27 July 2019








                   The Last Stand At Nanhysglain

                     CROES NAID

The Croes Naid, also known as the Cross of Neath- The chances are that you’ve never heard of it but if you have you’ll know that somewhere in the last seven hundred years it disappeared without a trace. It was a part of the Welsh Crown Jewels and more specifically it belonged to the House of Aberffraw, rulers of Gwynedd. Supposedly it was an ornate cross which incorporated what was said to have been a part of the true cross and was said to have wielded its protection over the House of Aberffraw.
Christ Crucified by Giotto (courtesy of Wikimedia)
Whether or not it really did contain a piece of the true cross, gather all the supposed pieces of the true cross together and you’ll discover that Jesus was crucified thirty feet up in the air, I can’t say but the Croes Naid itself was certainly real. The story goes that the great Welsh King Hywell Dda brought the fragment back from Rome in 929 and from that had it made into the Croes Naid. It’s certainly plausible. Hywell Dda definitely did go on a pilgrimage to Rome at this time and it wasn’t unheard of for people to bring holy relics back from their travels (the toenails of John the Baptist, for example.) Being a man of some importance Hywell may well have been given a high status relic to return to Wales with and there aren’t many that are more high status than a piece of the true cross. At some point the cross ended up with the house of Aberffraw and it stayed there until the conquest of 1282.
At the conquest Llywelyn ap Gruffudd deposited it with the monks of Cymer Abbey (near Dolgellau) for its protection and after his humiliating final defeat at Orewin Bridge Edward Longshanks, King of England, appropriated it, along with the other Crown Jewels of Wales- The Coronet of Llywellyn, the Matrix of the Seal, the Crown of Arthur and the Jewels of Arthur. All of these were paraded through the streets of London in a kind of triumphal march before being deposited with the English Crown Jewels, the most important bits of which were kept with the king himself or, and the less important bits, like say, loot taken from Wales, in one of the crypts Westminster Abbey.
What happened to the Croes Naid and the other Welsh Crown Jewels after that is a complete mystery. The only thing we know for certain is that they were already absent when that well known anti-royalist Oliver Cromwell came to do an inventory of the Crown Jewels in 1649. They had, all of them, gone. But where? And how?
Several possibilities present themselves. The first is that they had been destroyed during the Reformation, seen as examples of Catholic idolatry perhaps. Whilst I can certainly see this being true of the Croes Naid, I can’t see why it would be the case with the much more secular crowns, coronets, jewels or the matrix. A second possibility is that someone destroyed them to prevent them from being used as symbol of Wales, a symbol of how they were subservient to the English, how the English had imprisoned the Welsh. The most likely candidate for this is Henry IV, he who resembled Ming the Merciless, during the Glyndwr rebellion of 1404-10.
Edward Longshanks (Looking like Voldemort? -Courtesy of Wikimedia)
The third possibility is the most interesting. In the early 1300’s there were numerous attempts at stealing the crown jewels and the one in 1303 was the most successful for the fact that it nearly succeeded. The chief orchestrator was Richard of Pudlicott, though it’s likely that the whole of Westminster Abbey and the remaining staff of the neighbouring Palace of Westminster (The king off in Scotland at the time) were in on it. It was only when some of the culprits tried to hide their ill gotten loot that the crime was discovered- Pieces were found hidden in hedgerows, behind tombstones, one pulled from the Thames. One London prostitute even boasted of a ring given to her by the Sacrist of the abbey. The subsequent investigation recovered most of the stolen booty but, if they were stolen at this time, perhaps not the Welsh Crown Jewels.
If they were not recovered, if they were even stolen, then the likelihood is that they were probably sold abroad, somewhere in Flanders perhaps.  Wherever they went after this, without any records or even a single clue as to where they might have ended up, we cannot even begin to guess. It leaves open, however, the slight chance that they are still out there, somewhere on the continent- Not recognised for what they are. Perhaps they are on display in a museum, mislabelled as the jewels of some Germanic prince. Perhaps they sit in a Swiss bank account belonging to some ancient, once noble but now forgotten family. They could be anywhere, if they still exist.
There might be an addendum to this theft- Owain Glyndwr. In 1404, at Machynlleth, Glyndwr was crowned Prince of Wales. What he was crowned with is a matter of some debate- A new crown, made for the occasion; the Crown of Elise (royal crown of Powys) OR one of the Aberffraw crowns/coronets taken by Longshanks. The first is the most rational explanation. The second should lead us to ask as to why that wasn’t procured along with all the other Welsh Crown Jewels. Where was it and why did it suddenly reappear? As to the third… Is it conceivable that after the theft in 1303 the Crown Jewels ended up back in Wales and were subsequently used by Glyndwr? It is a stretch, in my honest opinion. And as to what would have happened to them then, or to the crown that Glyndwr used, is again a mystery. Glyndwr could have taken them with him when he disappeared into the mountains but then again maybe he didn’t. He was on the run at the time and lugging around the Welsh Crown Jewels would have been a burden.
The Croes Naid and the rest of the Crown Jewels certainly aren’t going to be hidden in an Indiana Jones style crypt somewhere, guarded by booby traps. The closest possibilty is a Swiss bank vault somewhere. The most likely explanation, whatever happened after they were taken to London, however they disappeared, is that they were destroyed and lost to history a long time ago.



