Carmarthen, and the people of Myrddin’s City

window scene

This is the story of meetings made while walking last year, on the oath to Saint Davids (Dewi Sant).

It takes place while Ed and Will were accompanied by Rose, and sees them arrive in Carmarthen, or Caerfyrddin, the City of Merlin.

It tells of Merlin and his Oak, of throwing axes, of Carmarthen Police Force, and of the most beautiful music we’ve ever witnessed in a pub folk-session.


And it has interesting recordings too. So please press ‘more’, and read on…

We were tired, as the day was already long. The night before’s sleep had been wet, and thorny, in an unkempt copse. Today Ed had a knee problem, causing him pain and worry, which he deemed the fruit of soul troubles.

Carmarthen Shire

unsettled skies

So we headed for the City of Carmarthen, source  of the famous black book of Cymraig myths, home of the historic Merlin, and hopefully a good place for rest and strengthening.

tired Ed

yawn and sneeze?

As soon as our feet touched the concrete pathways of the city outskirts, the rain, in warm lumps, began to fall.

beware alien attacks on freight

ufos zapping trucks

As well as too wet, it was also too late  for busking, for the shops were starting to close, and the centre almost deserted. We took shelter at the friendliest inn we could find, and consulted our possibilities (we checked emails).

We soon discovered the invitation, kindly sent 3 months before, for us to join a small group of musicians, on any monday night, in a particular Carmarthen pub. Checking the calendar (for the weeks pass like clouds), we discovered that today was monday. We would make the meeting, and hopefully find some soul relief for Ed’s troubled patella.

But not wanting to spend the next 5 hours in the pub, we stepped out into the now gentle rain, and rejoiced as clouds cleared abruptly into strong new sunshine.

Sitting in a small park, we decided to benefit from this sun, and so we spread our damp sleeping bags and clothes over the bushes.

A policeman approached. He stepped up to Will, and asked: “So what do you lot think you’re doing?” He was using the words of authority, but with no aggression behind them, to see how well we would meet this challenge. He was guaging our reactions, and sounding our intent.

Such challenges we have met many times, and we know now that they are only tests to see if we will become angry, and seal our own unwelcome. Knowing this, but nonetheless slightly flustered, Will replied: “Well, we’ve walked here from Canterbury, and we’re just drying our kit a little bit. We’re travelling singers, you see, ans we collect traditional songs from people, to learn and perform back in the community. We’re not setting up a camp or anything, we promise. We’ll be off in an hour or two.”

“From Canterbury, eh? Singing old songs?” He may have been trying to sound credulous, but their wistfulness in his eyes was clear, as he muttered: “Men after my own heart”, and half-smiling, strolled slowly away.

departing after rest

trustworthy types

The second park meeting came a half hour later, as we were re-packing our now dry kit back into the nooks of our backpacks.

A young-looking man, with sunglasses and a bandana, had been hanging around on the other side of the park for some time, and as he slowly approached in a familiar looping trajectory (closer, but seeming further; curious, but cautious), we called greetings loudly. He seemed relieved, and came over, to release the questions he held.

His name was Cash, and as he removed his shades, we saw he was older than we imagined. We guessed his roots were from Bangladesh, which he confirmed. He set to gripping the details of our situation (“You’ve been walking for 6 months? And you’ve got no place to stay? No place to wash and eat?”), and then had a flash of inspiration (the kind we love), as he announced: “Why don’t you use my place? I’ve only just moved in, but the shower was plumbed yesterday, and you’d be welcome.”

So we walked to his flat, and took turns in the new shower. It is a sweet relief to wash the road from your body, with hot water, after a long day.

Cash asked Ed about his knee problem, and questioned its link to earlier foot pains, before massaging his leg for a half-hour, which Ed professed helped greatly.

And then we made dinner for us all, a huge salad, which Cash found to be an amazing revelation. “How do you do this? You have a gift…”

We told him our plans for the pub, and music that evening, and he asked for a song before we went. We sung. He nodded, happy. “But guys”, he asked slowly, calculatingly, “do you do any reggae?”

