Most of people know the story of Merlin the Welsh wizard, as his name has been popularised over the centuries and his story has been dramatised in numerous novels, films, and television programs. Merlin is said to possess supernatural powers and is well-known in mythology as a tutor and mentor to the legendary King Arthur, ultimately guiding him towards becoming the king of Camelot.
Merlin was regarded as one of the greatest prophets of Wales. For centuries his words of wisdom greatly influenced the minds of many important people.
There are several sacred sites in Wales linked to Merlin and we hope that exploring these places will help us dig deeper into mystical stories associated with them.
Mysterious origin of Merlin
He is portrayed in six medieval poems which, combined with Scottish and Irish versions of the tale, make possible a reconstruction of its main outline. In most of these poems the subject – who is either named as Myrddin or is generally assumed to be him – is portrayed as a Wild Man of the Woods living in Coed Celyddon (the ‘Caledonian Forest’), where he has fled to after losing his reason (‘wandering with madness and madmen’) in the northern battle of Arfderydd, fought between rival chieftains c. 573 A.D.; with this lapse into madness Myrddin is said to have acquired the gift of prophecy.
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, medieval English chronicler, major work, the Historia regum Britanniae, Merlin was fatherless and was born in Carmarthen in miraculous way. His mother, Geoffrey tells us, was the daughter of the king of Dyfed. She, living with the nuns at a local convent, had been impregnated by an incubus demon. This child was further found to have prophetic powers and Geoffrey makes him utter the Prophetiae Merlinus, a long series of obscure prophecies.
Though the story has different interpretation: the fatherless youth is named as Ambrosius, not Myrddin/Merlin and he was found in Glywysing (Glamorgan), not at Carmarthen in Dyfed, Caerfyrddin, as the town is known in Welsh, is still associated with Merlin.
Carmarthen has become a popular tourist destination especially for those who like walking in the footsteps of legends and myths, like we do.
Merlin’s town, Carmarthen
Carmarthen as a focus for stories of Merlin includes Merlin’s Oak, Merlin’s Hill, an Iron Age hillfort with a cave where he might once have lived under enchantment, and was entombed. Some say they can hear his chains clanking still! The nearby Merlin’s Stone was prophesied to be the location of his treasure, and where a raven would drink the blood of a man.
Merlin’s Oak is a famous oak tree that once stood on the corner of Oak Lane and Priory Street in Carmarthen. This is linked to the saying “when Myrddin’s Tree shall tumble down, Then shall fall Carmarthen Town”. Other versions of the prophecy state that when the tree falls, the town will drown or flood.
Most likely it was planted by a schoolmaster in 1659 or 1660, to celebrate the return of King Charles II of England to the throne. In the early 19th century, a local man appears to have poisoned the tree, with the intention of stopping people from meeting under it, and the oak is believed to have died in 1856.
In the early 1980s the local authority decided to risk the consequences of prediction and removed the tree, which had become a traffic hazard. A new oak has been planted in the Roman amphitheater at Carmarthen to compensate for the destruction of the Merlin’s Oak. in 1987, after tree’s removal, the River Towi burst its banks and Carmarthen was swamped.
The fragment of the tree can still be seen in Carmarthenshire County Museum.
Carmarthenshire County Museum, address: The Old Palace, Abergwili, CARMARTHEN, SA31 2JG , official website
St Peter’s Chruch
There are many prophecies attributed to Merlin, some of which like Merlin Oak’s removal caused the flood, have strangely been fulfilled, another example, he predicted that one day a bull would go to the top of the tower of St Peter’s Church in Carmarthen – eventually a calf fulfilled this strange prophecy.
Carreg Myrddin is a standing stone measuring 5 feet tall, Merlin is said to have prophesied that a raven would one day drink man’s blood off this stone. A remarkable coincidence is said to have place here in the 19th century. A man hunting for buried treasure was digging on one side of the stone to get to its base, when the earth gave way and the stone fell crushing him to death. Some years later, the owner o the field arranged for the stone to be replaced in its original position.
Merlin’s Hill has, at its summit, the site of an Iron Age Hillfort. Dating back to around 400 B.C., it is one of the few large hillforts in West Wales.
You can walk most of the way from Carmarthen town on ancient footpaths, cycle path and country lanes to Merlin’s Hill. It will take about 90 mins from the train station. Merlin’s Hill Centre
Mysterious Wales / Chris Barber