The Last Stand At Nanhysglain

The Last Stand At Nanhysglain

A guide to Caernarfon

A guide to Caernarfon

Aber Falls

Aber Falls

Published by JPC

June 11, 2017
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3 thoughts on “The Mystery Of The Croes Naid”


1.                             Peter Ogwen Jones
You may be interested in this account of the Croes Naid.

1.                                      JPC
Thank you. That looks very interesting. I will have a proper read when I find the time.
2.                             Geraint Thomas
Sorry to disappoint you ,but sadly the groes naid was melted down :” To be put to coyne” ,I forget the exact date of this- somtime in the early fifteen hundreds (?)I’m doing this all from memory , having read about the fate of the cross in the excellent – and now sadly folded ,CAMBRIA magazine; after the English conquest of Wales,the cross was ‘handed over’ by formely loyal Welshmen to Edward the 1st ,the cross was then taken on campaign to Scotland – where the newly conquered Scots had to swear fealty in front of this newly ‘aquired’ relic . Eventually ,the cross was kept at the chapel of St George in Windsor – it was the chief source of income for the church were pilgrims who came to see it had to ‘pay to pray’ .Contemporary images of the cross survive on ceiling bosses in the church . Before it was melted down it was weighed – an impressive 23 pounds .

Such a terrible shame that this looted cross didn’t

survive ; had it survived its grim fate – and was still in existence today ,I wonder might it have been ‘repatriated’ back to Wales as an act of good will – much like the stone of Scone ( a pivotal symbol of Scottish history was returned in the 1990’s ? )

Somehow , I don’t think so……….

The Last Stand At Nanhysglain

A couple of things to note before I get to the article- Firstly, I’m publishing these latest travel pieces a bit out of order. I didn’t intend to publish this till the end of November at the earliest, but the more I thought about it the more I wanted to get it out quickly. As such, there’s a little bit of a spoiler for a story that isn’t out yet, just so you’re aware.
Secondly… I had an idea after a seminar on letters earlier this week. I thought of what it might be if I re-imagined these travel pieces as letters. I thought it was worth a shot. In the end, for a recipient, I chose someone from my old Storm FM SideTracked days- Connor ‘Sweeper Dude.’ He was just my own voice, Americanised, but I thought ‘writing letters to him’ would be a bit of a cool reference to the last time I was here and a kind of nod to the fact that I’ve not gone back down the same roads I once came along, a nod to the idea that he didn’t come back with me. I think it works.

Dear Connor,

Abergwyngregyn village never seems to change. It’s still the same small, intimately woven, bordering on the romantic tapestry of cottage-terraces and hedgerows that it was when I first came here eight years ago, although in the grand plethora of time eight years is not all that long, not when you consider that people have been living in this area for two thousand years. It must have changed in that time, but as I walk down the village’s main road there’s a deceptive timelessness to it. It could have been this way for forever. If I went back in time two hundred years, two thousand years, I feel like all the cottages and the whole village would be just the same as it is now.

