overhead and yellow-dot primroses hint at early-spring stirrings.
The path leads us to the seaside community of Borth, where knarled branches poke through from a watery underworld at low tide.
The submerged forest of 4,000-year-old oak, pine and birch trees stretches north to Ynyslas at the gateway of the Dyfi National Nature Reserve.
We stand on the beach, the branches of a black bog oak, preserved in peat, extending its desperate tentacles as if clawing for life from beyond a watery purgatory.
We listen. No bells, no screams, just the whisper of a time-and tide-lost community.
And the words of the poem by J.J. Williams, The Bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod, ringing in my head.
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And as the sandy silence
Stays with me till I sleep,
The bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod
Are ringing in the deep.