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Britain's Landscape Symbols and Mysteries: Bryn Myrddin (Merlin's Hill)

Several sites are associated with Merlin: his "birthplace" at Carmarthen, the circle he constructed at Stonehenge, Merlin's Cave at Tintagel, and the wizard's well at Alderley Edge. There are three claimants for his death bed, Marlborough, Bardsey Island, and Drumelzier.

There are three significant sites of Merlinian interest in the Carmarthen area:
Bryn Myrddin (Merlin's Hill),
Merlin's Stone
Merlin's Tree (The Priory Oak).

The town of Carmarthen is a little less than two hours' drive west of Newport in South Wales. The sites of interest are on the east side of the town, so coming from Newport it is best to enter the town on the A40.

Bryn Myrddin (Merlin's Hill)

The hill is one of many places in Britain reputed to be the prison of Merlin, where Merlin lies asleep in a cave awaiting the call to return and help his fellow countrymen. According to tradition it is possible to hear his groans from under the hill if you listen hard enough. In legend Merlin was born in Carmarthen 2 miles away from the hill.

The whole of the area around the valley of the River Towy is associated with him, a stone known as Merlin's Stone was associated with a prophesy that a Raven would drink of the blood of a man from the stone. This is said to have come true after it fell on a man who was digging for treasure thought to be buried underneath it.

Merlin's Hill has, at its summit, the site of an Iron Age Hillfort. Dating back to around 400 B.C., it is one of the few large hillforts in West Wales whose size alone suggests that they were centres of power controlling large territories.

When the Roman armies entered the Towy Valley in AD 75 and established first a fort and then a town at Moridunum, the modern Carmarthen, the hillfort may still have been a focus of economic power, perhaps for tribal gatherings.

In 1188, Gerald of Wales wrote that Merlin was born in Carmarthen. Merlin - King Arthur's guardian with magical powers - is believed to have lived in a cave on Merlin's Hill. This cave was to serve as his home and tomb as, according to legend, he was locked there in bonds of enchantment by his lover. Alas, the cave has become lost with the passage of time but many still hear Merlin clanking his chains on Merlin's Hill.

Legendary and Historical Background

In the lower section of Bryn Myrddin, there is a legendary hidden cave where Merlin was trapped by Vivien. As the legend goes, Merlin was in love with the sorceress and taught her the craft and certain spells. After earning his trust, she used the spells he taught her to imprison him in, perhaps, the cavern in Bryn Myrddin.

This is one of the many "cave-legends" in the Arthurian tradition. In some, Merlin alone is trapped by Vivien, as is the case here. In others, Arthur and his knights are sleeping in a cave, waiting for the time when Britain needs such benevolent rule again, and Merlin is not present. Still others, such as Alderley Edge, blend these. In this particular legend, Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table wait and prepare to come again.

Location and Description

This hill is about a mile out of town and rises steeply off the A40. It is not marked that we saw, but it is easily found using the Ordnance Survey Grid Reference.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Bryn Myrddin, click here.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How very interesting. I was brought up with the story or Merlin, Arthur and the sleeping knights at Alderley Edge in Cheshire!

We do have a Merlin up here in Cumbria; the Merlin otherwise known as Lailoken. He was supposed to have gone mad having seen the slaughter at his chief's battle at Arthuret in the 6thc, and spent the rest of his life as a madman wandering the forests just over the border in Dumfriesshire.

Ref. your raven story, thought you'd be interested to know that the 'royal' dynasty up here in Cumbria ('Rheged') at the time of Merlin were known as the ravens. There, I think, is the origin of your story.

Great blog. I'll be back...


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