The Mabinogi

Places mentioned in the Fourth 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.

These stories are rooted in myths concerning the Celtic gods that have their origins in prehistory. After the coming of Christianity, the characters lost their divine status but the storytellers described them as larger than life heroes from a time long gone. These traditional tales were probably written down in books for the first time in the Middle Ages, more than likely by monks.

Professional story-tellers were highly esteemed in mediaeval society, as the stories themselves show. But they were neither historians nor archaeologists, so they could not know what modern investigations reveal about megaliths, cromlechs and huge earthworks etc. For them, such sites were seen as evidence of the work of their mighty ancestors. Therefore is not surprising that they would try to identify these places with these people and their deeds.

Also, curious place-names were used to locate events, sometimes by very tenuous connections. This type of legend is termed onomastic – sometimes the connection (and the philology!) is very suspect. Undoubtedly, over the millennia, the deeds described in the Mabinogi were located in many different places between the Nantlle Valley and India by the Ancient Celts.

Old Divisions and Hundreds (Cantrefi) of Wales

GWYNEDD – divided into two parts, Gwynedd Uwch Conwy and Gwynedd Îs Conwy.

POWYS - divided into two parts, Powys Fadog and Powys Wenwynwyn.

DEHEUBARTH – the six southern areas - Brycheiniog, Ceredigion, Dyfed, Morgannwg (including Gwent), Rhwng Gwy a Hafren, Ystrad Tywy.

Pryderi's Kingdom was:

DYFED - 7 Cantrefs (Hundreds)
MORGANNWG - 7 Cantrefs
CEREDIGIAWN - 4 Cantrefs
YSTRAD TYWI - 3 Cantrefs.

Math's Court

DOL BEBIN in Arfon o.s 493525. The dwelling of Pebin, father of Goewin, the most beautiful girl known there in that age. A housing estate stands there now.

Where was Caer Dathyl?

Unknown say the majority of our most eminent historians and men of letters during the last two centuries. This question has caused some problems; the name has not survived anywhere. Caer Dathyl is mentioned more times than any other in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi.

It is, perhaps, possible to imagine where Caer Dathyl was in the thoughts of the storytellers:

1. To Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the famous archaeologist, Caernarfon o.s. 476626 was the obvious place – but it is mentioned in the Second Branch, therefore it is very unlikely;

2. According to W J Griffiths, Pendinas o.s.550653 near Llanddeiniolen was the right place, not far from Creuwyon (Cororion), o.s. 597686 (but neither is this a believable location for the pig sty [see below]). Both were in his home district: surely a biased view!

Then is there somewhere in the centre of the area, where the is a scarcity of names that were directly mentioned in the Mabinogi, (see map Internal link: Opens in a new window) with a 'neutral' name with no other significance now?

3. Bryn Hengaer o.s. 476526 (but also called Caer Engan - after the ancient king and saint, Engan);

4. Craig y Dinas o.s. 447520 (note nearby are Lleuar Fawr o.s.445520 and Lleuar Bach o.s. 448516 etc - names with a strong connection with the tale).

But 3. and 4. are too close to the River Llyfni; there is no mention of the wizard Gwydion passing under the walls of Caer Dathyl as he followed the sow from Pennardd, along the River Llyfni to Nantlle, where he found Lleu in the form of an eagle.

5. Y Foel o.s. 450507. Many people have remarked on the noble and enchanting presence of this hill, so visibly placed in the centre of the district. On the top of Y Foel stands an Iron Age fort. There are delightful views across the whole area, and it is easy to imagine it as the stronghold of the magician / king Math.

Is this Caer Dathyl as referred to in the Mabinogi?
Image: Y Foel / Caer Dathyl?

Who knows?

Provoking War


The pigs were given to Pryderi by the king of Annwn, the Other World of the old stories - under the earth, they say. But according to others, it is a world that exists side by side with ours and also very much like it. But of course, not everyone can see it!

(See the account of Martha of Mynydd Llanllyfni for related information.)

Stealing the Pigs

RHUDDLAN TEIFI, CEREDIGIAWN - o.s.492431 map146 - Pryderi's court, near Lampeter.

This is an onomastic tale, that is to say - In this example, four local place names that contain the word Moch (pigs), asserting that the names have their origins in these incidents.

Night 1: MOCHDREF Uplands of Ceredigiawn. (Nant y Moch?) o.s. 750850 (see also External link: Opens in a new window);

Night 2: MOCHDREF over Elenid, between Ceri and Arwystli. SO0723988673 4 miles to the southwest of Newtown, Powys

Night 3: Commote of MOCHNANT in Powys SJ125259

Night 4: MOCHDREF in the Cantref of Rhos o.s.870780 near Colwyn Bay.

Night 5: CREUWYON (Cororion), o.s. 597686 the highest township of Arllechwedd, where a sty was made for the pigs. Then on to CAER DATHYL; described as being in the cantref below the sty (but some would maintain that somewhere like Tre'r Ceiri would be more likely to fire the imagination of the old story tellers as a location for the sty, and this would be behind Math's host rather the in front of it.)

The journey of stealing the pigs
Image: The journey of stealing the pigs.

Therefore Pryderi's army came towards Caer Dathyl from the north as they followed the thieves Gilfaethwy, Gwydion and their accomplices.


PENNARDD o.s. 430510 - Near the cromlech where Math's army waited. (That night Gilfaethwy went to Caer Dathyl, were, with Gwydion's collusion, he raped Goewin. Then he returned to the army.)

The two armies faced each half way between MAENAWR BENNARD o.s 426510 and MAENAWR COED ALUN (Coed Helen) o.s. 473622.

Perhaps the battle began on what is now the Glynllifon estate. Did the storytellers see the standing stone (o.s.445543) as some sort of memorial?

