Folklore of Caves

People have throughout the ages held a fascination for caves. A wide variety of traditions associated with caves occurs in Welsh folklore and the stories may concern smuggling, secret places where heroes are sleeping or fugitives have hidden, treasure has been concealed or mythical beasts have had their lairs. There are many caves in Wales where King Arthur and his knights are said to be sleeping, waiting to be called on when their country has need of their services. Such caves are supposed to exist on Lliwedd near Snowdon or at Craig y Dinas in the Neath Valley. We are also informed that King Arthur's treasure is buried in a cave at Llangwyfan on Anglesey and his magical adviser is imprisoned in a cave yet to be discovered on Myrddin's Hill near Carmarthen.

Another Welsh hero sleeping in a cave is supposed to be Owain Llawgoch (Owain of the Red Hand). Some stories tell us that he sleeps in a cave in the cliff face below the romantic ruins of Carreg Cennen Castle and that he awaits the time when he will return to the outer world to become king of Britain. This hero's real name was Owain ap Thomas ap Rhodri (Owain son of Thomas, grandson of Rhodri), and he lived some six hundred years ago. It is believed that he was a direct descendant of Llewelyn, the last true Prince of Wales. "Owain Lawgoch, one of the last chieftains who fought against the English, lies with his men asleep. And here they will lie until wakened by the sound of a trumpet and a clang of arms on Rhywgoch, when they will arise and conquer their Saxon foes driving them from the land". Twm Shon Catti was another Welsh folk hero who made use of a cave in a wild and remote corner of Wales. It is situated on a rocky hillside overlooking some waterfalls on the River Tywi about 12 miles north of Llandovery. His real name was Thomas Jones and during the sixteenth century he seemed to achieve a reputation as a sort of Robin Hood robbing the rich and giving to the poor. He used this small rock shelter as a hiding place when escaping from the local sheriff. Such caves as Porth yr Ogof near Ystradfellte in the Brecon Beacons National Park were visited in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by travellers who made amazing claims with regard to their lengths. Some even believed that caves led down to the very depths of Hell and wrote such descriptions as: 'We found this cave very hollow, and so dark... we thought certainly we had come to the confines of the Infernal Regions, or some such dismal place, and we began to be afraid to visit it for although we entered in frolicksome and merry, yet we might return out of it sad and pensive and never more to be seen to laugh whilst we lived in the world, such dreadful apprehension seized upon some of us.' Exaggerated descriptions of the lengths of the caves were often coupled with accounts of adventurous dogs who disappeared down dark holes in the ground eventually to emerge many miles away. Other stories may concern a musician who enters a cave and is never seen again, though for years after his disappearance people claim to hear his music still playing. Such an example concerns a cave near Llanymynech in North Wales. A harpist apparently discovered that a local cave led beneath Llanymynech Church. He subsequently laid a wager with his mates that his harp would be heard in
church one Sunday but he would not be there. According to the story, one Sunday as he foretold, his harp was heard from beneath the church floor but the underground harpist was never seen again although his music could still be heard on certain occasions.

Caves were the great natural womb symbols and Mother Earth images worshiped by primitive peoples. A cave sacred to the Triple Goddess in the guise of 'three fairy sisters,' was revered up to the eighteenth century AD in Denbighshire (Clwyd, Cymru), by folk who claimed to see the sister's footprints around the magic spring. Another sacred cave and spring in Scotland near Dunskey was still used for healing magic in 1791, when people came to bathe at change of moon.