The Romans in the Dyfi Valley

There's much speculation about the Romans in this part of Wales, and the infuriating thing is that there never seems to be quite enough evidence to go on. Certainly there was a fort at Cefn Caer, near Pennal, which is said to have been one of many structures between Caernarfon and South Wales, and that these were linked by a road called Sarn Helen. (Even the meaning of the term Sarn Helen is open to argument - although the most likely seems to be: Sarn = Causeway, and Helen =  a corruption of Y Lleng = The Legion.)

Some Roman vases were found near Llugwy, a couple of miles up-river from Pennal; and on the other bank a particularly dry summer 25 years ago revealed the presence of a Roman fortlet at Erglodd farm, between Taliesin and Talybont. The so-called Roman Road from Aberdyfi to Picnic Island is now admitted to have been built in 1808, and the term Maglona - traditionally said to have been the Roman Station at or near Machynlleth - seems to have been quietly forgotten these days. What of the Roman Steps at Machynlleth? If there was no Roman Station there, why should they have put so much effort into cutting them? The general agreement is that they are not Roman either.

Sarn Helen manages to lose itself at some point after Dolgellau, not to re-emerge until Trawsgoed, some 10 miles south of the Dyfi, and books have been written on the possible course of the road. One theory is that it ran parallel to the main Machynlleth to Talybont road, but higher up the hill, perhaps along the course of the minor lane which still exists today, passing Bedd Taliesin on its way.

For more information see:   the Web Site of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales

Owain Glyndwr and the Pennal Letter

In 1406, Owain Glyndwr wrote from Pennal to Charles VI of France, pledging that Welsh bishops would pay allegiance to the French Pope, Benedict XIII, and not the Roman Pope, Gregory VII, if only France would come to his aid by organising a crusade against Henry IV of England. Furthermore Owain stated that he planned two universities for Wales, one in the North and one in the South. King Charles VI replied with encouragement but little else, and Owain's fortunes soon took a turn for the worse; little more was heard of him from about this time onwards. There used to be a translation of the Pennal Letter on the web, but I can't find it now.

Lleucu Llwyd and Dolgelynen  has an entry regarding Llywelyn Goch (the Red), a famed 14th Century Welsh poet who lived 1350-1390 and "whose best known poem is perhaps "Marwnad Lleucu Llwyd" (The Death of Lleucu Llwyd) one of the finest love-poems in Welsh. Iolo Goch (1320-1398) records that this was always one of the first poems asked for when young people assembled. The passionate, moving poem bids farewell to a wife who had died while the author was away from her".

Elsewhere I've read that Lleucu lived at Dolgelynen, a farmhouse on the North bank of the Dyfi about midway between Pennal and Machynlleth. The story goes that she had fallen in love with Llywelyn Goch ap Meurig Hen (son of Old Meurig), but her father didn't like Llywelyn. Llywelyn had to travel down to South Wales but promised Lleucu that he'd come back and marry her. However, in his absence, Lleucu's father told her that Llywelyn had married someone else, and poor Lleucu died of a broken heart. Llewelyn soon returned to Dolgelynen, but instead of marrying Lleucu buried her in the parish church, under the altar, in 1390. His lament remains one of the main poems in Oes y Cywyddwyr (Age of the Cywyddwyr).

Bwlch Pawl

An information point in Pennal relates the legend of young girl who lived at Cefn Caer. Her father sent her suitor out to endure a night naked on the mountain in order to prove his love, and he tried to keep himself warm by driving a post into the ground while she waited for him at the farmhouse window. It seems that there was a tragic end, because she said that her love could no more keep him alive than the heat of a candle could cook a goose. I've read somewhere a more detailed account of this, and will try to dig it out.

Beatrix Potter and Pennal

Rather less significant to Welsh history are the comments made by a young Beatrix Potter, of Peter Rabbit books fame, when she visited the area in 1888:

"House we went to see, Pennal Tower, in a wilderness. Widow, Mrs. Thruston, alarming result and warning of living in the wilds."

"Village of Pennal consisted of three large chapels and about twelve other houses."

Pennal Tower

The Pennal Tower estate was originally called Plas yn Rofft and, at a later date, Esgairweddan, about which there's a legend but I've not managed to translate it successfully from the Welsh yet - my Welsh is painfully poor. The house itself was built in the 1850s by the then owner, Capt Charles Thomas Thruston (RN), who created the estate from the larger Talgarth estate for his son Clement Arthur Thruston, who succeeded to the property on his father's death in 1858. Capt Thruston was a key figure in the group of local worthies who brought the railway to the area, although he died before the project was completed.