The Mabinogi

Places mentioned in the First Branch of the Mabinogi



The following pages do not contain the whole of the tale. You must have a copy of the Mabinogi (unabridged if possible, but it does not matter which version) and any modern Ordnance Survey maps of the areas under consideration. But remember that the book was originally written in Middle Welsh, so the spellings are likely to vary between each version according to the editor's choice.

Branches 1, 2 & 3 of the Mabinogi do not contain as many place-names as the 4th branch which was largely set in Gwynedd. But this does not mean that the writers were less familiar with places outside Gwynedd. Words, idioms and pronunciation by writers who were obviously from South Wales characterize the whole work. After all, it was not the chief purpose of the story-tellers and later, scribes to give a detailed geographical description of Wales Of Old: the story itself was all.

The Four Branches of the Mabinogion form a complete work, not four separate parts. Only one character, Pryderi, appears in all four parts. The stories appear disconnected at times because, according to many scholars, some connecting tales have been lost over the centuries, but one theme connects the whole work – the life of Pryderi.

Yet it is possible to find additional information about places by looking closely at personal names. Sometimes some of the names appear to be unreal, perhaps the correct ones having been forgotten over the centuries. Therefore it is likely that the names were created to contain some of the attributes and origins of the character: e.g. Pwyll and Pryderi (“Sense” and “Concern”)

As with the fourth branch, we must bear in mind the nature of mediaeval society and its attitude to ages past. Often, its recent, as well as ancient, history is mingled with traditions which are likely to have had its origins in prehistoric times.

The First Branch

DYFED - 7 Hundreds (Cantrefi) (See the map of old Welsh land measurements Internal link: Opens in a new window for further details)

ARBERTH - Narberth One of Pwyll’s chief courts, obviously not far from Gorsedd Arberth (see below). Perhaps the site of the Norman Castle SN112145 in Arberth?

Narberth Norman Castle

GLYN CUCH - SN236415 i SN280358 The River Cuch (or Cych) forms the boundary between Old Dyfed (Pembrokeshire now) and Carmarthenshire. “And Pryderi son of Pwyll, who kept the swine of Pendaran Dyfed in Glyncuwch in Emlyn” from Peniarth Triads. Perhaps, in the imagination of storyteller, Pwyll followed the old road from Arberth through Boncath, keeping to the top of the ridge, then down to Abercuch.

PEN LLWYN DIARWYA - unknown. Although heroes of days gone by had supernatural powers which enabled them to travel long distances easily, it is likely to be near Glyn Cuch.

ANNWFN - see Fourth Branch Internal link: Opens in a new window

THE FORD - SN238411 Near the village of Abercuch is an ancient ford across the river, but looking at the O.S. map and the aerial photo at External link: Opens in a new window, it is obvious that the river which meanders through the valley has changed course over the centuries - note where the county boundary is now. But in the past, it formed the boundary between Dyfed and Ystrad Tywi. It is also near the River Teifi, which is the border with Ceredigion. There are delightful pictures of the Abercych area at External link: Opens in a new window.

The characters never differentiate between this ford and the ford where Pwyll killed Hafgan. Any “doorway” between two places or any turning in the year was special in our traditions. Also every river was sacred to the Water Goddess according to the Ancient Celts and no evil spirit could cross water.

GORSEDD ARBERTH - SN113135. The Iron Age fort on Camp Hill to the south of the town of Narberth is the most likely, but a number of places nearby claim that honour.

This is where Pwyll first saw Rhiannon on horseback. (Her name is associated with Rigatona/Epona, a Celtic goddess whose symbol was a horse, the sign of power: it is said that the old Christmas-tide custom of the “Mari Lwyd” arose from the same source – see External link: Opens in a new window. Rhiannon’s punishment after the disappearance of her son was to carry visitors on her back into the court like a horse.)

[There is a Nant Arberth (and also some iron age forts) to the east of Cardigan – but they are not in Dyfed and far too close to Glyn Cuch to fit the story.]

THE COURT OF HEFEYDD HEN (or Hyfaidd Hen) – unknown, but, according to the Mabinogion, certainly not in Dyfed.

