Celtic moments are gifted and inspired; for imagination to lead the Journey is a Celtic route to discovery. The potential for these moments is all around us, but for them to happen we have to be present and open to the experience.
In the Wild West of Wales in the landscape I call my home, the veil between this world and beyond is thin. In many un-signed places you can still feel the pulse of the hidden landscape. In so many other places the veil has become thick, like smog building layer upon layer, a heavy garment through which it is difficult to see clearly.
Finding beauty with a chainsaw in hand might seem surprising, but Celtic moments sometimes happen in unlikely places. And in one such moment this is how it happened for me:
Intending to beautify a derelict cowshed and pig sty, and to what guests will see when they look out from its conversion into their holiday nest; I set forth to tackle the fallen tree and overgrown brambles and barbs, taking care not to step on the snowdrops and daffodils.
As I was clearing, I got to think of my old dog called Beauty, I buried her beneath these trees, she used to sit in this spot overlooking the barn. Her mother was a Celtic beauty – an Irish water Spaniel with an eye for a Welsh Border Collie - she jumped her gate; so Beauty you see was part Irish and part Welsh.
Beauty and I would walk every morning up the river Taf from my house in Login, and sometimes we would go as far as the ancient burial chamber, where I would sit on top and she would rest beneath, sharing a Celtic Moment.
Sometimes there is an echo from the past and from the ones we love – In this quiet place with the chainsaw silent and standing atop beauties resting place, an idea settled in my mind - Beauty got me thinking about the beasts, and in this moment a Celtic tale came to me like an echo from the past.
It starts with a Prince of Wales, actually it starts in the place where he was born, and my pig sty at holidaynests echoes back to that time. They named him Culhwch, which means; ’hiding place of the pig’. What a strange name for a Prince, but you see his mother was no ordinary Queen; wandering alone, lost and out of her mind, or perhaps having one of those Celtic Moments, she stumbled across a pig sty; terrified by the pigs she gave birth and shortly after that she died. Culhwch was named by the Swineheard who found them.
This story comes from the oldest Arthurian Tale that follows Celtic Routes from Wales to Ireland and finally to Cornwall. Not only prince of the pig sty, he was also the cousin of King Arthur, and his destiny was to marry the most beautiful woman in the Celtic Kingdoms. But to this end he would need King Arthur’s help.
A wicked Stepmother crops up in so many old stories, and in this Celtic story it is through her ugliness that our prince is set on route to find his beauty.The stepmother enraged that he will not marry her own daughter sets a curse upon him; that he will marry no-one but the Celtic beauty Olwen, daughter of the Giant King ‘Ysbaddaden Pencawr’ .
The Prince knew of the legendary Irish beauty and he knew equally that her fearsome father was fated to die if she were to marry. But with brave heart, firm body, and strong will, his Celtic spirit would not be deterred. There are special moments when far away the mist is calling – He felt this calling, it was his destiny. Many had fallen with this task in mind - may fate be kind to him on route across the Irish Sea. As fortune would have it, the Prince had brains as well as brawn, so he knew an army was needed to steal Olwen from the Giant King.
So Culhwch asked for help, enchanting King Arthur with the story of Olwen’s beauty:
With hair as yellow as a daffodil in bloom, breasts whiter than a swan, eyes as dark as a Tawny owl, and lips redder than the wild rose; wherever she walks snowdrops spring up, so they call her Olwen after the white path that grows behind her.
The Giant King set our Prince impossible tasks – He would not give up his daughter easily; 39 tasks in all. To each Task Culhwch boasted “too easy”, and in answer the Giant each time set a greater challenge, this went on and on until finally the Giant King commanded the seemingly impossible.
If Olwen were to be married, her father must look good and the only tools capable of grooming the Giant head were worn by the Celtic beast ‘Twrch Trwyth’, a giant boar. So the hardest task of all was to take the razor, and the shears, and the comb, from the head of beast. So with haste Culhwch and Arthur, with Knights and Hounds, set off in pursuit. The Celtic beast and his wild pigs rampaged through Ireland, and didn’t stop there; crossing the Irish Sea he was pursued by our Heroes, intent on trashing Wales and killing the Welsh people.
The Giant Boar and his band of wild pigs entered Wales near St Davids, heading east to the Preseli Hills, and then North to Cardigan, sacking our country as they went. Standing stones and fallen stones still echo of their Celtic Routes. Cerrig Marchogion are the stones of the Knights, and Cerrig Meibion are Arthur’s sons.
From Cardigan they turned south and picked up the course of the River Taf. Arthur and Culhwch with Knights and Hounds were in pursuit.Their course would take them on route to our house, along the track that Beauty and I used to walk. So now I might say that King Arthur was our most famous guest; they rested at ‘Gwal Y Filiast’, the burial chamber that Beauty and I visited on our walks, just 1 mile up river from our holidaynests - Its Welsh name translates as ’Lair of the Bitches’; the place where the hunting hounds rested, and it is also called ‘Arthurs Table’. Merlin came from Carmarthen and prepared a feast for the hunting party, cooking their food in a giant Cauldron in the River - The Cauldron is still there; seek and you might experience a very special Celtic Moment.
Up early the following morning, tearing past my house along the river valley, for 100 miles they chased, until they caught up with the Giant Boar as he entered the River Severn, and that is where they gained two of their prizes from his head; the razor and the shears, but not the comb. With the comb still attached the Celtic beast went out to sea finding land at Cornwall, and there he was harder to catch, but caught he was, and the final head piece was removed. The rampage was over and the Sea would claim him for eternity.
One last task remained – the badest had been beaten, and now the ugliest must be slain. So after resting in Cornwall the hunting party went North to the valley of Grief in the uplands of Hell; to the cave of the Hag, daughter of the white Witch, whose beauty had turned black, and everything that could be hateful in this world had entered her cave and become her. Arthur had lost 4 of his best men to the Beast and the pigs, so he decided to do the job himself, and ignoring his servants concern that it would be neither seemly nor pleasant for a King to scuffle with a hag, Arthur drew his knife and with one swift slash the deadly deed was done.
Taking the witch’s blood to soften the Giant beard, Culhwch returned to Ireland, and with gruesome intent he cut the hair and shaved the giant’s beard to the bone.
And so the beasts were beaten and beauty was won. Snowdrops sprung up all around; it was the whitest of Royal weddings. Cuhlwch lay with Olwen that night.
I looked out at my good work, wondering where is beauty now? I saw something amazing; my two cuts through the trees had left the shape of two hearts in the wood.
I hope with Beauty in the air that our guests will experience Celtic Moments of their own.