Cantre'r Gwaelod/Maes Gwyddno
"The Drowned Hundred"/"Gwyddno's Land"
The legendary land in Meirionnydd which stretched into what is now Cardigan Bay, between Tywyn and Aberdyfi. It was supposedly ruled by Gwyddno Garanhir in the sixth century. The main reference to it is in the poem "Seithennin" in Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin.
The land was said to be very fertile, and so to protect the land from encroaching high tides, Gwyddno Garanhir dykes built. Placed in charge of overseaing the dyke was Seithennin, who one night was too drunk to pay attention.
What happens next depends on the version. In "Seithennin", a woman is blamed for allowing "Fountain of Venus, the desolating sea" to overflow.
In another version, usually found in folklore collections, a great storm came, breaking seawall and drowning sixteen villages into Cardigan Bay.
The Welsh folk song "The Bells of Aberdyfi" is said to be about the drowning of this country, and the bells which one can still hear being rung, telling people to escape.
The Sarnau, a causeway in the bay, is said to be the remains of the seawall built by Gwyddno. Another geological feature, an outcropping of rocks only seen at low tide, is called Caer Wyddno--"Gwyddno's Castle".
First, the blaming of the woman is vague. If she is to blame, how so? Some speculate that the story was one of seduction, that the woman lead Seithennin away from his duties. It could be similar to the story of Ker Ys, wherein a woman gives the keys to the seagate to the Devil, who lets the land be drowned (or, God allows the land to be drowned because of its decadence).
Another explaination may have its roots in legends similar to that found in the Dindsenchus, wherein fairy women seem to have a habit of disobeying the rules surrounding a sacred well, causing it to overflow and flood the land.
But could the story have its roots in fact? It's known that Lyonesse has at least a small toe in the truth, so what of Cantre'r Gwaelod? Currently, there is no evidence of any evidence of post-Stone Age human civilization beneath Cardigan Bay. Yes, the land was above water, given the low ocean levels during and after the last Ice Age, but this is a difference of 8000 years between the retreat of the ice and the writing of "Seithennin."
But is it possible that a town was wiped out by the sea? Well, one need only look at New Orleans to see the possibility of that happening, even in these "advanced" times. The lost city of Ubar, once thought to be only a legend, was found buried in the Arabian sands, while a city found in the Gulf of Cambay is dated to 9000 years ago. England has a real sunken town, Dunwich, Suffolk, which disappeared a hundred years ago, claimed by the sea.
Could Cantre'r Gwaelod have some basis in half-remembered history? Yes, but the proof of this has not yet come forward.
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Mary Jones © 2006