It wouldn’t though, as is evidenced by a scrubby field which I catch sight of over a hedgerow. There’s a big mound at the back, the remains of a motte, which is how I recognise it. Few would notice this field. To the uninitiated eye it’s just a field with a mound at the back, there’s nothing to tell you that something special hides under the grass and weeds. The remains of a building lie under there, a large medieval one. Whether it was a palace or an administrative building nobody knows for sure, but it’s one of the few architectural remnants of pre-conquest Wales. The latter Princes of Wales lived here in this village and there is a strong chance that they called this patch of field home. Even if they didn’t they weren’t far away. A second suggested site, a house called Pen-Y-Bryn, lies over the other side of the village.
I’m annoyed by the field, actually. I’m annoyed that there’s no mention of what’s here. I’m annoyed that it is just a rotten patch of weeds. Yes, I understand that the ‘palace’ was probably re-covered after the excavation eight years ago in order to protect it, but it is such a waste when the field isn’t even being used, not even for grazing animals. Where would be the harm in opening that field up to the public? Even if you just put a shitty reconstruction over the top and leave the original covered it’s still better than nothing. Pre-Conquest Wales is so under-represented in this country’s heritage that it’s practically criminal. We need more of it, much more. A building like this, connected to the princes would be the perfect place to start.
‘Details about Nanhysglain itself are even harder to come by. It is as though it doesn’t matter but what happened there was an important moment, part of the most significant series of events in Welsh history, its conquest and subjugation. Yet Nanhysglain is forgotten almost completely.’It is for the princes and their lost heritage that I’ve come back here. In 1282 Wales was conquered By Edward I of England, Llewellyn ap Gruffydd killed, and his brother Dafydd fled into hiding. In the nearby Carneddau mountains six months later, at a place the sources call Nanhysglain, it was some sort of farmhouse or hovel apparently, Dafydd and his retinue were captured by the English, betrayed by Einion, Bishop of Bangor. The details of this capture and last stand are sketchy, especially online. Details about Nanhysglain itself are even harder to come by. It is as though it doesn’t matter but what happened there was an important moment, part of the most significant series of events in Welsh history, its conquest and subjugation. Yet Nanhysglain is forgotten almost completely. I’m not saying I can change that, that I can make people remember, but if I go and look for it then there’s at least a chance that I’ll find it. Any little thing I can dig up might yet make a scratch in the communal memory banks of the world. I’ve already narrowed it down to two sites, two medieval long huts marked down on the archaeological record. I have a feeling about which one is more likely, but it could still be either or even neither. I suspect that, alas, I’ll only get the time to check out one of the sites today.
I’m apprehensive about how I’m going to get up there. Of the two routes I can take, everything about Aber seems to come like the animals of Noah’s ark, two by two, I want to aim for the one which my mountain guidebook labels as 17. This one goes up the bottom of the valley to the mighty Aber Falls and then climbs into the mountains by way of a stream known as the Afon Gam. This is better than route 16, which goes up besides Aber Falls by way of a high scree slope. I’ve had trouble with that scree slope before, having slid down it on my arse whilst seeking a way down from the top some seven and a half years ago. I also don’t think that path, which cuts dangerously close to the falls in places, is a good idea after the three and a half days of horrendous weather we’ve had recently, three and a half days when the wicked Storm Callum blasted through North Wales, like a binge drinking, yobbo teenager on the last day of school, and left chaos in his wake. There will, indubitably, be so much water coming down from the mountains that the narrow path beyond the scree slope will almost certainly have been rendered precipitous in places.
As if I needed reminders of Callum’s drunken bender, the stream which runs from the falls to the village is a raging torrent, gushing and gurgling, white horses leaping over the rocks with watery neighs and whinnies. There are branches fallen down from the trees. The stretch of road between the village and the falls car park is just as bad as the stream. There are actual rivers running down it, and the weather has been dry since yesterday afternoon. It gives me one more reason to avoid the path beyond the scree slope. There’s no saying the Gam will be any better either. This whole trek could be a hiding to nothing.
