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Llyn y Forwyn


The following tale of Llyn y Forwyn (Damsel’s Pool) appeared in ‘Celtic Folklore Welsh And Manx’ (1901) by John Rhys and was in turn a translation of a Welsh language version featured in Elfed and Cadrawd’s ‘Cyfaill yr Aelwyd a'r Frythones’ (1892).

'Llyn y Forwyn, " the Damsel's Pool," is in the parish of Ystrad Tyfodwg: the inhabitants call it also Llyn Nelferch. It lies about halfway between the farm house of Rhondda Fechan, "Little Rhonda," and the Vale of Safrwch. The ancient tradition concerning it is somewhat as follows:--

'Once on a time a farmer lived at the Rhonda Fechan: he was unmarried, and as he was walking by the lake early one morning in spring he beheld a young woman of beautiful appearance walking on the other side of it. He approached her and spoke to her: she gave him to understand that her home was in the lake, and that she owned a number of milch cows, that lived with her at the bottom of the water. The farmer fancied her so much that he fell in love with her over head and ears: he asked her on the spot for her hand and heart; and he invited her to come and spend her life with him as his wife at the Rhondda Fechan. She declined at first, but as he was importunate she consented at last on the following conditions, namely, that she would bring her cattle with her out of the lake, and live with him until he and she had three disputes with one another: then, she said, she and the cattle would return into the lake. He agreed to the conditions, and the marriage took place. They lived very happily and comfortably for long years; but the end was that they fell out with one another, and, when they happened to have quarrelled for the third time, she was heard early in the morning driving the cattle towards the lake with these words:--

Prw dre', Prw dre', prw'r gwartheg i dre';
Prw Milfach a Malfach, pedair Llualfach,
Alfach ac Ali, pedair Ladi,
Wynebwen drwynog, tro i'r waun lidiog,
Trech llyn y waun odyn, tair Pencethin,
Tair caseg ddu draw yn yr eithin  

And into the lake they went out of sight, and there they live to this day. And some believed that they had heard the voice and cry of Nelferch in the whisper of the breeze on the top of the mountain hard by--many a time after that--as an old story (weddal) will have it.'

From this it will be seen that the fairy wife's name was supposed to have been Nelferch, and that the piece of water is called after her. But I find that great uncertainty prevails as to the old name of the lake, as I learn from a communication in 1894 from Mr. Llewellyn Williams, living at Porth, only some five miles from the spot, that one of his informants assured him that the name in use among former generations was Llyn Alfach. Mr. Williams made inquiries at the Rhondda Fechan about the lake legend. He was told that the water had long since been known as Llyn y Forwyn, from a morwyn, or damsel, with a number of cattle having been drowned in it. The story of the man who mentioned the name as Llyn Alfach was similar: the maid belonged to the farm of Penrhys, he said, and the young man to the Rhonda Fechan, and it was in consequence of their third dispute, he added, that she left him and went back to her previous service, and afterwards, while taking the cattle to the water, she sank accidentally or purposely into the lake, so that she was never found any more. Here it will be seen how modern rationalism has been modifying the story into something quite uninteresting but without wholly getting rid of the original features, such as the three disputes between the husband and wife. Lastly, it is worth mentioning that this water appears to form part of a bit of very remarkable scenery, and that its waves strike on one side against a steep rock believed to contain caves, supposed to have been formerly inhabited by men and women. At present the place, I learn, is in the possession of Messrs. Davis and Sons, owners of the Ferndale collieries, who keep a pleasure boat on the lake. I have appealed to them on the question of the name Nelferch or Alfach, in the hope that their books would help to decide as to the old form of it. Replying on their behalf, Mr. J. Probert Evans informs me that the company only got possession of the lake and the adjacent land in 1862, and that 'Llyn y Vorwyn' is the name of the former in the oldest plan which they have. Inquiries have also been made in the neighbourhood by my friend, Mr. Reynolds, who found the old tenants of the Rhondda Fechan Farm gone, and the neighbouring farm house of Dyffryn Safrwch supplanted by colliers' cottages. But he calls my attention to the fact, that perhaps the old name was neither Nelferch nor Alfach, as Elfarch, which would fit equally well, was once the name of a petty chieftain of the adjoining Hundred of Senghenydd, for which he refers me to Clark's Glamorgan Genealogies.

It is hard to pin point the location based on old names. The map shows an area near a road called Rhondda Fechan Farm in Ferndale which was on the eastern side of the ancient parish of Ystradyfodwg (Vale of Tyfodwg). Slightly south of this road is Llyn y Forwyn School which is named after the lake and between the two is a pool which has been referred to on on Flikr as Llyn y Forwyn.



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Ian Topham
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Re: Llyn y Forwyn

A longer version of the fairy wife's call to her cattle, as appears in Glanffrwd's Plwyf Llanwyno, 'the Parish of Llanwynno (Pontypridd, 1888).

