Cornwall, Wales, Welsh History


When you meet someone for the first time, it seems to me, that you can nearly always find something that you have in common — places you have lived, people you have known, views, tastes, maybe you have the same sense of humour — we humans like to do this, to forge bonds with new people.

I have just met Madrun and she is a remarkable woman.  She’s been dead 1500 years. 

Whatever you call her, Madrun or Materiana, this woman must have learned a thing or two from the turbulent power struggles that raged around her in her early life.  She was born a princess, eldest daughter of Gwerthefyr Fendigaid (Vortimer the Blessed), the 5th century warrior king of Gwent who opposed the Saxon invaders from Germany who were allied with his father.  He temporarily overthrew his father and took power but eventually is said to have been poisoned by his Saxon stepmother (that’s a recurrent theme!)  On his father’s death, his daughter, Madrun, succeeded from her grandfather and rulled with her husband Ynyr (descended from Roman emperor Magnus Maximus). (Thankyou, David Nash Ford for this information from Early British Kingdoms)

The details of her life are obscure but we know she was Christian and that, like many of her contemporaries she travelled to Ynes Enlli (Bardsey Island — at the tip of the Llyn peninsula in North Wales) as a pilgrim. 

Looking towards Bardsey Island,  Ynys Gwylan in the foreground

On the way she and her servant Annun stayed a night at Trawsfynydd.  I have visited this area — infact I blogged about the visit and the spooky nature of the place.(Off the Straight and Narrow) 

Madrun found it spooky too.  She and Annun both dreamed a dream of  founding a nunnery there, which they did –the church there still bears Madrun’s name.

Circle of hills around Trawsfynydd –slate wall in foreground

Yesterday we were at Tintagel, Cornwall, in a magnificent gale, shouting greetings to fellow walkers with excited wind-tousled dogs.  We watched the huge swell and the breakers hitting the offshore islands and sending spray 60 feet into the air.

The Sisters, Tintagel.

As we drove away we caught sight of a small church on the cliff and we were drawn to look.  Here it is — St Materiana’s (that’s the same Madrun — she ended her days in Cornwall)

Saint Materiana’s Church, Tintagel, Cornwall

Relatively modern –rebuilt in 12th century!  But there’s been a church here since the 6th century — I bet you Madrun’s buried here — look at the view.

Someone is keeping an eye on it anyway!

Farm engineering, Hill Farming, Welsh History

Another one bites the dust!

There is an ancient lorry trap where we live.  It used to trap carts but it has never stopped. It is the reason why the old drovers took the high road — some say it is a portal to the underworld.


It’s dusk now and the ingenuity of the Welsh farmer is bought to play — he always has a few railway sleepers about his person.  The tractor-pull has failed. The two-tractor-pull has failed — the chain has failed, fired like a mediaeval weapon into a field, but on this occasion no one is killed.  Eventually with a little modern help from the biggest jack in the world the sleepers are inserted and the spell is broken.


What happens here repeatedly is that a right angle bend, on a 1:10 rising to 1:5 hill, arrests the vehicle.  It backs down, thinking it will take the alternate route, the driver turns the wheel clockwise. “Left hand down!” I scream as I hurtle across the field (Alan has told me to do this) but it is all too late.  There is a thud as the heavily loaded grain lorry slumps against the bank.  Sadly,  think our sheep (who have seen it all before) nothing is spilled, carts were much better!

Welsh History

Off the Straight and Narrow

There is a long straight road in North Wales running north from near Dolgellau to the lake at Traws. It is so long and so straight that it shouts ‘Roman’ at travellers and sends them to look at their maps for confirmation where they might notice the icon for a Roman fort at the northern end, overlooking the lake, and feel a diversion coming on.

We, the intrepid travellers, turn off the main road and head up hill but we are being watched – by warriors ranged along the crest of the hill?   A thousand grave stones watch our progress. Weird, but we have seen similar in the back yards of Darwen and Rossendale in Lancashire, although the slab-walls there were made of local stone – millstone grit. We are near Ffestiniog, the slate capital of Wales and we know that Welsh farmers use whatever is available.

Slate Slabs on the Hillside

There are no sign posts but, sure enough, we find a gravel parking area in a desolate but raised area in the middle of a great bowl of open landscape bounded in the distance by an unbroken jagged horizon of blue mountains.

There is a mound and a small information sign which identifies it as a later Norman motte (earth mound on which to place a keep or tower), built on the site of the old Roman fort; that explains why it is so un-flat (Romans were meticulous).

Norman Motte built on pre-existing Roman site at Toman-y-mur. (Walled heap)

Norman Motte built on pre-existing Roman site at Toman-y-mur. (Walled heap)

A weather beaten and white haired lady stands gazing over a depression in the ground where rushes grow, ‘Is this an amphitheatre or a pond?’ I ask.

‘I know nothing about this place other than that I am strangely drawn to it… I come back again and again,’ she says, turning startling blue eyes to me – the colour of hair-bells.


Her gaze dances over the landscape, ’Its name, Tomen y Mur, means a rubbish heap in Welsh!’ she says, ‘That’s all I know,’ and strands of white hair lash her face and her thin brown coat, flecked with purple, flaps in the wind together with the reeds, purple thistles and white haired cotton grass that wave in the rough pasture. I feel the chill.

‘It’s Roman, they say,’ says I.

‘Oh no, this place is much, much older than that.’

When we get home we looked it up: Tomen y Mur is thought to be the Castell Mur of legend, as recorded in the Mabinogion. It was the court of Llew Llaw Gyffes who became king of Gwynedd despite the treachery of his wife Blodeuwedd who was magically created from flowers.

The Roman fort was built to pacify (that’s a euphemism for conquer) the local tribe that they called the Ordovices, led in AD50 by Caratacus, who caused a lot of trouble and suffered the brutal wrath of the Roman Governor.  in AD70 the Ordovices had recovered enough to massacre a whole Roman regiment for which they were all but wiped out and the Roman fort built.

From the air, the eyes in the sky can see the rectangles of Roman enclosures, albeit scarred by the later Norman boil which erupted in the middle of the old fort, which in turn seems quite likely to have been sited in a place, important and strategic to the vanquished Ordovices, whose legends will have lived on into the mediaeval times when written into the Mabinogion.

That’s the magic of Wales.

Wall of Slate Slabs in Snowdonia

Wall of Slate Slabs in Snowdonia