A bridge and a cottage of the most romantic and picturesque persuasions mark the turn off into the Falls reserve and I begin to search for the road which runs towards the falls. I see one and dismiss it, thinking it too narrow and dark and not right. This, I shall find out later, is indeed the correct way, and my stupidity will dictate the rest of the day.
When I reach a car park with no exit I turn around and eventually find a path that points to ‘Aber Falls Walk.’ This should be the one, I think. I follow a muddy track through some woods, reach a junction, take one direction and after sinking in deep mud turn back again to follow the other route. Eventually I am led onto a path which seems to be going the right way, but after a while the trees stop, replaced by what I can only call desolation.
‘One of the dragons which call the deep mountains their home might have come down in the night and scorched the whole lot, one of the descendants of Smaug the terrible, maybe.’There are nothing but stumps grazing the side of a hillock to my right, drab with grey, washed out earth underneath. One of the dragons which call the deep mountains their home might have come down in the night and scorched the whole lot, one of the descendants of Smaug the terrible, maybe. Unless the dragons were considerate enough to put poles beside the path warning people to keep back, I don’t think its them. Clearly, this is a major logging zone. They’re starting to clear away every single one of the conifers that litter the hillsides of the Gwyngregyn valley, and there are thousands of them. They’ve cleared a substantial number of already, leaving this part of the valley with the appearance of a wasteland, but there are still many more to go. I don’t know what they plan to replace the conifers with, or if they even intend to replace them, but considering that conifers and pine trees make for a hideous sight in this part of the world (Canada? Fine. Wales? Fuck off) removing them is a good thing.
As the path turns, at one point I reach a junction, and take the left fork, I begin to wonder if this is the right way. Last time I was here, I recall, the path to the falls was flat and paved and more or less straight. There’s a chasm, a valley, growing to my left and a massive, pyramidal mountain beyond. It’s lovely, beautiful even, but I don’t remember this being here before. When I come to a sodden clearing and a soggy path and stream running up the hillside in a zig-zag I know this is definitely wrong. The path I have followed has guided me out of the Gwyngregyn valley into the Anafon pass, and I don’t want to go that way. The Anafon pass will take me too far the wrong way so yet again I go back to the last junction, cursing that there hasn’t been a sign to the falls for a while.
The path goes upwards again, back in the direction of Aber village, and then round the hillock and back into the Gwyngregyn valley. This is where I curse again, noting that I’m on the wrong side. The Gam and route 17 is across the valley, a cleft cast in morning shadow. As well as the Gam I can see both of the falls (again, two!), the Rhaeadr Fawr and the Rhaeadr Bach. The Bach starts higher up but as it works its way down from the mountains it is broken up into smaller cascades. The Fawr, which I can only see the top of, falls in one mighty ribbon down into the valley. I didn’t want to, but now I’m going to have to face that mighty ribbon from on high, from the scree slope and route 16. There’s no way, without going on a massive detour, that I can cross over. Plucking up the courage to take 16 on, I press forward. Hopefully it won’t be too bad, won’t involve more than a little perseverance and a little uphill climb.
It is as I’m crossing the slope that my phone makes a buzzing sound. I stop to check it, amidst the rocks and with a perilous looking drop into the valley directly below to my right. It’s a text message from ‘O2 roaming’ and says ‘Welcome to the Isle of Man.’
Hang on… What? Why am I on the Isle of Man all of a sudden? That doesn’t make sense. My phone shouldn’t have gone onto international roaming mode, not here anyway. A part of me finds it amusing, I’ve ended up on the Isle of Man without ever leaving Wales, but I think it also says something about our civilisation’s pathetic need to be connected at all times, that even when we’re out of network range our phones have to find something else to latch onto, just to keep us in touch with the entire world. Why can’t we be alone? Why, when we climb out of network range, do our phones not go to sleep instead of transporting us to the Isle of Man?