But according to some other traditions, Hefeydd was the first King of Dyfed. Gorsedd Arberth was his burial place and also the entrance to Annwn. Was this the enchanted castle in the third Branch?

A hero called Hefeydd Hir is found in the 6th century epic poem Y Gododdin (composed by a Briton named Aneurin who lived in a land which is now part of Scotland). In the second Branch of the Mabinogion he appears as one of the Seven Knights, King Hefeydd of Dyfed who died in 892 etc... Hefeydd was a common name in Mediaeval Wales.

THE KINGDOM OF GWAWL FAB CLUD - (see map of Scotland below). It is said that the literal meaning of the name is “Wall Son Of Wealth”.


“Gwawl”, according to the University of Wales Dictionary means:

  1. The Vallum (Roman wall) between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde - the Antonine Wall, not Hadrian’s Wall
  2. Man
  3. Light

But his last name more than likely refers to the River Clyde in Scotland. Therefore he was one of the people of the Old North, that is to say they were Britons, like the Welsh.

Dumbarton Rock

Their capital was Allt Clud – a huge rock on the further north bank of the River Clyde. [Now called Dumbarton (City of the Britons) Rock NS399745].

The lands of the Britonnic kingdoms stretched unchallenged from Central Scotland to Cornwall until the Battle of Dyrham (near Bath) in 577 and to Wales until the Battle of Chester in 615.

Strangers in our own land?

Lost Lands

  »»  Click here to download a PDF version of the map Dogfen PDF (281kb)

The Anglo-Saxons referred to all the Britons as “Wælisc” (Welsh) that is to say - “foreigners” who spoke another language.

They were differentiated as:

  1. 1. The North Welsh – All of present-day Wales, including parts of the Border Counties. (Welsh is spoken by 582,400 people according to the 2001 Census.)
  2. 2. The West Welsh who inhabited Somerset, Devon, Dorset and their last stronghold, Cornwall - what is now referred to as South-West England. (Cornish, which is similar to Welsh, was spoken up to the 18th century when the last monoglot speaker died. But it is said that a small number of people who had a fair grasp of it survived into the 20th century, when the language revival began. By now there are about 300 totally fluent speakers and about 3,000 learners.) A large number of the West Welsh fled to Brittany - (Breton, which is more similar to Cornish than to Welsh, is spoken by about 270,000 according to the 2001 Census.)
  3. 3. The Strathclyde Welsh - who inhabited places in what is now Southern Scotland and Cumbria in North-west England.

Some established themselves across their northern frontier in Manaw Gododdin, the Clackmannan area of modern Scotland (from the Gaelic Clach Mhanainn, 'Stone of Manau'). The Romans’ policy was to encourage some of the tribes which were not under their rule with money (and the right to keep all the land they captured) to resist their great enemies – in this case, to keep the Picts at a distance from the Empire.

They were renowned soldiers and a number of them went to the lands of the North Welsh to fight the Irish (another great enemy of the Romans and their Brittonic successors) who had occupied Llyn, Arfon, Arllechwedd and parts of Anglesey. According to the monk Nennius,(writing in about the year 800) their leader was Cunedda ap Edern, also known as Cunedda Wledig or in Latin, Cunetacius (c.386–c. 460) He and his eight sons and their army were from Manaw Gododdin. After they drove out the Irish, he and his children and granchildren ruled in many parts of Wales.

Dyma rai a roddodd eu henwau i’w tiroedd eu hunan:

  • Aflog, who ruled Aflogion (Llŷn)
  • Ceredig who ruled Ceredigion
  • Dogmael, who ruled Dogfeiling (Dyffryn Clwyd)
  • Dunod, who ruled Dunoding (parts of Eifionydd and Ardudwy)
  • Edern, who ruled Edeirnion (Area around Corwen)
  • Einion Yrth, who ruled Caereinion (Powys)
  • Rhufon, who ruled Rhufoniog (Denbigh Area)
  • Tegeingl daughter of Cunedda, who ruled the area of modern Flintshire and beyond
  • Meirion, who founded Meirionnydd

(The River Teifi was their southern boundary - Did Gwawl fab Clud represent a leader of the forces from Strathclyde to the inhabitants of Dyfed?)

