The dragons of North Wales and where to find them

Do dragons rumble in the deep in North Wales? Are you brave enough to have your own adventure? Let's go monster hunting!

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The symbol of the dragon is inextricably linked to Wales, and North Wales in particular, where dragons have been both our champions and our greatest foes. There are many legends about dragons right on the doorstep of the Royal Victoria Hotel but dare you explore?

Where did the symbolic Ddraig Goch (Red Dragon) come from?

  • The red dragon has its origins in the tale of the Three Plagues of Lludd Llaw Ereint (see below);
  • it returns in the myth of Merlin and Vortigern’s struggle to build a fortress at Dinas Emrys near Beddgelert;
  • Owain Glyndwr raised the dragon as his standard during the revolt against Henry IV, echoing its role in Arthurian mythology as a symbol of struggle and resistance;
  • Henry Tudor flew a flag emblazoned with the red dragon of Cadwallader as he marched his troops through Wales to Bosworth to claim to the crown. The image of the red dragon was flown on a field of white and green (Tudor colours);
  • the very same flag of a red dragon on a field of white and green was flown from Tudor Royal Navy vessels;
  • in 1901, the dragon became the official symbol of Wales;
  • in 1953, a new royal badge with the motto “Y Ddraig Goch Ddyry Cychwyn” (“the Red Dragon Inspires Action”) was commissioned;
  • in 1959, the Welsh flag as we know it today was officialised.

Dinas Emrys: dragon’s den

Lludd Llaw Ereint, known as ‘the Silver Hand’, is a legendary hero from Welsh mythology. He most likely originates from the British King Lud who features in the History of the Kings of Britain written by medieval chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth.

The story goes that Lludd was experiencing a succession of plagues in his kingdom. One was a plague of dragons which culminated in a fierce battle between the red (symbolic of the British people) and the white (symbolic of the Anglo-Saxon invaders) dragons on May Day. The white dragon began to win out against the red, and the red’s cries of pain were heard across the whole kingdom. Lludd was disturbed by the sound and sough to end the battle. He dug a deep pit in the centre of his kingdom, a hill known as Dinas Emrys, and placed a cauldron of mead within. Then he waited.

Distracted from their ferocious battle by the enticing scent of mead, the warring dragons flew into the pit and drank their fill before falling into a drunken stupor. Lludd quickly filled in the hole and buried the dragons deep within the earth, where they slumbered on.

Many years later, Saxon chieftain Vortigern attempted to build a fortress atop Dinas Emrys – on the very spot the dragons were entombed – but every night the stronghold’s walls mysteriously crumbled… read the full story here.

Visit: Dinas Emrys is an idyllic spot occupying a rocky, wooded hillock near Beddgelert in Gwynedd. The region is rich in Welsh folklore, having strong links with Arthur, the Welsh Dragon and the tragic hound Gelert, to name but a few. Beddgelert is a lovely village with a wide selection of shops and restaurants plus a scenic and accessible walk to the grave of Prince Llewellyn’s faithful dog.

The Afanc

The Afanc was a legendary Welsh water beast with a fearsome temper – strong enough to break riverbanks and cause floods! It lived in the River Conwy, its lair rumoured to be a deep pool just outside Betws y Coed, known today as the Beaverpool.

Its rough scales were impervious to man-made weapons so, after many failed attempts to slay the beast, the townsfolk decided that, as they could not kill it, they would relocate it instead! They selected a mountain lake on the slopes of Snowdon, Llyn Glaslyn (the higher of the two lakes you pass on the Miner’s Track to the summit). It was deep enough to house the creature comfortably and far enough away that it wouldn’t bother them again.

To entice the Afanc from its lair, they used one of the most powerful weapons of all – feminine charm! The Afanc adored fair maidens, so the townsfolk enlisted the help of the most beautiful girl in the village. She sang a lilting Welsh lullaby to the Afanc until it fell asleep.

Sound asleep, the Afanc was dragged out of the water by a team of oxen and transported through the Lledr Valley towards Snowdon. Along the way, one of the oxen strained so hard under its heavy burden its eye popped out! The tears shed from the wounded eye-socket pooled to form another Snowdonian lake, which became known as Llyn Llygad yr Ych (Pool of the Ox’s Eye) in honour of the brave bovine.

Reaching the shores of Llyn Glaslyn, the Afanc was roused and released from its chains. On tasting freedom it dived into the lake and swam away, never to be seen again. Where did it go? Does the Afanc still swim in the mountain lake in search of prey, or did it disappear into the depths of a lake that many believe to be bottomless?

Visit: Beaverpool, just outside Betws y Coed on the A470 towards Dolwyddelan; there’s a tight bend in the road where a small bridge fords the river, below the bridge is the Beaverpool. For Llyn Glaslyn, take the Miner’s Track up Snowdon.

The Denbigh Dragon

The market town of Denbigh was of strategic importance to both the Welsh and the Normans and a castle has stood sentinel over the town for many centuries. However, if a local legend is to be believed, the castle has a darker side too.

Legend has it, the ruined castle was the lair of a venomous dragon. It would venture forth and attack unsuspecting townspeople and livestock, flying at them and burning them with breath of fire. Terrified of the creature – which they had nicknamed the Bych – the townsfolk enlisted the help of a local warrior, by the name of Sion Bodiau, or Sir John of the Thumbs.

Sir John was a bit of an enigma, a local landowner possessed of two thumbs on each hand – a physical feature the superstitious townsfolk felt sure would give him the superhuman edge over the beast!

Understandably, Sir John was non-too-keen to take on a fire-breathing monster, thumbs or no thumbs, but dressed in full plate armour and riding his keenest charger he found himself galloping towards the castle, lance tilted.

In the end he was more afraid of what a riotous mob of Welsh would do to him if he refused than of a hungry dragon!

The dragon spied Sir John approaching and sprang from its lair, ready to deal the killing blow, but was bought up short by the knight’s strange hands. It paused and gazed in puzzlement at Sir John’s extra digits but, as it did so, the knight took his chance and plunged the lance deep into the dragon’s chest, killing it instantly.

Sir John was hailed a hero and the people of the town celebrated his victory with the cry ‘Dim-Bych!’ which means ‘No more dragon!’ If it sounds familiar, it should. This is the legend of how the town of Denbigh (Dinbych in Welsh) got its name.

But that’s not the end of the story….

In the early 1980s, sheep in North Wales began dying under mysterious circumstances and in alarming numbers. The corpses were always found close to water, many with puncture marks in the flesh, and often a large, snake-like trail was seen in the grass or mud close by. Autopsies performed by a local vet found that the sheep had been killed by venom.

The Denbigh Dragon may have been killed by the Knight of the Thumbs but did it leave behind a nest of baby dragons that have survived in the wilds of Wales… to this very day?

Visit: beyond the confines of the Snowdonia National Park in the pretty Vale of Clwyd, Denbigh is a lovely town with many boutique shops and cafes. Take the scenic route through Snowdonia and over the moors, it’s a road trip worth making!

So there you have it; from flag to fable, dragons rumble in the deep in North Wales to this very day.

The Royal Victoria Hotel makes the perfect base for your very own Welsh adventure. The question is, are you brave enough to follow legendary heroes and ferocious beasts?

Find out more about the Betws y coed gateway to Snowdonia here.