Prw me, prw me,
Prw 'ngwartheg i dre';
Prw Melen a Ioco,
Tegwen a Rhuddo,
Rhudd-frech a Moel-frech,
Pedair Lliain-frech;
Lliain-frech ag Eli,
A phedair Wen-ladi,
Ladi a Chornwen,
A phedair Wynebwen;
Nepwen a Rhwynog,
Tali Lieiniog;
Brech yn y Glyn
Dal yn dyn;
Tair lygeityn,
Tair gyffredin,
Tair Caseg ddu, draw yn yr eithin,
Deuwch i gyd i lys y Brenin;
Bwla, bwla,
Saif yn flaena',
Saf yn ol y wraig o'r Ty-fry,
Fyth nis godri ngwartheg i!

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Ian Topham
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Re: Llyn y Forwyn

John Rhys in ‘Celtic Folklore Welsh And Manx’ (1901) gives a second version and discusses similarities with the legend associated with Llyn y Fan Fach.

Mr. Probert Evans having kindly given me the address of an aged farmer who formerly lived in the valley, my friend, Mr. Llywarch Reynolds, was good enough to visit him. Mr. Reynolds shall report the result in his own words, dated January 9, 1899, as follows:--

'I was at Pentyrch this morning, and went to see Mr. David Evans, formerly of Cefn Colston.

'The old man is a very fine specimen of the better class of Welsh farmer; is in his eighty-third year; hale and hearty, intelligent, and in full possession of his faculties. He was born and bred in the Rhondda Fechan Valley, and lived there until some forty years ago. He had often heard the lake story from an old aunt of his who lived at the Maerdy Farm (a short distance north of the lake), and who died a good many years ago, at a very advanced age.

He calls the lake "Llyn Elferch," and the story, as known to him, has several points in common with the Llyn y Fan legend, which, however, he did not appear to know. He could not give me many details, but the following is the substance of the story as he knows it:--The young farmer, who lived with his mother at the neighbouring farm, one day saw the lady on the bank of the lake, combing her hair, which reached down to her feet. He fell in love at first sight, and tried to approach her; but she evaded him, and crying out, Ddali di ddim o fi, crâs dy fara! (Thou wilt not catch me, thou of the crimped bread), she sank into the water. He saw her on several subsequent occasions, and gave chase, but always with the same result, until at length he got his mother to make him some bread which was not baked (or not baked so hard); and this he offered to the lady. She then agreed to become his wife, subject to the condition that if he offended her, or disagreed with her three times (ar yr ammod, os byssa: fa yn 'i chroesi hi dair gwaith) she would leave him and return into the lake with all her belongings.

'1. The first disagreement (croes) was at the funeral of a neighbour, a man in years, at which the lady gave way to excessive weeping and lamentation. The husband expressed surprise and annoyance at this excessive grief for the death of a person not related to them, and asked the reason for it; and she replied that she grieved for the defunct on account of the eternal misery that was in store for him in the other world.

'2. The second "croes" was at the death of an infant child of the lady herself, at which she laughed immoderately; and in reply to the husband's remonstrance, she said she did so for joy at her child's escape from this wicked world and its passage into a world of bliss.

'3. The third "croes" Mr. Evans was unable to call to mind, but equally with the other two it showed that the lady was possessed of preternatural knowledge; and it resulted in her leaving her husband and returning into the lake, taking the cattle, with her. The accepted explanation of the name of the lake was Llyn El-ferch  1 (= Hela 'r ferch), "because of the young man chasing the damsel" (hela 'r ferch).

'The following is the cattle-call, as given to me by Mr. Evans' aged housekeeper, who migrated with the family from Rhonda Fechan to Pentyrch:

Prw i, Prw e ,
Prw 'ngwartheg sha [= tua] thre';
Mil a môl a melyn gwtta;
Milfach a malfach;
Petar [= pedair] llearfach;
Llearfach ag aeli;
Petar a lafi;
Lafi a chornwan [= wèn];
[ . . . ] 'Nepwan drwynog;
Drotwan [= droedwen] liliog;
Tair Byncethin;
Tair gyffretin;
Tair casag ddu
Draw yn yr ithin [= eithin],
Dewch i gyd i lys y brenin.

Mr. Evans told me that Dyffryn Safrwch was considered to be a corruption of Dyffryn Safn yr Hwch, "Valley of the Sow's Mouth"; so that the explanation was not due to a minister with whom I foregathered on my tramp near the lake the other day, and from whom I heard it first.'

The similarity between Mr. Evans' version of this legend and that of Llyn y Fan Fach, tends to add emphasis to certain points which I had been inclined to treat as merely accidental. In the Fan Fach legend the young man's mother is a widow, and here he is represented living with his mother. Here also something depends on the young man's bread, but it is abruptly introduced, suggesting that a part of the story has been forgotten. Both stories, however, give one the impression that the bread of the fairies was regarded as always imperfectly baked.



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