Enchanted Trees of Wales: 001
This is a series I began first on my Instagram feed,
and I thought it could do with expanding.
This poor soul is actually on publicly accessible land, and can be viewed at 51.934478 - -3.480461. The Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre is close by, and offers good views of Pen Y Ffan and locally sourced meals. Taken on my trusty Mamiya 7, Medium format film camera.
Sorcerers - any sorcerers and not just Welsh ones, were always of volatile temperament, and that they lasted well into the 20th century at all is a considerable achievement, as mechanisation and better knowledge of wart treatments and the declining interest in showers of frogs all hastened to remove their core business.
By 1922 there were only nine enchanters still active in Wales, down from over over 278 a century before. Natural wastage and the ever-popular 'being burned alive in a windmill by enraged villagers' incidents took their toll along with failing attendance at wizard's school, and 1955 there were only three. The last sorceress, Lady Davies of Clyro, died in 1976.
Perhaps it was their loss of relevance and difficult temperament that led to the all-too-frequent 'Human arborealisation' or just that it was easy to do and left little evidence, but between the years of 1680 when unreliable records began and 1972 when the last known person was turned into a tree, a suspected 765 people ended their days as a pretty addition to the Welsh countryside, or as an eye-pleasing focal point to an otherwise ordinary hedge.
Unusually, we have a precise time and date to this arborealisation: December 26th, 1904, at a little after midnight. The sorcerer in question, Morgan of Libanus, had something of a boastful nature and was heard extolling his powers to all and sundry down at the local pub the evening following the enchantment. Always highly territorial, the small area of land above Libanus within sight of the beautiful Brecon Beacons was an area that Morgan considered his and his alone.
For the most part the locals kept their distance, but an intrepid fellow by the name of Wynn-Thomas considered the closure of the land an affront and used to cross quite frequently while courting Daisy Watkins in nearby Wernfawr farmhouse. This enraged Morgan, who put up plenty of warning signs, telling all so-called trespassers that 'terrible things might happen' if he found anyone near his hovel.
On the night in question, Wynn-Thomas ventured across Morgan's land, wishing to show Miss Watkins his newly acquired 'Stereoscopic views of the Holy Land' and was spotted by Morgan's mastiff-sized guard-frog Horace, who croaked. A chase then took place, with Wynn-Thomas, easily the fastest, making a good escape as enchantments of this power do not work outside of a thirty foot radius. Sadly for Thomas, he was caught on the fence bordering the land, and with one leg over the boundary, bore the full brunt of Morgan's anger. To this day he can still be seen, caught in mid-stride as a pretty yet twisted silver birch.
Morgan shouldn't have blabbed in the pub the following evening, and the vindictiveness in which he changed Thomas while half way to safety was the tipping point that led to his downfall. With windmills now too expensive a way to dispose of errant sorcerers, he was instead found face down in the Nant Rheon brook two weeks later. Daisy Watkins was the likely suspect, as 'denied love' is a powerful shield against any sorcery, something she would have needed to overcome his powers. The police declined to investigate, nor the undertakers to remove his body, which was left to rot, the surrounding land failing to bloom in the springtime for six years afterwards.
Locals do not go to the spot even today, but badgers have decided to adopt it for their annual AGM, probably for that very same reason.
Truth or legend? A human vertebrae was found washed downstream in 1999 during Cardiff University's 'Welsh Witch Project' but it was not known if it was his. As a curious aside, fish eaten from the brook causes one's eyes to turn a sparkly green, but it is not permanent.
Original content for Jasperland, March 22nd 2020