Hollow Demon Oak
A tree known as Derwen Ceubren yr Ellyl (hollow tree of the demons/spirits) used to stand in Nannau Park and it had a reputation of being haunted and evil, for this is the tree in which Owain Glyndwr was, according to legend, supposed to have hidden the body of his cousin Hywel Sele, 8th Lord of Nannau after he had killed him in 1404. It is said they were out hunting together in Nannau after Owain had come to make amends with his cousin. Owain had rebelled against England, whilst Hywel stayed loyal to the crown. Hywel is said to have seen a deer and drew back an arrow. As the deer moved he turned with his bow to track the animal, in fact he turned so much he found himself aiming at Owain. Glyndwr thought he was about to be shot, drew his sword and ran Hywel through. Other accounts have Hywel shooting Owain who is saved by his armour (hunting in armour?) and he is killed in self defence. One version of the story has Hywel being imprisoned in the tree and left there to die whilst Owain decided to burn down his house.
Though the family of Hywel searched in vain they could not find any trace of him and his wife became withdrawn, hiding herself away. Hywel left a two-year old heir called Meurig Vychan, who was then raised by his uncle, Gruffydd Derwas. It is said forty years passed before Owain instructed his friend Madog to visit Hywel’s widow and tell her of her husband’s fate. Immediately his family visited the oak and split it open revealing his skeletal remains inside. Again the time frame points to this story just being a legend as nothing is known of Owain after 1412 and it is unclear where or when he himself passed away. But as he was born in either 1354 or 1359, he would not have survived to see 1444. Other accounts have the body being found by accident after the forty year period.
Stories of supernatural activity, triggered by the legend then surrounded the tree, with claims that fire could be seen hovering above it and that it emitted strange noises at night.
The tree was described by Pennant in 1778 as being 27ft ,6ins in girth and “in its last stages of decay and pierced by age into the form of a gothic arch.” The oak fell during a storm in 1813 after being hit by lightening and later that July it was cut up for firewood, though several special collectable items were crafted from it’s special timber.
In “A Legend of Merioneth” published in the late 1800’s a version of the death of Hywel and what befell the tree are described.
’Owen and this chieftain had been long at variance. I have been informed that the Abbot of Cymmer Abbey, near Dolgellen, in hopes of reconciling them, brought them together, and to all appearance, effected his charitable design. While they were walking out, Owen observed a doe feeding, and told Howel, who was reckoned the best archer of his day, that there was a fine mark for him. Howel bent his bow, and pretending to aim at the doe, suddenly turned, and discharged the arrow full at the breast of Glyndwr, who fortunately had armour beneath his clothes, so received no hurt. Enraged at this treachery, he seized on Sele, burnt his house, and hurried him away from the place ; nor could any one ever learn how he was disposed of, till forty years after, when the skeleton of a large man, such as Howel, was discovered in the hollow of a great oak, in which Owen was supposed to have immured him in reward of his perfidy.”
This oak, the terror of every peasant for miles round, remained in its place till within these few years, when one morning, after a very violent storm, it was discovered, to the great regret of its worthy proprietor, blown to the ground, and its superannuated vitality destroyed for ever. All that could be done with it was done. Sir Robert had it manufactured into work-tables, cabinets, drinking-vessels, and, to extend its circulation still further, into snuff-boxes ; these are distributed among the Baronet’s friends, and highly are they valued by their fortunate possessors, not only as the gifts of a gentleman almost idolized in Merionethshire, but as the relics of so venerable and remarkable a parent.’
Edward Bulwer-Lytton mentioned the tree in his romance of Arthur “Of evil fame was Nannaii’s antique tree, Yet styled the hollow oak of Demonrie.”