I was about seven years old when my Dad first took me to see Morlais Castle. He showed me a huge hole in the ground, which he said had been the well, but now I think it was more likely used for waste products! He told me about the time that he’d climbed down there to rescue his brother’s shoe, but slipped when halfway down and fell to the bottom. He couldn’t climb back up and was later rescued by a local farmer. He showed me the moat, and he showed me the only structure still standing and said it was the dungeon. I think that he called it that to make it sound more exciting to a young boy, or maybe because I wouldn’t know what a crypt was.
There really wasn’t much to see, but I remember a feeling of wonder on standing in a place where there had once been an ancient castle. At the time my family lived less than a mile away and over the next three or four years, I spent many happy days exploring the area. Surrounding more than half the site, was what I thought was a natural cliff-face, making attack impossible from these sides. It seemed like such a great place to build a castle. My romantic illusion was shattered, when I later learned that the cliff had been carved out of the side of the mountain. This happened many years after the castle had been destroyed, when the area was quarried for its limestone.
The history books show that Morlais Castle was built by Gilbert De Clare. De Clare also built the magnificent Caerphilly Castle, which is still largely intact, some twenty miles to the south. Click if you want to know more about Morlais Castle.
Dad didn’t have the World Wide Web at his fingertips, but he painted a rich picture of how the castle would have looked in the 13th century, and I can only assume that his father had passed down the story. Dad was a great story teller, and had me enthralled with many bedtime stories. A family tradition I’ve continued with my own children, although my stories never involved medieval castles.
So I guess it’s fitting that it was my kids who gave me the push I needed, to write my first novel, The Legend of Finndragon’s Curse. It’s a story about a legendary Welsh kingdom which hasn’t been seen for fifteen hundred years, since being cursed by an evil wizard named Finndragon. Three children, Emma, Megan and Scott go in search of their missing father, who they believe is trapped in the cursed land.
This story wasn’t really planned, but evolved as I wrote it. Looking at it now, I can see myself as a child clambering up the side of the cliff with my friends. We played hide and seek and hid in small caves.
I have just revisited my childhood, taking my seven year old son Jonathan and pet dog Benson along and I was amazed at how little has changed during the last 35 years. I guess 35 years is just a few ticks of the clock for a 700 year old castle. I did pay a short visit to Morlais Castle about nine years ago, but this time Jonathan and I spent a couple of happy hours exploring almost every nook and cranny. It also stirred some happy memories of my late father.
When writing The Legend of Finndragon’s Curse, I relied on old memories and a vivid imagination to summon up images of how I wanted Castell y Mynydd to look. I was amazed by how real everything I wrote seemed, as we delved into this historic site.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, in which Emma tells her younger brother and sister the story of how the kingdom came to be cursed:
“Word had spread for the last two to three years, of invaders from the east. Barbaric warriors with huge beasts of war, were rampaging across Britain, slaughtering everyone and destroying everything in their path. Finndragon had ensured that the castle would repel any attacking force. The front wall of the castle was thirty feet high with battlements all the way along it. There was a large, strongly fortified gatehouse to the centre of this wall and at each corner of the castle was a tall, circular tower.
These invaders finally arrived at Castell y Mynydd and lay siege for 100 days. They were unable to launch an attack on Dafydd’s well defended castle, but thought they could wait until the castle food ran out and Dafydd’s men were starving, and would have to leave the castle. However, they didn’t realise that Finndragon had cast a spell on the food store. For every item of food removed, another magically took its place. The invaders eventually decided to launch an attack, which proved futile. As they attempted to cross the moat in small rafts, Finndragon’s creatures left their watery beds, tipped over the rafts and savagely turned the water red with the blood of the barbarians; feasting on their flesh and bones.
The surviving barbarians fled and were never seen in Wales again, but soon after, Dafydd and Finndragon had a huge argument. It was the Feast of August and everybody was celebrating. There was food aplenty and an ample supply of good strong wines and ales. Nobody knows for sure what they argued about, but some say Finndragon might have fallen in love with Dafydd’s wife. Queen Hafgan, which roughly translates as ‘summer song’, was much younger than Dafydd and was very beautiful. She had long red hair and a pale complexion. Dafydd then banished Finndragon from his kingdom.
And as Finndragon left Castell y Mynydd, he turned to Dafydd and said, ‘Unless you lift my banishment before thirteen moons light the sky, then you, your castle, kingdom and everything in it shall sink into the earth. And you will be set upon by monsters and demons until the end of time, and never be seen again.’Then the sky went dark, only lit by the frequent flash of lightning, with thunder crashing all around. Finndragon swirled his long cloak in the air around him and vanished.
Dafydd soon forgot about Finndragon, as he employed a young Welsh wizard called Myrddin, which meant hawk, who claimed he could protect Dafydd from any curse. Many people believe that Myrddin was actually Merlin in Arthurian Legend in later years. Myrddin had an even younger apprentice called Gwayne, meaning white hawk.
With the barbarian invaders dispatched, life was very peaceful. Dafydd was happy and his kingdom prospered. Exactly a year after Finndragon’s banishment, with a full moon in the beautiful night sky, a terrible storm came up from nowhere, right in the middle of the Feast of August. It is said that his visiting cousin Dewi, King of Ceredigion was with Dafydd that night. Suddenly everything was in pitch darkness except for Castell y Mynydd, which was illuminated by a single shaft of moonlight. Every fire and light within the castle was extinguished by the howling wind and the lashing rain. The waters in the moat began to bubble and boil, and the ground began to shake.
Myrddin was a young wizard and his magic was not yet powerful enough to stop Finndragon’s Curse, as he’d claimed. So he saved himself by turning into a hawk and flew away, before the kingdom sank into the earth, and a mountain rose up above the spot where it had stood. Dafydd and everyone and everything else weren’t so lucky.
So that was the end of Dafydd, except some people think his kingdom is still intact, in the belly of the earth, where he is plagued by Finndragon’s demons for all eternity.
Where was Dafydd’s kingdom?
Nobody knows for sure, but some say there is an ancient scroll which reveals where the kingdom was and even how to undo the curse and bring it back from below the earth!”
More photographs from the day:
Many thanks to Richie Earl for this interesting guest post. Since this tour has been running since May 15th, I'm going to give you the chance to take a look at what other blogs have been hosting! Click (here) to go to Richie's blog and the official schedule. And yes, post is extremely late but more on that later.