How could we say no? Tthree little birds, and chatty chatty mouth, with all joining in, made the whole flat rang. He was right, we thought. Traditional Folk, sometimes, is just not quite it.

Then it was farewell to our new friend Cash (although we were to meet him 3 months later, as we attempted to bicycle back from St Davids back to Canterbury).

And onward, to the pub, at the promised time, to make the next meeting, we went.

We won’t tell you which monday night pub is the one. If you’re in Carmarthen, listen out, and find it yourself. The gang who meet here go by the name of Elin and the Tribalites, and they involve one beautiful young girl on the harp, a tough lad on watchful violin, an older chap on epic complex guitar, and a fellow called Simon, playing sundry homemade stringed things, and singing.

And singing. With power we hear rarely in the ‘best’ of the professional performers. The second song they played together, about a local river, had us gasping for breath with the sheer beauty of it. Their music was awesome, huge and sweet and devestating. Small weeping seemed perhaps inapporpriate, but it was necessary to cope with the music.

We were overwhelmed as they ended their song, to the applause of 3 or 4 listeners. Ah, there is the quiet majesty of folk music, the unbelievable sublime heights, in the quiet backroom of a pub with no-one listening. We were lucky to be there.

At first, we had no songs to return, but we soon told a ‘Rolling in the Dew’, with Will as the girl character. They laughed, appreciating the comedy, and soon enough it was time to close.

“You’ll be coming back to the farm with us all, won’t you?” Simon asked. We would.

will and throwing ax target

will and the ax target

And here we stayed for 2 more days. Simon taught us to throw the doubled-edged axe, and a solid war-cry to guide our efforts. He showed us his chainsaw carvings, which astounded us.

horse and pals

garra goyle

trust this man?

And the cherry of all was the carving of Merlin, from an oak which was said to be related to the now-fallen famous ‘Merlin’s Oak’.

gang of 4

Merlin’s Oak was the most famous of all Carmarthshire trees, and a prophesy protected it: “When Merlin’s Tree shall tumble down, Then shall fall Carmarthen Town”. It was indeed pulled down by an impatient council, at the turn of the 20th Century, and the year it went, Carmarthen, tallying with the 6th Centruy prophecies, suffered the worst floods it has ever known. So there you go.


But now Merlin in the Oak is returning. A shopping centre in Carmarthen has agreed to buy the statue, and display it proudly from the front of their roof, where Merlin can once more look out over his city, a good thing we feel. For whether or not you care a jot for the historical figure of Merlin (a well documented personage), or think there is anything in his written prophesies, you must know how important it is for a town or community to have its own story. This is not an isolation thing, to close doors to other people, but a handle, by which a community can identify itself, a secure context from which to welcome the world in.

While staying with Simon, we visited the town centre and made sure we sung for the wandering shoppers. This was the second time in town we caught police attention. Two PC SOs (support officers, unpaid volunteer uniformed people), saw us singing, and came over to cause trouble.

They started to tell us the law, and we held up a hand, while we finished the last verses of the song. You cannot stop mid-song, it would be bad DJing. This aggrivated the PCSOs, but it gave us the support we needed, as watching coffee drinkers applauded massively at the end, far more than they had done before the coppers turned up.

A little surprised at such a warm reaction from the seemingly indifferent crowds, the police people looked around again, a little more unsure now.

“Listen up, you need a license to sing here, and I bet you’ve not got one, right?”

“That’s right officer, we’re just passing through.” we informed him in politest gentlest fashion.

As this exchange was going on, a number of people got up, and came over to throw money in our now heavier hat. “Nice one lads” said one; “Best thing i’ve heard in hours” said another. “You’d better keep singing” said an elderly lady, looking firmly at the young police peoples as she spoke, “I like songs with my tea, and i’ve not heard enough yet.”

