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Nantlle: The Valley of Lleu

In Gwynedd, Northern Wales, there is a density of place-names relating to Lleu, that is, to the British incarnation of Lug or Lugus. There are of course many other place-names for him throughout Britain, but this location is significant because it likely relates directly to the story of the Mabinogi. It is also right beside Dinlle, or Din Lleu, an enormous Iron Age fortress named for Lleu where one of the largest and best preserved roundhouses is currently being excavated, which we will cover in another post. Now, let's take look at the direct references to just "Gwydion, who rose, dressed and came with him to the pen. The swineherd opened it. As soon as she did, here she came, bounding out. She set a brisk pace and Gwydion perused her. She went upstream, travelling in the brook now called Nantlleu; there she paused and fed.

Then Gwydion came under the tree, and looked to see what the sow was feeding on; he saw her eating rotten flesh and maggots. What he did then was to look up to the top of the tree. When he did, he saw an eagle there...then it occurred to him that the eagle was Lleu, and he sang the englyn:

"There is an oak that grows between two lakes,

Gloomy is the air in the glen;

If I speak no lie,

This comes from Lleu's flowers" Now, the sad reality is that the geography of this region has been somewhat, if not significantly altered since the writing of the Mabinogi. The 19th century saw massive quarrying in the area, and it is still very visible in the landscape today. The location and course of creeks and lakes are also affected. There was formerly two lakes, Nantlle Uchaf and Nantlle isaf (high and low). It was between these two lakes that Gwydion found Lleu in the form of an eagle. Of course there is also an otherworldly reading of this which I think is implied, but the physical geography of our world is thought to correspond to that of the otherworld. Lleu is at once at the top of the world tree, but also represented as being in Nantlle. This may mean that the site was thought of as an "omphalos" akin to Greek Delphi, the site of Apollo thought to be the centre of the world. That this region was sacred to Lleu is undoubted, and we might see why in the geography. It is mountainous, but close to the sea, and there is fresh water beside the mountains. In Gaul, places sacred to Mercury were often located with water beside or atop mountains or high places. Ten miles from Nantlle, following the same valley, is Dinas Emrys, the site where the red and white dragons were directed to be buried by Lleuelys, and where Ambrose/Merlin makes the prophecy to Vortigern. This is not an accident but corresponds to the folk remembrance of a cult centre to the god located in that area. There are other such places in Britain, particularly in the Hen Ogledd and Luguvallium (Carlisle) where we get figures like Lot (Called Lleu in Welsh versions of Arthurian tales).

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