The English call it Snowdon, because it’s capped with snow for much of the year.
But the Welsh call it Yr Wyddfa. Because, well, read on…
Rhitta Gawr was the strongest and most violent of all the giants of ancient times. In those days there were many kings ruling different parts of this island, all fighting for supremacy against each other, and defending their lands from the raids of the giants who attacked from their mountain caves.
Rhitta wanted more than to steal the occasional sheep or cow. He was fed up of the pesky humans who called themselves kings. He was stronger, braver, and definitely bigger than any of them – despite their crowns and fancy royal cloaks – and wanted to rule.
He started by attacking Nynio and Peibio, two kings whose kingdoms were weakened after years of war. An army of giants, bandits and vile creatures was gathered from the grimiest, darkest crevasses of the mountains, and they easily overthrew Nynio and Peibio’s feeble armies. Rhitta shaved off the beaten kings’ beards, the symbol of their strength and manliness, and wove them onto his cloak as proof of his victory.
The other kings of Prydain, twenty eight of them, gathered together and decided to attack Rhitta together, to be rid of this vile upstart giant. But despite their united armies, after a bloody and vicious struggle Rhitta came out victorious. Twenty-eight beards were added to his cloak, and he declared himself the King of All Prydain.
More kings came from foreign lands, determined to beat this giant-king, but each one was pummelled aside – defeated and beardless… or dead and beardless.
Rhitta’s beard-coat was now thick and heavy with the evidence of his violence and power. A hundred beards and more, woven together and stained red from countless battles. But there was one missing.
Because there was one king left in Prydain.
The holder of Caledfwlch.
A messenger was sent to the court of king Arthur – commanding him to shave off his beard and send it to Rhitta to complete his cloak, without delay. A refusal would mean that Rhitta would be obliged to rip it off himself.
Arthur was enraged at Rhitta’s arrogance, and immediately set out with his men to Rhitta’s fortress, high in the mountains of Gwynedd.
King and Giant met at dawn on the highest peak of the highest mountain, a chill winter wind swirling about them. But the battle was red-hot. Fierce and vicious – swords were shattered, armour buckled, shields torn. Fists, feet, teeth, bones.
Both were wounded, eyes darkened with sweat and blood, when Arthur found one last ounce of strength and determination, raised his mighty sword Caledfwlch, and brought it down hard and deep into Rhitta’s skull. The reign of fear and violence was over, and Rhitta’s followers slunk back to their dark places.
Arthur and his men piled rocks onto the fallen giant – cloak and all – and as the snow began to settle on the bare mountain, silently started on their journey home.
The place was named Gwyddfa Rhitta, “Rhitta’s Tomb”, which over time became Yr Wyddfa. An ancient name, hiding an ancient and violent secret.
Many more famous giants of Welsh myth have their names recorded in the landscape – Cribwr, Rhondda, Rhymni, Idris to name just a few – can you find their names on a map?