Author Stephen Gregory and his dog Marmite pay homage to the legend of Gelert.
Beddgelert is a beautiful village. I worked as a gardener there, when I first ran away from the real world of teaching to find some peace and quiet in Wales.
Every day, through a glorious summer and into autumn, I cleared the garden behind the Prince Llewelyn Hotel, and afterwards, when I was horribly but happily filthy and sweaty, I would go to the bridge and jump off it, into the icy waters of the river. Icy, yes, even in August. But a necessary dip for someone who was renting a caravan with no access to a bath or a shower.
And the tourists came in their hundreds. No, not to watch me jumping into the river. They came to enjoy the lovely air and the mountains of Snowdonia and to visit Gelert’s Grave.
Is the story of Gelert true? Or was it conjured up and embellished in Victorian times to bring fame and visitors and lucrative business to a quiet mountain village? It doesn’t matter. It’s an inspiring and moving story. I’ve seen people weeping at the graveside of the dog Gelert, inspired and moved by a legend of gallantry and devotion.
As the story has it, many hundreds of year ago, a prince called Llewelyn decided one day to go hunting. Normally he would have taken his faithful hound called Gelert, but on this occasion he left the dog at home to guard his baby son. When the prince returned, he found his home in horrific disarray. There was blood everywhere. The furnishings and rugs had been scattered and spattered with blood. The dog Gelert came to greet him, its muzzle and jaws horrid with blood. Worse still, the prince cried out and searched for his baby son and couldn’t find him. Mad with rage, assuming in an instant that the dog had devoured the boy, Llewel]yn drew his sword and killed the dog.
And then, as the anguished exhausted prince stood staring, he heard a feeble cry. He turned over the rugs and found his son, alive and well. And he found the body of a great wolf, a wolf that Gelert had fought and killed in order to protect the child’s life.
It is said that the prince was so overwhelmed by grief, so overcome by regret at his hasty action, that he never smiled again.
That’s the story of Gelert and Prince Llewelyn. You can walk to the grave and read it. In the springtime it’s a lovely place, along the riverside where the oak and willow are in fresh green leaf, and maybe you’ll be lucky and see a dipper whirring downstream or bobbing underwater in search of grubs. In the summer the hills are bright with rhododendron. In the autumn the woods are in glorious colour. In the winter you look up to the looming summit of Moel Hebog and watch a buzzard dicing with a raven, against a cold blue sky.
Or, on the other hand, it might be a chilly, rather gloomy November afternoon. And you’re standing by the grave with a dog you’ve brought to Wales all the way from Borneo.
Yes, Borneo. Seven thousand miles away in South East Asia. A dog from Borneo, all the way from a little-known city by the South China Sea, is standing and shivering at Gelert’s Grave, in the village of Beddgelert, in Snowdonia.
And it’s a chilly, gloomy afternoon. That’s unusual, for this dog – he’s been used to hot tropical sunshine, 33 degrees every day. And there are sheep in the fields around him – he’s never seen a sheep before. His name’s Marmite, and he was a wild stray puppy, a little wolf rescued from a torrential tropical downpour, one night on the outskirts of a distant city called Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of the tiny sultanate of Brunei Darussalam. He might have drowned, or he might have shivered himself to death, but he was saved and taken into a warm, caring home. And now, seven years later, after flying for eighteen hours across Asia and Europe in a huge roaring thrumming machine, he’s in Wales. And as he stands at the famous grave he seems to be wondering. Yes, he’s wondering, as all the many thousands of visitors from around the world have wondered at the bravery and devotion of a dog called Gelert.
Or maybe not. If you’re a dog from Borneo, you might not be impressed by the prospect of spotting a dipper or a buzzard. You might not be communing with the spirit of a fellow canine, communicating in some mystic way across hundreds of years and thousands of miles. You might be pondering fond memories of your faraway lands … of tackling a monitor lizard in your back garden, shaking it violently in your teeth and sending it scuttling into the undergrowth … of sniffing along Crocodile Beach and snuffling into the foam of the South China Sea … remembering long ago and faraway sunshine.
You might even be wondering, part-wolf and part domesticated pet-dog, as you see the sheep beyond the graveside fence, which side of the story you’re supposed to be on.
Beddgelert has, after all, more than enough character of its own, beyond the legend of the dog Gelert and Prince Llewelyn. The village is beautifully situated at the confluence of two clear, clean, sparkling rivers, cradled by the mountains of Snowdonia, and is rightly famous for its displays of flowers and immaculate gardens. Fans of Rupert Bear will come to the village to see the home of Mr Alfred Bestall, who illustrated the stories in the Daily Express and the timeless, iconic Rupert Bear annuals. And they’ll spot the photographs of a very hirsute Paul McCartney visiting Beddgelert with his lovely Linda to meet Mr Bestall, and they’ll remember the wonderfully silly Frog Chorus that Paul wrote afterwards.
When you visit Beddgelert and you walk by the riverside to see Gelert’s grave and read the tragic, salutory story, you’ll more than likely see other visitors there with their dogs. It is after all a dog’s grave, and it’s only fitting that other dogs should come and pay their respects. Marmite, a rescued wolf-dog all the way from Borneo has been there. Maybe he shared a few mystical moments, across the miles, across the centuries. Who knows? Who knows if the story of Gelert is true or not? It doesn’t matter, it’s the stuff of legend.