The red dragon has played such an important part in Welsh folklore that it enjoys pride of place on the country’s flag. But why are Welsh identity and the idea of the dragon so inextricably linked? Did these creatures once roam the Welsh hills, breathing fire and occasionally breaking out into a chorus of “Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers)” as they went?
If you’re not sure what to do in Cardiff, why not dig a little deeper into this intriguing historical link to see what you can find? With plenty of breathtaking landscapes to explore and local specialities to eat and drink along the way, this trip of learning and discovery will be one to remember.
The first recorded use of the Welsh Dragon as a symbol of the country of Wales was in AD 829, when reference to the Welsh Dragon was made in the Historia Brittonum. However, it’s thought that the Welsh kings of Aberffraw first adopted the dragon in the early fifth century AD, to symbolise their power and authority after the Romans withdrew from Britain. Some years later, around the seventh century, it became known as the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr.
The red dragon is also firmly embedded in Welsh folklore. One legend goes that the dragon was the battle standard of King Arthur and other ancient Celtic leaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries.
Another fascinating story tells that the red dragon fought with an invading white dragon, but their shrieks became so loud that animals perished and plants became barren. So, the king of the time decided to dig a pit in the centre of Britain, fill it with mead and cover it with cloth. The dragons then drank the mead and fell into the pit, and they were imprisoned by the king in Dinas Emrys, in Snowdonia, still wrapped in the cloth.
Some years later, King Vortigern tried to build a castle in Dinas Emrys. Inexplicably, every night the castle walls and foundations fell down. King Vortigern’s advisers explained to him that a blood sacrifice was needed to stop the castle falling down, and the sacrifice had to be that of a fatherless boy. Vortigern’s men came back with such a boy, named Merlin.
Just as Merlin (the famous wise wizard) was about to get the chop, he said he knew the real reason the castle was falling down. He explained that there was a deep pit beneath the ground where two dragons lived, and every night they would fight, and it was this struggle that brought the castle walls down.
What a load of bunkum, right? Well, in 1945 Dinas Emrys was excavated by archaeologists who not only found an unexplained deep pool, but also the ruins of a fortress dating back to Vortigern’s time. More eerily still, the fortress walls showed signs of being rebuilt several times.
So, is the Welsh Dragon real? That’s for you to decide.
The dragon is a beast that has its teeth and claws firmly entwined in our psyche, so it’s hardly surprising that there have been a couple of supposed dragon sightings in the UK. There have, in fact, been two accounts of dragon sightings in Wales in recent years, although neither of these has been taken seriously by academics or naturalists.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay within a few miles of Dinas Emrys, there are plenty of lovely B&Bs and small, independent hotels in the area, most of which benefit from breathtaking views of the surrounding Welsh countryside.
As you’d expect, there are also lots of excellent hotels in Cardiff if you prefer to base your dragon-hunting trip in the Welsh capital. This includes a number of reasonably priced 4-star and 5-star options located within easy reach of the city’s main attractions.
Travelling to the Welsh capital is easy with a number of cheap flights to Cardiff from cities in the UK and across Europe. Alternatively, you could take the train and arrive in Cardiff Central Station, right in the heart of the city.
If you’re basing your dragon hunting in the capital then, car hire in Cardiff is likely to be the most convenient way to travel from Cardiff to the north-west of the country where the dragons are most likely to be hiding.