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08 August, 2008

The afanc: a Welsh Loch Ness Monster?

Welsh mythology is surprisingly rich in tales of a paranormal nature. One such legend is that of the afanc, a demonic and murderous lake monster often referred to as the Welsh Loch Ness Monster. The appearance of the afanc varies from one story to another. It has been described as a dwarf, a crocodile, or a giant beaver. All versions of the story describe the afanc as a demonic entity which devoured anyone who entered its territory. Various locations have been cited as the beast's home, but most popularly, it was said to live in the waters of Llyn-yr-Afanc (the Afanc Pool), which was located on the River Conwy, near Betws-y-Coed, in North Wales. In addition to his habit of eating humans, the afanc was also said to break river banks when enraged, causing flooding of nearby settlements.

There are many versions of how the afanc was finally vanquished. Iolo Morgannwg (March 10, 1747 – December 18, 1826), the famous Welsh bard and literary hoaxer, invented his own version of the monster's demise. He claimed that the afanc was dragged from the lake by two powerful oxen, allowing it to be slaughtered. An earlier version of the legend insists that King Arthur slayed the beast. A rock situated near the lake, has a hoof print carved into its surface, accompanied by the words the words Carn March Arthur, which is Welsh for "stone of Arthur's horse". This version of the legend says that Arthur's horse caused the hoof imprint when it dragged the afanc from the lake's depths.

But arguably the best-known take on the legend claimed that a fair maiden entranced and tamed the afanc, luring it into a trap. Despite many attempts to kill it, no man-made weapon had been able to penetrate the afanc's tough old hide. The elders of the young maiden's valley decided if the afanc couldn't be killed, then it had to be taken away and confined where it could do no more harm. They decided to banish him to a remote lake near the summit of Wales's highest mountain, Snowdon.

The monster hunters commissioned the best blacksmith in the whole of Wales to forge iron chains strong enough to safely and effectively restrain the beast. They then called upon a man called Hu Gardan to assist them. He owned the most powerful oxen in Wales, which they hoped would be strong enough to haul the creature to its new home. But they came up with the craftiest part of their plan, when they plotted a way to lure the afanc from its lake and capture it.

The valley men knew that the afanc had a great liking for pretty young girls. To their delight, a local farmer's daughter, who was both beautiful and brave, offered to help them by luring the beast from its watery home. The girl's father, along with the rest of the local men, concealed themselves in bushes close to the lake. The maiden called out enticingly to the beast. Soon, the waters of the lake were roiling and heaving, as the huge and hideous creature emerged from hiding. Bravely, the frightened girl faced the beast, looked straight into his eyes and entranced him by singing a Welsh lullaby. The mesmerized afanc shuffled out of the lake, towards the girl. Under the spell of her lullaby, the monster sank to the ground by her feet, and promptly fell asleep.

As the afanc slept, the men came out of hiding, and quickly bound the afanc with their iron chains. Some versions of the legend say that the young girl was crushed to death by the afanc, as it sought to fight off its captors. Other versions have her escaping unscathed.

The afanc woke from his slumber. Upon realizing he had been duped, the afanc let out an almighty roar of rage, and retreated back to the lake. Unfortunately for him, his would-be captors had already attached the long, iron chains to the powerful oxen. With the oxen and all the men hauling on the chains, the beast was slowly but surely hauled back out of the lake. One of the oxen is said to have strained so hard, that one of its eyes popped out. When they finally got the afanc to his new home, he was enraged to discover that he couldn't escape the new lake, due to its high, stone banks. The powerless afanc is still said to be trapped there.

Although the afanc story is pure myth, I can't help wondering what inspired the tale. Was it simply born of literary creativeness? Did local people misidentify an ordinary, everyday creature and turn it into a monster for posterity? Or did a sighting of a real cryptid inspire the myth? Sadly, we'll never know for certain, but it's a delightful tale, and a great insight into early story-telling traditions in Wales, whether a real paranormal event was at its heart or not.

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