I come to realise that the scree slope isn’t all that bad and whilst crossing I work out why I thought it would be. The path is higher up than where I came to it previously. It’s not exactly clear in places either, just a narrow ledge where the rocks are more level than the rest. Beyond, where the proper climb begins and the sun hides itself elsewhere, the path disappears completely in some pots. I find where I went wrong, climbing over a rock and coming to a cleft which I recall dropping down into last time, thinking it was the right way. The route on the other side of the rock is clear enough but looking back from the far side of the cleft it’s almost as if the path I have just followed isn’t there at all. Even knowing where it is, on the way back down, I have difficulty finding it.
‘Even on a good, sunny day like this there is something to make the traveller hesitate. ‘There’s no way,’ you think to yourself, ‘that anybody could be hiding up there.’’I was struck by a thought back when I was somewhere in the Anafon pass and it hits me again now. The English would never have even considered that Dafydd and his retinue were hiding up here. From below the mountains look impenetrable, like an unscalable, high wall. Even on a good, sunny day like this there is something to make the traveller hesitate. ‘There’s no way,’ you think to yourself, ‘that anybody could be hiding up there.’ It looks like you can’t get up there. On a day any gloomier than this, when the mists and clouds are hanging low over the mountain tops and the valleys are dark and bleak your thoughts would be confirmed. If the soldiers came up the valley, they must have done, or tried to climb into the mountains (and it was probably substantially less of a pleasant climb than today, with no well-maintained path or maps or guidebooks telling you where to watch your step) they’d have gotten so far, shook their heads and turned back. I imagine that anybody who suggested that Dafydd was hiding up here was probably laughed out of the county by the English soldiers. I bet they didn’t believe Einion when he told them. I imagine there was sarcasm, scepticism and a few threats before they eventually set off on the fateful mission to capture the last Prince of Wales.
Looking ahead, into the valley above the falls, it does seem a bit Bonnie Prince Charlie. There’s something akin to the flight after Culloden about it, the same idea of a fallen saviour taking shelter in some misty glen, away from the prying eyes of enemies. The valley which the Afon Goch (Red River) flows down to reach the falls can’t be seen. From here it’s just this sheltered sort of hollow with a few trees covering it. Almost anything could be up there and knowing that there was once a hidden Prince of Wales close to it makes the hollow a perfect fit for images of noblemen in flight. The hollow screams romance, screams of shattered dreams and gallant last stands. Based on zero evidence, just looking up from the path, the water of the falls a raging torrent not far to the right, you can taste in the air that this was the place where Dafydd made his last stand.
Trouble soon begins. Storm Callum has indeed left a nasty present behind him and it’s hurtling down the mountainside in a cascade almost as terrible as the main falls, and right across the path as well. I look for another way over, higher up, drier, but there isn’t one. The path I must take is a narrow, bare rock section with a precipice on one side and thus, with the water gushing over, is extremely perilous. It doesn’t look impassable but it is a pause for thought. I can’t go over it, I can’t go under it, I’ve got to go through it. One more time I think how incredulous the English soldiers must have been about Dafydd being up here. It wouldn’t have made sense to them.
Careful now, I plunge into the froth, clinging to the rock at the side and treading cautiously so as not to slip, my boots inundated with water. I could fall, and no one would hear, I know this, but with enough care and courage I make it through to the other side and dryness. It’s the hard way, but it’s the right way. It’s the only way. I attempt not to come back this way, attempt to cross the mountains to Bethesda, but in the end I do have to come down this way. Getting further into the mountains from the Goch is doable, but extremely challenging and today, I’ll discover, there isn’t time to take it on. The way back through the water, I shall eventually find, is worse and more perilous and will leave me a bit shaken.
‘It’s so easy to imagine Dafydd coming along the path in front of me, staring out towards his palace, now occupied, with sadness and grief and anger and hatred. Did he wonder if he could take it all back? Did he doubt himself?’Safely on the other side, one foot after the other, I climb higher and higher, till the entire sun shines on my head. I finally reach the valley of the Afon Goch, that Bonnie Prince Charlie looking hollow, and the top of the falls. I stop and glance behind, noting that you can see down the entire Gwyngregyn valley. I wonder if this was where Dafydd set a watch for the English soldiers? You certainly wouldn’t be able to see someone standing up here from below. It’s so easy to imagine Dafydd coming along the path in front of me, staring out towards his palace, now occupied, with sadness