Pembrokeshire Legends: Skomar Oddy

In the old days, before even our great-great-great-grandfathers were born, back further than any living person can remember, back when the world was green and fresh, and Wales was even more mysterious than it is now, there were giants.

Actually, there were many strange and wonderful creatures that either no longer exist, or we have lost the ability to recognise in the bustly, never-a-moment-to-yourself modern world. In other stories we will come to them, but this one concerns giants. Well, to be precise, one giant in particular who was known in the land as Skomar Oddy.

What are you thinking? Are you anticipating battles and blood and boulders being thrown about? That’s how giants seem to go about, isn’t it? It would be reasonable for you to think that this giant was no different.

But in the case of Skomar Oddy, you would be wrong.

Not that our story doesn’t start with fear and dread and a mighty battle, but that was between two sea monsters who fell out over something that was important to them at the time.

That might have been all right for the people who lived around what we now know as Milford Haven. If the monsters had rolled their mighty bodies around each other, tearing with savage claws and teeth in deep water, then maybe only a fisherman or two, drawing in his nets, would have known anything about it. Unfortunately, the monsters brought their battle to the shallower waters, near to where the people lived, and in doing so they stirred up the mud so that the water became almost solid and dark.

Worse still, in their thrashing, the mud that had lived at the bottom for so very long was lifted up high into the sky over the land, and as everyone knows, what goes up, must come down. The mud was no different.

What must the people have thought?

One moment their little houses, their washing on the line, the animals munching in the fields, the orchards, and the stables were fresh and clean, the next all was covered in stinky, slimy, dark, dull brown mud.

The mud stained everything it fell upon in thick mucilaginous gouts, shimmery down all perpendicular surfaces to form foul, stinking pools in every nook and cranny. But that was not the worst of it.

Mer people…

The sea is full of strange and wonderful creatures and, in those days, the creatures were even more fantastical. Many-fingered starfish, unicorn seahorses in colours you cannot imagine, sea fairies and merpeople… all creatures accustomed to swimming free in the deep, wide ocean and now caught up in the slime and stink and stuck fast to the land.

If the smell and the mess were terrible, imagine the moaning. Imagine the wailing, the weeping and the complaining from all of these creatures, scooped up against their will and deposited far from the liquid loveliness that is the wide ocean.

Suffice it to say, what with brawling monsters, raining mud and trapped aliens, this was no longer a happy place to be. The people were at a loss to know what to do. They did their best to clean up; but the mud was so sticky and so stinky, and whenever they managed to clear a spot, the monsters started up again with their fighting and more mud flew and more creatures came down, splat, on the solid ground.

It was just by chance that someone overheard one of the strange creatures, stuck fast in the roots of a tree and muttering to itself that someone needed to go and find Skomer Oddy – Skomer Oddy would know what to do.

Fairies

The news spread and it wasn’t long before the headman in those parts came by. “We are very sorry for this state of affairs,” he said to the poor trapped creature, for he was a kindly man and he was moved by the plight of so many strange and beautiful beings. The creature turned huge, luminous eyes upon him and sighed from parched lips. Its tentacles pulsed, mud clinging to its large, soft body.

“We want to know how we can manage this situation,” the headman said. “And someone told me you knew someone who might be able to help.”

 And so the headman learned about Skomer Oddy.

It didn’t take long for a deputation to be organised. Some of the sea creatures, who could travel, once they were unstuck from the mud, agreed to go on the long journey into the Preseli hills in search of Skomar Oddy, and the humans began to hastily prepare what was needed to make the journey possible.

It must have been quite a sight, that caravan of oddities. Leading the party was a shepherd with his stout, crooked staff, because it was he who knew the hills the best; and there was a cart pulled by bullocks belonging to farmer Huw and led by his youngest son, Edwin. On the cart were tanks of seawater containing the wisest of the sea creatures, the one who had suggested the adventure, and a beautiful mermaid who had a singing voice to rival no other. The reason for that will become clear.

In various vehicles, or strapped to the backs of willing humans, there was a select compliment of freed creatures, who either longed for adventure or who had a burning desire to save their fellows.

I could tell you about their adventures but perhaps I will save this for another time because, as you can imagine, a great deal happened on the way. Remind me about the rainstorm, the wolf and the rune stone sometime, and the fairy folk.

However, back to the search for Skomar Oddy.

Eventually, the little band found a guide in the form of an elf who took them uphill and down dale until they reached the mouth of the cave where the great giant lived. Demanding his fee of three scales from the mermaids tail, the elf took off, leaving them quivering with fear, the sound of the giant’s snores roaring in their ears.

It was all they could do not to turn tail and run. In fact, one or two did, but they were reminded by their colleagues of how far they had come and how much was at stake, so they each put their best foot forward, or best tentacle or slimy slime trail down and went into the deep dark.

Skomer Oddy was the most humungous thing they had ever seen. Curled up deeply asleep in the vast cavern, he could have held one of those pesky sea monsters, who were the cause of all of this trouble, in his mighty hand.

Not wanting to waste any more time, the company set to waking him from his deep slumbers. They pushed and they pulled, they crawled into his ears and shouted, they tugged at his beard and his eyebrows.  They hung off his nose and they crept between his toes, tickling them, and, when this had no effect, pinching. They went at this for some time until someone remembered the song.

 It doesn’t sound much, the song. I am sure it sounds better in Welsh but you have to remember the beautiful voices, particularly the unearthly lovely voice of the beautiful mermaid. The words of the song they sang went like this.

“Skomar Oddy! Skomar Oddy! Big head and big body! Help us, help us! Help us, help us! Get the mud back in the sea.”

It worked! Within minutes the great giant was waking up. Within half an hour he understood exactly what was wanted of him and, better still, agreed good-naturedly to help.

All the magical creatures, some with the help of their human companions, clambered onto the great body of Skomer Oddy. They settled in his ears and up his nose. They clung to his collar and slipped into his sleeves. He tucked the bullocks into his pocket and, checking that everyone was aboard, he set off back the way they had come.

It didn’t take long. Weeks of struggle for them was a mere six strides for him. All along the Cleddau estuary, where his toes touched, beaches formed and when he reached the place where the mud still clung, he set down his load of little beings, and he began to scoop up the mud and to gently slip it back into the water, releasing the creatures who were still trapped.

Then the giant turned his attention to the monsters. How many weeks had they fought now? And they were still not tired. But when they saw Skomar Oddy, they were terrified. They immediately forgot about each other and made their hurried escape, back out into the deep, dark ocean, never to be seen again.

The giant paused to help clean away the last of the mud and, with the thanks of all the beings faintly ringing in his big ears, he made the short journey home to his cave and to his rest.

And there he sleeps still, waking every hundred years for a snack and a big drink.

Thank you to Pixabay for the images illustrating this story.

Kitty Parsons

Kitty has forgotten how long she has been here now but she loves Pembrokeshire for its beauty and it's people. She spends her time searching out stories for pembrokeshire.online, swimming in the sea , drawing and painting as Snorkelfish and eating cake. She says "Pembrokeshire.online has been an opportunity to celebrate this beautiful county and its people. Keep the stories coming. We love to hear from you."

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