The Giantess of Pwllgwaelod: Part 1
There is a tale I want to tell you that concerns a Giantess, a Magician and the Magician’s wife. Oh, and there is a cat. The Giantesse’s cat.
As is so often the case in ancient tales, we know the name of the Magician but we do not know the name of the Giantess and we do not know the name of the Magician’s wife.
You young women who are accustomed to seeing yourselves named and remembered, be warned. Look back in time and you will see that this was not always the case. Our literature and our histories are full of nameless, featureless females who played their part, and were played down. Do not for one moment think that this misogyny will not touch women folk again. The men still run the show, however much freedom you may think you have in this brave new world.
It is for this reason, for the reason of fairness, to all concerned in our tale, that I considered naming the Magician’s wife and naming the Giantess but I thought better of it. Let the Magician have a taste of his own medicine, he, being a man. I name none of them. The cat I have decided is a she.
The tale comes from the North of Pembrokeshire. I urge you to seek out the cove we can name as Pwllgwaelod and once there to take yourself down the beach, which is always wet, whatever the tide. I shall explain why anon.
You will need to walk into the water at low tide, swim out at high tide and when you find yourself at the point where the bay opens out, you should turn your eyes to your left.
The high cliff, if you are observant, soon reveals itself as a face, a sad craggy face that looks forever toward the opposite shore that is Gwiddg, and beyond. That is the Giantess. Before her, ears flattened against her head is the cat, the creature’s tail, the longest you will ever see, snaking up behind her to the fields above.
Before you question me, I must tell you that the legend has it that the rocks in ancient times were not as we see them now. It is the Giantess herself, incarcerated in the rock that has given the landscape its shape.
How did she get there?
It’s the usual story I am afraid. You know what giants are like. You will certainly have heard stories of giants from all over the world and particularly in Wales.
Giants have never been known for their great intellectual ability. No one ever described a giant as a great thinker. They are largely remembered for their quarrelsome natures and lack of social graces. No human has ever been reported to have fallen in love with a giant. To human eyes they are not pretty creatures and their manners have always left a great deal to be desired. I see no reason to expect our female of the species was any better disposed to her human neighbours than her brothers.
The details of how our Giantess so distressed the people of the land thereabouts have been lost. Certainly it was bad enough to cause a Magician to be called in, not a cheap option, as you must know.
We may not know exactly what she did but we can guess. I can picture her now roaming the land and hereabouts, snacking on cows and sheep, carelessly tearing up ploughed fields, and tipping the fish out of the homeward-bound fishing boats, her skirts hitched up above her massive knees, her rosy cheeks blotting out the sun.
I see her peeking into windows where terrified children cower in their beds, or old ladies lose their place in their knitting or prick their fingers at their mending.
We understand that she needed to eat , but it takes a lot of piggies to fill a belly of such proportions, and though she was probably curious about what exactly went on in those little houses, her lack of the social niceties must have been a trial. Perhaps she was lonely but it’s unlikely that she was dainty and there must have been a few flattened cowsheds , a few ruined gardens and one or two human fatalities from time to time. Even if she were not malicious, she would still have been dangerous.
So, whatever it was exactly that brought about a crisis, the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, the Magician was called in and his price for ridding the local people of the Giantess was agreed.
As I suggested, Magicians aren’t cheap. This one came with a wife and a need for housing and feeding and he had a taste for gold. The local people did up a cottage that overlooked the little bay with a pretty garden and a good strong chimney and slate roof. The gold would come later when the job was done. And it wasn’t long before they saw results.
The Magician, who had been collecting herbs and brewing potions for some days came down one evening when the moon was at her most benign. He lit his fire on the beach and muttered his spells and before long, the Giantess blundered sleepily over the hills to see what was happening.
I don’t know what he said. Those kind of spells were only ever known to a few and have long been lost to even the most magical of the rest of us. Whatever he muttered into the smokey dark worked to put the offender into a deep and languid sleep, stretched out along the edge of the cove. The Magician was observed only by his wife from their new cottage window and perhaps a few of the bravest locals.
Putting magical creatures to sleep was easy-peasy, even in those far-off times. Well, easy compared with keeping them asleep, and it was a much longer and more taxing job to contain the Giantess so that she wouldn’t just wake with a massive headache and a fearsome hunger that would decimate the flocks and fields thereabouts.
And so he worked through the night, using his magic to lift and shape the rock, so that by the first light of day, his victim was entirely buried beneath an entirely new rock formation.
As he worked, the cat came slinking down to see where her Giantess might be. Cats aren’t known for their loyalty always, so I cannot say if she came out of curiosity or to be fed, but I like to think she came, much as my own cats like to greet me homeward bound, with purrs and slithers and with rolling on their backs to be tummy tickled.
When this cat saw what the Magician was doing she began that hunkering down that is a prelude to a pounce. He caught her thus, and with one wave of his staff turned her to stone, with her back arched, her tail a-swish and her ears flattened against her furious head. Some say you can still see the malevolence in her once shining eyes.
His work done, he went exhausted to bed, and the final payment, a chest brim full of gold pieces, some good Welsh gold, and some from far-off lands, bearing the images of emperors and chieftains that no one in these parts was likely to have any knowledge off, but gold nonetheless.
Don’t ask me where it came from. I can’t answer that, and anyway, I am more interested in relating the rest of my tale. The bit no one else knows about. No one except us, of course.
Picture the Magician, pleased with his labours, resting in his cottage. See him there in front of his fire, his pipe and belly full, relishing the life that the lovely gold will give himself and his wife, and how they could do a lot worse than staying put here among the green hills, overlooking the bountiful sea, feted by the grateful locals… and then his wife returns from collecting firewood on the beach with a shocking revelation…
Look out for Part 2… coming soon.