and grief and anger and hatred. Did he wonder if he could take it all back? Did he doubt himself? There must have been times when the task before him felt so big, and he felt so small and incapable of even making a scratch. Maybe he looked out over the Gwyngregyn valley, determined to fight until the end. Or maybe he only despaired, on the verge of tears. I’m flying blind and I’m making this up as I go along, because the truth is that we just don’t know. There is no record of what went on up here in those days, nothing at all until we reach the scant information about the capture at Nanhysglain. Heck, nobody knows where Nanhysglain was. I doubt that anybody has ever bothered to take a serious look. I am myself basing this quest on limited evidence, on the fact that the sources mention Bera Mawr, and that there a couple of nearby medieval sites marked on the archaeological record. They might have nothing to do with Nanhysglain for all I know. Dafydd might, at the end of the day, never have been in this valley at all.
It’s all romanticising, imagining Dafydd standing and watching from this vantage point. The valley of the Afon Goch is so easy to romanticise. There’s a beautiful, classic, Wuthering Heights wilderness to it. It’s bleak, desolate and enormously pretty. The climb makes it seem more remote than it is and that helps with the romanticism, I consider.
I start to remember one of the reasons I chose the Carneddau for my own literary playground, for my own romantic endeavours. There’s so much scope to play and mess around, to make a romance out of and to mythologise. The raging Afon Goch and the falls are a case in point, forming the site of the climax to the first part of Aunt Mable and The Sound of Music, where the nun who is being pursued across the mountains goes over the edge of the falls. It was intended a direct reference to my own, teenage self’s alternative ending to the Sound Of Music, where Julie Andrews goes over the edge of a precipice- The running thing of people falling over precipices, from The Earl of Beddgelert’s accident at the end of Max and Anna through to the nun going over the falls, also comes from that. Only now, as I ponder if going over the edge of the falls would be survivable, do I work out that it is actually the ending of another, completely different film in which a mad nun really does go over the edge of a precipice- Black Narcissus.
The raging waters, the steep drop over the falls, make me consider that there is indeed no way going into that water would be survivable and the fact that my own Nun-de-insanity survives (in a badly beaten state) is definitely on the more absurd side of things. It’s also a bit Thomas Hardy now I reconsider it (I’m thinking the ending of Return Of The Native, where Eustacia and Wildeve go over Shadwater weir). Definitely romanticism.
Onwards, deeper into the valley of the Afon Goch. The name, Red River, intrigues me. Is it named so for a folk memory of Dafydd’s last stand, for when it ran red with spilled blood of the Welshman? There’s very little that is red about it today, or any reason for it to be called Red River, so it seems entirely possible. Bera Mawr looms large ahead of me, the mountain upon which the sources say Nanhysglain rested. The walls of the valley close around me, steep on one side and more gentle on the other. The path winds along the Goch for a bit, it’s become more relaxed since the climb up to the falls, but all around the edge are boggy, soggy bits. The sources say Nanhysglain was in a bog and this is definitely that. There’s no mistaking. It makes me think that I’m on the right track.
Then I freeze. Ahead on a sort of bluff is what looks like the remains of a building, a sheep standing next to it as though he is the spirit of Prince Dafydd waiting for me to come and find the site of his last stand. Worlds fail, there’s nothing I can say, and then the historical part of my mind slams on the brakes before I’ve even turned the key. This is not and never has been Nanhysglain. This is a sheepfold, probably post-medieval. It’s even marked by a little square on the map. That doesn’t stop me speeding towards it in the hope that it might somehow turn out to be the fabled hiding place.
I scout around it, nosing over the edge but not going in, and then scramble up the hillside to get a better view. It’s definitely a sheepfold and more than likely nothing to do with Dafydd or Nanhysglain. As I continue on, however, reaching close to the point on the map where one of the medieval longhuts is supposed to be, I come to another stop. Below the sheepfold is a flat, stony patch beside the river with a few scabby trees growing there. The valley is mostly devoid of trees so why are these here? My brain cycles through some thoughts till it comes to the idea that there must be more nitrogen and nutrients for them to grow in this part of the valley. So why are there more nutrients? The historical, rational part of my brain, this time, fails to slam on the brakes and we go full throttle into the abyss of romanticism. Obviously, obviously, this was where the last stand happened. This was where, in the shadow of what is now the sheepfold, Dafydd and his retinue made their struggle with the English soldiers. These trees mark the last resting place of those who fell, where all they see is sky and this isolated valley, for forever.
