LLyn Barfog: the bearded lake

A step back in to the mists of time to relive the legend of King Arthur and the monstrous Afanc

Time: 1 1/2 hours
Level: Easy to intermediate
Equipment: proper walking boots, walking boots and walking stick. refreshments, whistle and torch
Starting point: Car park for Llyn Barfog, Cwm Maethlon or Happy Valley, near Aberdyfi

King Arthur is everywhere in Wales. You don't have to travel far before you stumble across a mountain, lake or landmark that has an association with this Dark Age leader and warlord. And this is perhaps never more true than in the vast and wide open expanse of Snowdonia.

And if further proof were needed, Glyn-yr-aur, our holiday cottage, is said to be situated very close to three prospective sites for Arthur's last battleground, Camlann. And one just happens to be very close to popular local watering hole, the Tyn-y-Groes hotel at Pont ar Eden. The others are near Mallwyd and local mighty mountain the Cader Idris.

Athur's main base may have been at Killibury in Cornwall, but it's thought he also may have owned the Cader Idris, which is also known as Arthur's Seat. He also was reputed to have fought fearsome dragons and giants, one such being Rhita Gawr on Snowdon.

Rhita was allegedly infamous for his obession with killing war leaders and kings. And he had a macabre fetish of collecting the beards of those he had slain and incorporating them in to a diabolically fashioned cloak that he wore constantly draped around his shoulders.

He belligerently invited Arthur to join some of his earlier victims, but Athur incensed declined, and felt driven to cut short Rhita's gruesome and unsavoury lifestyle.

He managed to strike a fatal blow to the giant in the course of a prolonged battle and buried him at the top of Snowdon under a mound of jagged stones.

But Wales in the Dark Ages was awash with mythical and monstrous creatures, and if folklore is to believed Arthur's work was rarely ever done.

The people of Aberdyfi and the surrounding area were plagued by a monstrous water demon or dragon called the Afanc, and it would kill anyone who walked near the waters of Llyn Barfog which it had reportedly made into its eerie lair.

It didn't just confine itself to the lake area however, and was known to kill people while it went out on a rampage. It was also said to cause untold damage by flooding as it thrashed about in the depths of its watery home.

Arthur was begged to come to the area, so the story goes, to rid the area of the destructive Afanc. On his trusty steed Llamrai, Arthur went to the lake and with strong magical chains managed to lasoo the monster and pull it out of the lake once and for all.

There are said to be two endings to the story, the first being that Arthur despatched the beast to a early grave and it was never to be heard of again.

However, a second ending suggests that Arthur dragged the water monster all the way to the lake of Llyn Cau in the isolated mountain of Cader Idris and left it to wander there, away from most of the nearby towns and villages.

Our walk takes in what remains today of Llyn Barfog and also a stone, the Carn March Arthur, which is said to be stone hoof imprint of Arthur's trusty steed, Llamrai. Its battles with the Afanc were so arduous, so legend would have us believe, that as it dragged the Afanc from the nearby lake, it left an indelible mark on the nearby rockface.

To see Llyn Barfog and Carn March Arthur, people should make their way to Cwm Maethlon or Happy Valley near Aberdyfi. From Glyn-yr-aur, people should take the A470 from Dolgellau and then travel on the A487 down towards Machynlleth. Just before reaching this town, people should turn right onto the A493. They should then take a right turn into Happy Valley soon after reaching the village of Pennal.

Once on this country lane, people should travel for 10 minutes or so to a car park which is signnposted for Llyn Barfog or the Bearded Lake.

It's not quite known why the Llyn Barfog has the bearded epithet, but it's thought it could either relate to the characteristics of the dreaded Afanc. Alternatively it's said the lake may be known as bearded because of the fairly sizeable stretch of reed beds that border it. The lake is also thought to have been much larger in King Arthur's day and is now presumed to be a shadow of its former self.

People should leave the car park through a metal gate and follow the signposts for Llyn Barfog and signs for a footpath between Tyddynbriddell Hill and Mynydd y Llyn (or Mountain of the Lake). People will know they're trekking in the right direction when they pass Llidiart y Llyn cottage almost immediately.

Walkers should then pass a barn and turn left into the courtyard of a farm, and white farm cottage will be situated in front of you. Turning left after another barn, people should follow the pathway and signs up through a metal gate, or over a large ladder-type stile, and follow a broad rough trackway up the hillside. It can be fairly steep in places.