BRYN GWYDION o.s. 444533 - According to local tradition, Gwydion stood here to watch and direct the battle.

Bryn Gwydion
Image: Bryn Gwydion.

Thence Pryderi's army retreated to the south rather than following the same road home. Pryderi's army retreated to NANT CALL / NANTCYLL o.s. 474470 where there was great slaughter.

Retreat to DOLBENMAEN o.s. 430506 – hostages were given.

TRAETH MAWR o.s.590400 - There the fighting recommenced. It was a very different place in the Middle Ages. The water reached as far as Aberglaslyn, Penmorfa and Llanfrothen. In the middle of it there were a number of small islands. Gerald of Wales and his fellow travellers crossed it by boat in 1188, some two centuries before the Mabinogi was written down. (The Cob was built in Porthmadog in 1811 as part of the scheme to drain the land.)

Y FELYNRHYD o.s. 648397 - where Pryderi was killed below (downstream from) MAEN TYRIAWG (Maentwrog) o.s. 655405 - where Pryderi was buried.

Y Felyn Rhyd
Image: Y Felyn Rhyd.

Thence to CAER DATHYL.

Gwydion and Gilfaethwy's punishment

Having behaved worse than animals, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy were transformed into deer, wild boar and wolves for a period of three years by Math.

The wooded environment of the Middle Ages would be far more favourable to that sort of animal than the present landscape.

No other specific place is mentioned except Caer Dathyl.

The story of Dylan

MAEN DYLAN o.s. 426525
BEDD DYLAN o.s. 407495

Maen Dylan
Image: Maen Dylan.

Neither of these places is mentioned by name in this story, but in Englynion y Beddau, it is said that Dylan was buried in Clynnog - this story is incomplete in the Mabinogi. Despite some references in some other ancient fragments, it would be impossible to recreate this tale fully.

According to Marwnad Dylan Eil Ton (Elegy for Dylan Eil Ton) by Taliesin, Gofannon was a smith and his nephew Dylan was his assistant. A trident was made in the forge which was used by Gofannon to kill Dylan.

Smiths were considered to be magicians of old. Is there a connection with the following names:

CAERGOFAINT o.s. 444529;
CAE'RGOFAINT BACH o.s. 442532?

Visiting Caer Arianrhod

Incredible journeys! This is another example of the storyteller pulling the listener's leg!

1. Walked to CAER ARANRHOD (Caer Arianrhod o.s 423547): then to Caer Dathyl. The next morning they walked to ABERMENAI o.s. 440610.

2. By magic boat. The boat disappeared, so they left by some other means. "They came towards DINAS DINLLE" o.s. 437564 This is not the only "City of Lleu" in Western Europe - Lyon and Laon in France, Leyden in the Netherlands and others are all named after Lleu / Lugh / Lugus, the Celtic Sun God. (This is the only mention of the hill fort by the sea. One explanation of the name's significance is that Lleu was brought up there. See below: A Different Ending?)

The view out to sea from Dinas Dinlle
Image: The view out to sea from Dinas Dinlle.

3. They took the seashore up towards BRYN ARIEN (Brynaerau o.s.440522), then at the top of CEFYN CLUN TYNO (Cefn Clydno) (Fferm Coedtyno nr Capel Uchaf o.s.431500) – and then on horseback to CAER ARANRHOD.

According to local people, in a completely different story, "Trearanrhag" was drowned because of the people's sins; only three women survived. Some say that the name Caer Arianrhod refers to the submerged reef. But according to others, we should look to the skies, the Milky Way is called by that name. But it is also said that the Corona Borealis is also named Caer Arianrhod...


CANTREF DINODING, later divided into Eifionydd (EIFYNYDD) and Ardudwy.

MUR (Y) CASTELL (TOMEN Y MUR) o.s. 705387 A Norman castle built on the site of a Roman fort, in upland Ardudwy.

PENLLYN - district above Llyn Tegid

CYNFAEL - a river, near Llanffestiniog.

BRYN CYFEGYR - hill on the bank of the Cynfael . Now called Bryn Cyfergyr where Gronw Pebr stood to throw his spear at Lleu.

NANT LLEU – Where a tree stood (an oak, some say) between the 2 lakes (Baladeulyn o.s. 509534) or on an upland plain or on a steep slope. It is not totally clear where the tree was – the storyteller leg-pulling again, perhaps?

Between the two lakes
Image: Between the two lakes.

LLYN Y MORWYNION o.s. 737423 - (a place not mentioned directly by name in the Mabinogi.

LLECH RONW – on the banks of the River CYNFAEL. A standing stone, now fallen, on the banks of the river near Llety Nest next to the new bridge. They say that a hole was made in the stone by Lleu's spear when he killed Gronw Pebr.

(The "exchange of blows" is a common theme in similar legends – Lleu had been struck once, therefore he had the right to strike his attacker once also.

A Different Ending?

It is possible that every storyteller had his own unique version of each part of the story; only the familiar tale in the Fourth Branch, written down in the Middle Ages, is known to us.

But some say that MUR Y CASTELL in ARDUDWY was not the home of Lleu and Blodeuwedd, but rather DINAS DINLLE in ARFON.

CAER LODA o.s. 438548

1. Lleu was dismembered nearby at Caer Loda that is The Field of the Limbs. Although there is no mention of him being dismembered in the Mabinogi, bear in mind other myths – i.e. Egypt – Isis and Osiris: a goddess was killed by her enemies, and another god collected all the pieces which were scattered all over the world and then brought her to life again. In Ancient Greece the story of
Adonis… etc.

2. Or his arms were transformed: Aelodau was the mediaeval hawking term for the wings.

So, according to this dubious theory, Lleu was found by Gwydion in the Nantlle Valley, comparatively close to the place where he was wounded by Gronw's enchanted spear.


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