In my romanticising, imagining how that last fight played out, I am overcome by sadness and grief, remembering through a second hand sorrow. I imagine that maybe the watchman on duty that day saw the English soldiers coming up into the mountains and came back to warn the others. Here, with nowhere left to run, they came to meet their enemy and were defeated. Or, looking at the sheepfold and briefly imagining it to really have been the site of Nanhysglain, perhaps the Welsh were caught unawares and, surrounded, they stormed out of the hovel in a Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid kind of way. Either way, this is it, I think (perhaps foolishly). This was where they made their final stand.
Sitting down and looking at the map again, looking at both potential Nanhysglain sites and scanning the landscape around me, the site on the far side of the mountain seems more likely than ever to be the wrong one. It looks too high, too exposed, to be right. This, meanwhile, is far more sheltered and far more hidden. This feels more enclosed, more like somewhere you could hide if you were being pursued by English soldiers.
‘I laugh at that and tell the bird what I’m thinking. He hops around the rocks in front of me and laughs back.’As I’m sat, staring at this spot on the river and contemplating how wrong the other site is, a tiny little bird comes to talk to me. There’s a common, almost cliché moment in movies where somebody dies and then the grieving survivors see a bird in a tree or an antelope on a mountainside and suddenly they’re happy again because their dead friend lives on in the form of that animal. This little bird, I suggest to myself, is one of the retinue, come to say hello and to say that I have indeed found the site of the last stand. I laugh at that and tell the bird what I’m thinking. He hops around the rocks in front of me and laughs back. Then for a minute or so we talk and take in the view, just talk and take in the view. Two friends on a perfect day. Soon though he bids me goodbye, racing away towards the tallest tree.
There are more trees in a ravine further along the valley and when I head back this way I notice yet more closer to the falls. I was definitelyromanticising when I thought that my spot close to the sheepfold was the site of the last stand. It may have been, but there’s no proof. Even the long hut mentioned on the archaeological record barely offers anything. It’s a tiny, squarish patch rocks a short distance from the stream, if what I have come across even is the right thing and not just something I’ve assumed was right. It doesn’t look big enough to shelter all the people who were supposedly hiding up here. But through all the romanticising, even though I haven’t actually found Nanhysglain or any definitive proof of it or the site of the last stand, I start to think that this was definitely the right side of the mountain. Dafydd was here, somewhere close.
Unlike Culloden, unlike Bonnie Prince Charlie, nobody remembers the last stand at Nanhysglain. Though it is so, so easy to do so, all that is takes is a little greek invention, nobody has made a romance out of those brave Welshman hiding in the mountains like they have with the final charge of the Highland clans. No one mourns at all. They will sing no requiem for Dafydd and his retinue tonight. But when you’re up here, you want to believe in all the romantic ideas of that last stand. You want to think that the sheepfold is Nanhysglain, that where the trees confront the Afon Goch is where Dafydd and his retinue fought the English soldiers. When I’m up here don’t tell me that it wasn’t black and white. Don’t say it wasn’t true. When you see it, and it’s right there, right there in front of you, you want to believe it’s true- So you make it true. So make it true.
Romance aside, Nanhysglain matters. This valley of the Afon Goch, if indeed it does somewhere contain the site of the last stand, and I think that it does, should be remembered. This is where the last dreams of an independent Welsh nation died and where, after two hundred brutal years, the conquest of Cymru ended. There would be rebellions and revolutions and Welsh pride and nationhood would rise again one day, but nevermore would the land be free. I can’t help but think that there ought to be some kind of marker here, some kind of plaque saying ‘The last stand happened here.’
Wherever Nanhysglain may be, wherever the last stand occurred, even if it one day turns out to have been elsewhere, we ought to still remember it.
Laters blud,





