Cantre’r Gwaelod – The Mythical Sunken Kingdom of Wales

Cantre'r Gwaelod – The Mythical Sunken Kingdom of Wales

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The story of Atlantis is one of the most renowned and enduring tales from ancient Greece. This island, mentioned in the works of the philosopher Plato, was said to have been swallowed up by the sea and vanished. Yet, the story of Atlantis is not unique to the ancient Greeks, as other cultures also have similar legends of landmasses that disappeared under the waves. One of these is the story of Cantre’r Gwaelod from Wales.

Cantre’r Gwaelod (meaning ‘The Lowland Hundred’) is said to lie between Ramsey Island and Bardsey Island in the area known today as Cardigan Bay, in the west of Wales, UK. It is believed that Cantre’r Gwaelod extended about 32 kilometers west of the current shoreline into the bay.

The prehistoric fossilized trees off Cardigan Bay are sometimes revealed by low tides. Is this the legendary land of Cantre’r Gwaelod?

The prehistoric fossilized trees off Cardigan Bay are sometimes revealed by low tides. Is this the legendary land of Cantre’r Gwaelod? Yrhenwr/ Flickr

During the sixth century, Cantre’r Gwaelod was said to have been ruled over by a legendary king by the name of Gwyddno Garanhir. In fact, up to around the 17 th century, Cantre’r Gwaelod was known as Maes Gwyddno (meaning ‘Gwyddno’s Land’), so named after this Welsh ruler. An earlier version of the legend associated with Maes Gwyddno asserts that the land was submerged under water when Mererid, a priestess of a fairy well, allowed the water to overflow.

A different legend, however, is known and told today. In this version, Cantre’r Gwaelod is described as an extremely fertile land, so much so that an acre of land there was worth four elsewhere. The only problem with Cantre’r Gwaelod was that it was said to be dependent on a dyke to protect it from the sea. At low tide, the sluice gates were opened to allow water to drain from the land, and at high tide, the gates were closed.

In the more recent version of the story, the watchman appointed to look after the gates was a man called Seithennin, a friend of Gwyddno Garanhir, and a heavy drinker. According to this story, Seithennin was at a party at the king’s palace one night when a storm approached from the south-west. As he was either having too much fun, or else fell asleep due to too much alcohol, Seithennin did not notice the oncoming storm, and failed to close the sluice gates. As a result, it is said the sea rushed in to flood the land, and 16 villages where drowned. Gwyddno and his followers were forced to leave the fertile lowlands, and seek a living in less fertile areas.

In the earlier version of the story, it was not Seithennin, but the maiden Mererid who was responsible for watching the sluice gates. Seithennin was said to be a visiting king who distracted the maiden with his amorous advances. Once again in the tale a storm approached, and Mererid, who was busy with Seithennin, failed to notice it, was unable to shut the sluice gates, and caused the drowning of Cantre’r Gwaelod.

The submerged prehistoric forest at Borth Beach, Wales.

The submerged prehistoric forest at Borth Beach, Wales. Kristi Herbert/ Flickr

Some believe in the existence of Cantre’r Gwaelod, and there were even plans to carry out an underwater search for this lost land.

Remains of prehistoric forests are sometimes exposed in Cardigan Bay during stormy weather. In addition, a wattle walkway with associated posts, fossilized human and animal footprints, and well as some human tools were discovered in recent years. The dating of these items, however, suggests that they are thousands of years old, indicating that there was indeed land in the area that is now sea, though this was the case a long time before the reign of Gwyddno Garanhir.

Nevertheless, it is entirely possible that the remains of the ancient forest fired the imagination of the people who saw them, resulting in the tale of Cantre’r Gwaelod.

It is also possible that the story of Cantre’r Gwaelod can be viewed as a morality tale. The earlier version of the story is a lesson warning about the dangers of lust, while the later version promotes the virtue of temperance. These changes in the story may be an indication of the changes in the values of Welsh society over time. Regardless of whether Cantre’r Gwaelod existed or not, it is likely the legend will continue to be told, and perhaps updated from time to time with the latest findings.  

Comments

Interesting article. I'm glad that the author did not claim that the legend was based on Plato's fictitious "perfect city".

It could very well have been based on locals observing the fossilized tree stumps appearing at low tide and them weaving a morality tale around them.

Another very interesting archaeological site that will go unexamined because of lack of funding.  Our society has priorities completely backwards, with most money going to war and hardly any going to discoverying new knowledge.

 

I would tend to suspect these ruins would date back to between 2000 and 3000 BCE, a period in which massive changes happened to the earth, perhaps all at once in a catastrophe.

During those years, the Sahara went from a fertile land full of lakes and rivers, to today’s desert.  Same with the great deserts in northern China.  At some point the shoreline in North America rose a lot, about 15 feet or so, and something flooded the entire southeast portion of the continent, leaving vast swamps and marshes.

We can see massive changes all over the globe, which under current theory most happened millions of years ago.  Antacrtica once had a tropical climate, as did far northern places like the island of Spitzbergen.

But science gets no funding, unless it can turn a profit for the rich.  So we get Big Pharma and lots of pills, but pennies for NASA and every other science field.

 

Tom Carberry

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