So here we are in January! Christmas and New Year festivities long gone, and only the prospect of perhaps a romantic dinner for two come mid- February to aid us through the coldest month of the year.
Unless of course you live in Wales! We don’t need to wait until February 14 to celebrate St Valentine’s night – as we have our very own version. St Dwynwen’s night is on January 25, and she is celebrated as the Welsh patron saint of lovers. What’s more, she’s a true Welsh princess – unlike Valentine whose identity still appears vague (three contenders at the last count!) and in any case was based in the Mediterranean.
Aerial View of Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales by Guo Fengrui
So who was Dwynwen? She lived in the 5th century and is believed to be the daughter of Brychan – a chieftain based near Bannau Brycheiniog (the mountains formerly known as the Brecon Beacons!) – indeed he gave his name to them and to the old county of Brycheiniog (Breconshire). Her story has become intertwined with folklore and legend, but my favourite is that she fell in love with Maelon, the son of a neighbouring chieftain. Maelon asked Brychan for his daughter’s hand, but the father had bigger plans for his daughter and rejected her suitor’s request. Enraged and humiliated, Maelon vented his anger on Dwynwen who ran into the forest and cried herself to sleep.
Forest waterfall in Brecon Beacons in Wales by Krisztian Kormos
As is obligatory in these tales, she was woken by one of the Tylwyth Teg (literally “the fair family” – the usual term in Wales for mythological people corresponding to fairies). Dwynwen was told that Maelon had been frozen into a block of ice, and that Dwynwen now had three wishes. Being as beautiful in character as she was in looks, her first wish was to have Maelon released from his icy prison so that he could love again. Her second was that the ability to fall in love was taken from her so that she could never again feel the pain of being in love. And her third was that she could have powers to help lovers all over Wales.
Mawr Lighthouse on a Rock of Welsh Llanddwyn Island by Leszek Czyzewski
Thereafter she spent her life helping stricken lovers and animals (she’s also the patron saint of animals in Wales), and travelled all over the country.
Undoubtedly the most beautiful spot associated with her is Ynys Llanddwyn (meaning Island associated with Saint Dwynwen) on the southern tip of Ynys Mon (the Isle of Anglesey). You need to get on your walking shoes, but it’s a relatively easy and flat walk to this lovely tidal island. The church of Saint Dwynwen is ruined, but the views over the Llyn Peninsula and the mountains of Snowdonia are spectacular; the geology here is also interesting if you like oceanic pillow lava examples, but let’s not spoil the vibe by getting scientific!
Given the stunning scenery you’ll not be surprised that it’s also a favourite place for music videos, my favourite is Angor – “Ti yw fy angor” is sung as a duet by Rhys Meiron and Elin Fflur, the song speaks of someone being “fy angor i” (“My anchor”) hence the sand carvings on the video. Some lovely harmonies to boot! You can listen here
So should you find yourself in Wales in late January be sure to check if the local restaurant or pub is putting on a St Dwynwen’s evening. Her popularity is growing, but is nowhere near the commercial frenzy that can accompany February 14 – oh, and the flowers are “normal price” too! What’s not to like?!
About the Author
Keith Thomas is a professionally qualified Wales Tourist Guide who loves to share his expert knowledge of Wales, its stunning National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and its rich and varied history – did you know Wales has over 600 castles? For unforgettable driver-guided tours of Wales contact Keith here.