The police chap sighed, confused perhaps, but unwilling to cause a scene for no good reason. “Well, we’ll be back in an hour. You’d better be finished by then, ok?”

“As you say.” we nodded, “we’ll just sing a few more and get moving, shall we?”

“Right then.” And they left. Looking back quickly as if there were something more to say, but thinking better, the policeman disappeared up the street, looking for more illegals to hassle.

So on we sung, and good fun it was too.

We’ve no problem with police doing their job. It seems to us, however, that things like industrial pollution, dangerous driving, abuse and violence, racism and theft, should present a more pressing concern than a little unauthorized singing.

Anyway, that was that. We recommend Carmarthen as a place to visit. There are many good people to be sought. Be nice to the buskers there, you’ll have more influence on their day than you can know.

And look out for Elin and the Tribalites, and of course for Merlin in the Oak of Carmarthen.

Lastly, please enjoy these recordings made of Simon, singing his own songs, in his home. They are the proverbial marmite: certainly good for you, but something you’ll either love or not like. The instrument Simon plays is the creation of his own hands. The singing/playing style is, likewise, idiosyncratically his.

Ride of Green

Come Along

simon on handmade strument

Thankyou Simon, and Carmarthen, and Myrddin Emrys too.

2 day chainsaw carving wizard

wizard carved the day we left,with Ed as handmodel

carving comp wizard shield

chain-sawn protection

We leave you with poems of Myrdin, ‘the fosterer of song among the streams’. c.573ad

He speaks of the fall of Celtia, the driving out of their traditions by the Saxons and the Roman church. He draws our distracted attention away from human concerns for power and wealth and directs our sight towards nature’s bounty.

Myrdin was said to be receptive to the new ideas of christianity when they first came to Britain, and for a time the Celtic circle and the teachings of Christ stood side by side in mutual understanding. It was when the Saxon church started to persecute those who did not adhere to the Roman doctrine and the church’s authority that trouble started, and the end of Myrdin’s time drew near. He is said to have ended his life at that time  in the wilds, lamenting a broken circlet of beauty as the poets are shunned and a new order is established in Britain, which he calls ‘the enemy of the city of the Bards’.

Listen, O little pig! Is not the mountain green?

Listen, O little pig! Are not the buds of thorns

Very green, the mountain beautiful, and beautiful the earth?

Listen to birds whose notes are pleasant.

Listen, O little pig! Hear thou the melody

And chirping of birds by Caer Reon!

Listen, O little pig! thou little, speckled one!

List to the voice of sea-birds! Great is their energy!

Minstrels will be out, without their appropriate portion;

Though they stand at the door a reward will not come,

I was told by a seagull that had come from afar.

To me it is of no purpose

To hear the voice of water-birds whose scream is tumultuous.

Thin is the hair of my head; my covering is not warm.

The dales are my barn; my corn is not plenteous.

One Response to “Carmarthen, and the people of Myrddin’s City”

  1. Geoff Hanham says:

    Super page (as always). Loved the ‘Merlin’. Local folk Song (groups). Yes! I have had the same experience in village pubs. One in Denholm (Fox and Hounds) about ten years ago (new management now). Some of the best real ale I have encountered – beautifully ‘kept’ and with the odd ‘amateur’folk group /singer drifting in and out at random – some heartaching lovely (I’m thinking in particular of a lovely Irish gael singer who was simply magical). One sad thing re a column on page: Despite my (apparently) Saxon Surname (It is not), as an old Somerset/Dorset Celt (quite a lot of us stayed put!) I do get sad/angry at the sins of the b….y NORMANS always being dumped on the Saxons – who have had rather a horrid time of it over the years since 1066, and as for the Roman/Saxon Church, you have dear old (Celtic) Bishop Coleman (of ‘I really don’t mind giving up my (Druid) tonsure ‘ for that – oh well, but why is there still so much anger around? Would have thought that our joint and several collective ‘volk’ have all collectively suffered enough from the ruling elite by now! Looking forward to CD arriving, all the very best!
    Geoff & Gill

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