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Aber Falls

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Oh Shoot!

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Published by JPC

October 21, 2018

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6 thoughts on “The Last Stand At Nanhysglain”

1.                             efallai1 .

Great blog, for years I’ve been puzzled by the location of Nanhysglain, I somehow doubt the location being 4 miles to the north of Aber as this would mean a location a mile to the north of Bera Mawr / Fach which would be in very wild exposed countryside, and very harsh on the kids /babies. The two locations you mentioned seem right. Also i was puzzled by the name Nanhysglain, Was the valley of Afon Goch once called Nanhysglain, A Welsh speaker i had a go at figuring out what the name meant

Nant ysglein ?( shiney valley) . If Afon Goch was named after the event then maybe.

1.                                      JPC
I like the sound of Nanhysglain once being the name of the valley. That sounds very plausible.


2.                             Mike
I believe hysglain means beehives and if so, nanhysglain would mean valley of the beehives. I think JPC is overlooking some potentially useful leads in his quest to find nanhysglain. Firstly, talking to the more elderly locals in Abergwyngregyn might provide better clues as to where nanhysglain actually is or if it existed at all. Also, names have a root in fact and, if there were cultivated hives in the area at some time, they are likely to have had a favoured orientation (or slope aspect), altitude and position close to nectar sources; this may assist in narrowing the number of potential sites. What about Dafydd? Putting yourself in his shoes could be useful in terms of choosing ground that would suit his aims i.e. defendable, remote, good fields of view, shelter etc etc.
1.                                      JPC
Hi- Thanks for your comment. Definitely some things to think about there.
3.                             Mike
The BBC News website has carried a story about many previously unknown archeological sites being revealed to aerial photography due to the dry conditions of the 2018 summer. Whoever conducted the aerial survey may have potentially revealing imagery of the Beta Mawr area.
1.                                      JPC
Yeah. Good point. I’m going to see a talk by the guy who did that in a few weeks so I might be able to ask him about it.- James

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Cymer Abbey

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Cymer Abbey (Welsh: Abaty Cymer) is a ruined Cistercian abbey near the village of Llanelltyd, just north of Dolgellau, Gwynedd, in north-west Wales, United Kingdom.


It was founded in 1158-9 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary under the patronage of Maredudd ap Cynan ab Owain Gwynedd (d. 1212), Lord of Merioneth and grandson of Owain Gwyned and his brother, Gruffudd ap Cynan, prince of N. Wales (d. 1200). It was a daughter house of Abbeycwmhir in Powys.
The remains of the church and west tower are very plain, but substantial with walls surviving about nave archway height. It is a simple nave with aisles, lacking northern and southern transepts, and the choir and presbytery are incorporated into the nave. The abbey has buff sandstone dressings and some red sandstone carvings, but is primarily of local rubble construction. The foundations of the cloister and other monastic buildings are visible to the south. The abbot's house remain to the west of the site and have been extensively remodelled as a farmhouse.
Like other Cistercian communities in Wales, Cymer Abbey farmed sheep and bred horses, supplying them to Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Llewelyn the Great. Llewelyn gifted the Abbey mining rights in 1209. However, despite this the Abbey was not prosperous: it lacked much arable land and had limited fishing rights . In 1291 annual income was £28 8s 3d. The Welsh Wars of Edward I (1276–77 and 1282-3) probably contributed to the abbey's relative poverty, for instance the failure to build the usual Cistercian central tower is one indication of this. While Alun John Richards argues that the cooler climate of the 14th century unduly affected the Abbey's lands which were largely mountainous.
The Abbey was a base for the troops of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1275 and 1279. In 1283 Edward I occupied the Abbey and a year later gave the Abbey compensation of £80 for damage caused in the recent wars.
By 1388 the monastery was home to no more than five monks and it seems that there was a marked decline in the standard of religious observance. In the survey of 1535, the annual income of the house was valued at little over £51 and the abbey was dissolved with the smaller monasteries in 1536-7, most likely in March 1537. The monastery was small and relatively unimportant. However, Cymer did possess a fine, thirteenth century silver gilt chalice and paten (Eucharist plate), which must have been hidden at the Dissolution; rediscovered in 1898,under a stone at Cym-y-mynach, they are now in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.
A small stream runs south of the cloister, and the site is on the banks of the River Mawddach and lies just above the confluence of the River Wnion with the Mawddach Cymer; and therefore the monastery was given the full title of Kymer deu dyfyr, which means ‘the meeting of the waters’. It was sited at the lowest ford across the Mawddach.
It is now in the care of Cadw. As with other monastic sites in England and Wales, the abbey did not survive the Dissolution of the 1530s, and parts of the fabric were recycled for their dressed stone. Situated next to the surviving farm, the remaining ruins are open to the public on most days of the year.

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