Wrapped up in Books Part II – The history, legends and folklore of Wales

Reading into Welsh history, culture, legend and folklore

Seeing as it’s #NationalReadABookDay it seems a good time to post the second instalment about the literature that inspired me and influenced my thinking around The Liminal Forest.

In the last post I talked about the nature books and writers that had inspired me. Restoring balance and reconnecting with nature through walking is one of the dominant themes of The Liminal Forest but so is my homeland of Wales. This is a project where I walked 300 miles through Wales mapping a route for the new National Forest for Wales, after all.

So, today I’m going to take you a quick literary tour of the Welsh history, culture, legend and folklore books that helped educate me and guide me on my journey.

First up are three essential Welsh history books, A History of Wales and The Making of Wales – both written by John Davies – along with When Was Wales? Gwyn A. Williams’ famous polemic on the idea of a united Wales. I’d first read the latter some 30 years before so it was refreshing to dive back into the arguments around Welsh history and identity once again.

The Place-Names of Wales helped me make sense of locations and showed how important the Welsh language is in describing places in relation to the land, forests, mountains, rivers and sea.

Wild Wales, George Borrow’s 19th century walking trip through the country provided a fascinating journey back in time while two books that discussed Wales’ ancient Celtic past – A Brief History of The Druids by Peter Berresford Ellis and The Druids by Stuart Piggott – both helped shed light on some of our earliest connections to nature. The Celtic Saints by Nigel Pennick, meanwhile, showed me how those Druidic themes influenced early Christianity.

William Linnard’s Welsh Woods and Forests is pretty much the bible of trees in Wales and provided me with a detailed and complex woodland history that explains the extent of deforestation that continues to this day. The Heritage Trees of Wales by Archie Miles highlighted some of our nation’s greatest and quirkiest trees – many of which I visited while I walked.

A good part of this project considers the role of folklore and legend in retaining our connection to the forests. Welsh Folk Tales from the National Museum of Wales, The Mabinogi – Legend and Landscape of Wales and The Mabinogian all shed light on Wales’ ancient bardic forms of storytelling.

As did the Physicians of Myddfai, Terry Breverton’s deep dive into the famous natural healers of the Middle Ages. Mysterious Wales and Hando’s Gwent (written and edited respectively, by Chris Barber) both captured the magic of Welsh folklore.

Much of the credit for bringing the bardic and Arthurian tales to the attention of the wider world must go to the complicated character of Iolo Morganwg – even if his reputation suffered greatly as a result of his own creative embellishments. A Rattleskull Genius, edited by Geraint H. Jenkins became essential reading to understand Iolo and the role he played in the Romantic Movement.

Gruff Rhys’ highly enjoyable American Interior also offered insight on Iolo and the Madoc legend that he was so tied to.

The role of industry in dislocating people’s connection to nature and the woodlands is another central theme for this project. Rhondda Coal, Cardiff Gold: Insoles of Llandaff, Coal Owners and Shippers by Richard C. Watson was essential reading to understand how my hometown, Cardiff, developed. Matthew Williams’ Lost House of Cardiff showed me what coal fortunes built.

In the final post about the books that influenced this project I’ll look at the major issues Wales and the whole world needs to address if we truly are to reconnect with nature and save our future on this planet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s