When childhood sweethearts Rhys and Meinir decide to marry, it’s the custom in their little village of Nant Gwrtheyrn that the bride-to-be hides, and the groom’s friends find her and bring her to the church. But Meinir is nowhere to be found: heartbroken, Rhys wanders the hills for a year, trying to find his lost love. One stormy night, Rhys is sheltering under their favourite oak tree when a mighty bolt of lightning strikes, splitting the trunk in two. And inside is a skeleton… wearing a wedding dress. Rhys dies of a broken heart. On a cheerier note, the village of Nant Gwrtheyrn is now a Welsh language learning centre, and (ironically) a popular wedding venue.
Culhwch and Olwen: a giant love story
Culhwch’s wicked stepmother has put a curse on him: he can marry no one except the beautiful Olwen. The problem is, Olwen’s father is the giant Ysbaddaden Pencawr – and he’s got a curse on him, too: he’ll die if his daughter ever marries. Culhwch’s cousin King Arthur sends six of his finest warriors to help find Olwen. The giant (understandably) won’t let them get hitched – unless Culhwch completes 40 impossible tasks. With the help of Arthur’s men, Culhwch finishes his to-do list, marries Olwen, and they live happily ever after. (But not Ysbaddaden the giant: he dies.) No one knows where in Wales these tales were based, but we would wager a bet that there are smoky hills and sweeping vistas like those in Gwynedd involved. Cader Idris is a real mountain where the giant Idris sat (hence the name ‘Idris’ Chair’), expect lots of sweeping dramatic scenes and secrets to explore – just like those in the Culhwch ac Olen tale.
Geraint and Enid: a knight of passion
Here’s another yarn from the Welsh folk tales known as the Mabinogion. Geraint is one of King Arthur’s best knights. But since he got married to the lovely Enid, the word around the campfire is that Geraint’s gone soft. Enid hears the rumours, and breaks down in tears, blaming herself for not being a true wife. Geraint misunderstands her: he thinks that she’s been unfaithful. So the couple go off on a series of gung-ho adventures, during which she proves her devotion, and he proves that he’s still a lean, mean fighting machine. Happiness ensues. Despite a rocky start, Geraint and Enid lives happily ever after – but you can have your own rocky and romantic weekend in Snowdonia where there are ample opportunities for racing pulses. You could even create your own proposal opportunity at Snowdon’s summit, where King Arthur supposedly buried the remains of a giant (Rhitta) under the stony boulders. Romance on the rocks, just like Geraint and Enid!
Myfanwy and Hywel: songs of love
Macsen and Elen: dream believer
Macsen Wledig is based on the real-life Magnus Maximus, a 4th-century Roman governor of Britain. In the Mabinogion version, Macsen dreams of beautiful maiden in a wonderful, far-off land of rivers, mountains and valleys. He’s dreaming about Wales, obviously – and that’s where he eventually finds the gorgeous Elen, who is the daughter of a Caernarfon chieftain. Macsen marries Elen, and builds her three castles at Caernarfon, Caerleon and Carmarthen. The real Magnus Maximus didn’t fare quite as well: after usurping the Roman throne and becoming emperor, he was executed for treason in AD388. With Elen’s roots firmly in Caernarfon, Caernarfon’s majestic position as a fort of Edward 1st is a great place for history hunting and basing yourself for a longer Snowdonia adventure. With romantic walks around the harbour, it’s a great spot to see a sunset.
We’re a nation of dog-lovers, so here’s a tragic tale about man’s best friend. The name of the pretty Snowdonia village of Beddgelert means ‘Gelert’s grave’, supposedly after Llywelyn the Great’s trusty hound. Llywelyn returns from hunting one day to find his baby missing, and Gelert licking his blood-stained chops. The prince draws his sword and slays the dog … only to find the infant safe and well, next to the body of a great wolf that Gelert had killed while protecting the baby. Oops. Filled with remorse, Llywelyn buries Gelert with great ceremony, and never smiles again. This may be the one children remember for sadness and tragedy, Beddgelert is a wildly beautiful town – perfect for rambles and cosy beverages in country pubs (keep your dogs close in case of wolves).
Llyn y Fan Fach, a little glacial lake at the western edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, is home to the beautiful Lady of the Lake. She married a local farm lad, Gwyn, with a pre-nuptial clause that if he struck her three times, she would go straight back to her lake and take all the farm animals with her. Predictably, the marriage ended in tears, but their sons went on to become the first of many generations of expert herbalists and healers, the Physicians of Myddfai. Taking inspiration from the area’s legacy, you can now find your own herbal goodies and beauty products via a social enterprise and even partake in a spot of wild swimming and a picnic at Llyn y Fan Fach. We’re sure the Lady of the Lake won’t mind.
Burton & Taylor: Hollywood’s greatest romance
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor met on the set of the 1963 epic Cleopatra, the first of a dozen on-screen collaborations that peaked with the magnificent Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). But the drama of their off-screen relationship eclipsed all of their films. They were both married to other people when they had their first fling. They tied the knot twice, in 1964 and 1975, and were twice divorced. There were legendary gifts (a $1m diamond; a yacht) and legendary tempestuous arguments. And there were trips home to the Miner’s Arms in Pontrhydyfen, where Taylor had her first pint of bitter. Interested in other Neath legends? How about a romantic waterfall walk at Pontneddfechan or a tramp around the ruins of the beautiful Neath Abbey, founded in 1130.