Cwm Maethlon or Happy Valley unfolds behind you, and on this day the walk was taken there were plenty of cattle grazing quietly in the surrounding fields. The trackway soon comes to the peak of the Mynydd y Llyn, and another stile should be clambered over, and then Llyn Barfog should steadily come into view.

People may be quite surprised at its relatively small size, especially compared to the nearby glacial lake, Tallyllyn that stretches out in front of the Cader Idris.

However it's the local legends here that give the lake its famed renown, and you can't fail to be impressed by them.

You can follow a rough trackway to the water's edge and most of the lake is generously covered in a series of water lillies. It seems to be fairly shallow, and some nearby campers on the day this walk was taken, were not afraid to take their chances by swimming in it. The Afanc it seemed was well and truly gone.

There are however several variations on the Afanc legend, and other fables have a beautiful Welsh maiden taming the Afanc with a soothing lullaby. The game plan was for her to bewitch the creature, while others in a hunting party chained and hauled it from the lake and sent it on its way to its eternal doom.

The story did not have quite such a happy ending though, and the Afanc in the ensuing melee was said to have crushed the hapless maiden to death.

The Afanc was also said to be resident at Llyn Llion and at Llyn yr Afanc near Betws-y-Coed. Most lakes in Wales were, however, said to have a had at one time, a resident afanc. Some were thought to lie sleeping in the depths of a lake, and could sleep for well over a hundred years. Only the foolish and naive, it was said, would ever go to swim in a Welsh lake. Once an afanc was disturbed supposedly, its unfortunate victims would be lucky to escape with their lives.

Opposite the lake, is a secluded area, which is often used by wild campers. The remains of various camp fires give testimony to its rising popularity.

But, if people skirt the edges of the lake, and go through a small metal gateway, they will soon see a sign marked To Echo. If people follow the signposts, they'll soon come to a moorland area, where you can shout out across the terrain, and your voice is said to ricochet back to you.

Rough trackways can be followed around Mynydd y Llyn so that you come to the far edges of the lakeside. People can gain an excellent viewpoint of the lake's foreshore from here.

People should then retrace their footsteps back to the front edges of the lake and turn right in the general direction of Aberdyfi. They will soon join a section of the local Panorama Walk trackway, which affords people magnificent views of the wide and expansive Dyfi Estuary.

Soon another gateway needs to be passed through, and after about 20 minutes of walking, people will soon come to the fabled Carn March Arthur. The rock in front of the classic slate signpost does definitely look as though a horse's hoof has been imprinted into the rockface.

Next the pathway curves around the summit of Tyddynbriddell Hill, and there are a choice of two routeways back to the starting point and the car park.

A shorter and steeper route was chosen by this writer, and it was signposted with Snowdonia National Park signposts and wended its way down the valley side.

However, people can veer left and follow a trackway uphill for some way and then pass back down to the main valley floor through a farm. They should turn right and then walk along the main roadway until they arrive back at the car park.

The quicker route is a little more precarious and there is steep incline to be negotiated before you arrive back near the original farmstead and the car park. There is a steep, scree-like slope and often it's best to walk on the grassy undergrowth bordering the footpath.

You do however have excellent views of the surrounding countryside and after about 10 minutes of a careful descent, you soon arrive back at the car park - often to be greeted by local farm dogs and a few sociable and inquisitive hens.

Another local legend associated with Llyn Barfog

An old woman weary from her travels called in at a farmstead very close to Llyn Barfog and asked for some food. Unbeknown to her the resident farmer and his wife were very poor and barely had enough to eat for themselves.

However, they did not turn her away and gave her as hearty a meal as they could muster, and the old woman thanked them and was soon on her way. And she promised from that day forward the fortunes of the farmer and his wife would soon change.

That evening, the farmer found a new cow among his herd. But she was no ordinary creature, her milk yield in one day was equal to what the rest of his herd produced in a week. The farmer soon became a happy and wealthy man.

However, once the cow grew old, he decided to fatten her up and sell her on to the local butcher. As he set out to slaughter her with an axe, his arm was suddenly paralysed and woman dressed in green by Llyn Barfog demanded that he stop. As soon as the cow heard her cry, she plunged into Llyn Barfog and was never to be seen again. The farmer's fortunes unfortunately took a turn for the worse, and he was soon as poor as he had ever been.

Slideshow of the Walk