But Cunedda, his sons and followers were not the only ones from the Old North who came to take possession of North Wales - Elidir Mwynfawr, and after him Clydno Eiddyn, came with their hosts in the 6th century. But in this instance their efforts were all in vain. They were killed by the men of Arfon near Clynnog. See 'Clynnog yn ein Llenyddiaeth Gynharaf Un' Internal link: Opens in a new window.

The Princes of Gwynedd took pride in their lineage that could be traced back to Cunedda in the Age of the Romans. (It is said that Edward 1st was infuriated by this.) Also it is likely that a great number of the residents of modern Wales are also descendents of the Welsh of Strathclyde.

In 870 Allt Clud was captured by Irish Vikings and the capital was moved south of the River Clyde to Govan. Then the whole kingdom was referred to as Cumbria or Rheged. In the end, the Strathclyde Welsh themselves lost their kingdom during the 10th and 11th centuries to two enemies:

  1. The Scots (Scotti in Latin,) who were of Irish stock who perhaps settled in parts of Western Scotland (Dalriada) in the 4th century, bringing with them their language which evolved into Scottish Gaelic
  2. The Northumbrians, who brought with them their Anglo-Saxon language which evolved into Scots – a language very different from modern English

But some of the Strathclyde Welsh still continued to speak their Brittonic language (very much like Old Welsh) up to the 13th century.

The Strathclyde Welsh were referred to in Latin as ‘walensis’ in the documents of the period and it is possible that the name Wallace (and similar names) arose in South-West Scotland. But the great hero of Scotland, William Wallace (1272 – 1305 who was born in Elderslie, Renfrew,) was not only a descendent of the Strathclyde Welsh: His forefathers came from Wales, or from a part of Shropshire where Welsh was spoken, in the reign of David 1st 1124 –1153 and the name Wallace was given to them because they spoke a very similar language to the that which was spoken round about them.


It is often said that Maesyfed (Radnorshire, in English) derives its name from Maes Hefeydd (The Field of Hefeydd). Nobody knows who exactly this man was, especially as the name was so popular in the past. It is also very interesting to note the name Fforest Clud (Radnor Forest) in Radnorshire, the smallest of the old Welsh Counties – is this more than a coincidence?

According to old local tradition, the Archangel Michael defeated the last dragon which was thereafter imprisoned in Radnor Forest. Perhaps the forest was one of the last pagan strongholds and this is why, so they say, it is surrounded by four churches - Llanfihangel Cefnllys, Llanfihangel Rhydithon, Llanfihangel Nantmelan and Llanfihangel Cascob - each with the same patron saint, Michael. To the early Christians, the dragon was a biblical symbol of paganism. But the Roman legions carried the dragon standard; therefore it became a powerful image for the Princes of Gwynedd - it was a strong connection with their distant ancestors - the heirs to the old Roman order.

Were this completely true, anyone from Radnor Forest would appear alien, a master of magic and enchantment and very dangerous to the people of Dyfed.

Map of Branches 1 and 2

PRESELAU - Preseli Mountains in Dyfed, full of prehistoric remains, especially Pentre Ifan burial chamber (SN100360). The place was important in the religious lives of people in ancient times, and as it was so special, it is likely that the Blue Stones were transported from Carn Menyn (SN144325) in Preseli to Stonehenge (SU122422) on Salisbury Plain in England.

GWENT IS COED - (See the map of old Welsh land measurements Internal link: Opens in a new window for further details) The Lordship of Teyrnon Twrf Liant. Some associate his name with the Brittonic name Tigernonos, a Celtic god, in form half man, half deer – “The Great King”. In Welsh, twrf liant means roar of the sea. (Here is another equestrian connection - After saving his new-born colt from the monster, Teyrnon found Rhiannon and Pwyll’s son Pryderi.)

NANT TEYRNON- To be found about two miles north of Caerleon in Gwent, where Llantarnam Abbey (ST313928) was built in 1179. (See the Map of Branches 1 and 2, above).

SEISYLLWCH - which includes: Ystrad Tywi (3 hundreds/cantrefi) + Ceredigion (4 Hundreds/cantrefi [3 in later times]). See the map of old Welsh land measurements Internal link: Opens in a new window.


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