An approximately mile-long body of water in Clwyd, North Wales, Cynwch Lake is renowned for the story of its resident monster, a wyvern – a story that dates back centuries, although the precise date is admittedly unknown. Within ancient legend, the wyvern was very much a dragon-like animal, one to be avoided at all costs. Reptilian, and sporting large and membranous wings of a bat-like appearance, it stands on two powerful legs and has a powerful tail that it uses to sting and kill its prey, not unlike a scorpion. In some cases, and just like the dragon of old, the wyvern was said to occasionally breathe fire. All of which brings us to the monster of Cynwch Lake. For as long as anyone could remember, the lake and its surrounding landscape made for a peaceful and relaxing environment. But that all changed when the deadly wyvern decided to swoop down on the lake and make it its home. Tranquility, there was no more. The creature was undeniably monstrous. It was described by fear-filled locals as looking like a huge, coiling and writhing monster with a humped back and an undulating neck. On its back were two wings and its feet displayed razor-sharp claws of the kind that could tear a person to pieces. Its breath was reportedly poisonous and green. In no time, the Welsh wyvern began to eat its way through the local populations of sheep, cattle, and pigs. Terrified village folk stayed behind locked doors after the sun set, which was when the beast surfaced from the waters of the lake. The time came, however, when enough was enough.
A local warlock – known as the Wizard of Ganllwid – believed that he stood a good chance of slaying the deadly beast. As he knew, all previous attempts to kill the animal had failed – as a result of its noxious breath causing instant death to anyone and everyone exposed to it. So, the wizard had a brainwave: he decided to round up a team of archers who could shoot the wyvern from a distance. It was all to no avail. It was as if the beast had a sixth-sense about it, and whenever the bowmen were around the wyvern would stay steadfastly below the waters. Finally, there was a breakthrough, one which proved to be the turning point in the tumultuous affair. On one particular morning, a bright and sunny one, the wyvern left the waters of the lake and slithered its way onto the shore, where it proceeded to bask under a hot sun. As luck would have it, a young shepherd boy, named Meredydd, happened to be in the area and saw the beast, asleep, as he was directing his sheep to his father’s farm.
Fortunately, the monster was deep in its slumber – as was evidenced by its hideous, skin-crawling snoring, which was more like the hiss of a gigantic snake. Its body moved rhythmically, its strange form glistening like wet leather. Realizing that this was, quite possibly, the one time, more than any other, that the wyvern could be killed, Meredydd raced to nearby Cymmer Abbey and breathlessly told the monks of what he had just seen. He asked for a much revered axe that hung in the abbey, suggesting that if anything could kill the wyvern it was surely the axe, which allegedly possessed magical powers. The monks agreed and in mere minutes Meredydd was heading back to Cynwch Lake, for a battle to the death. But, of whose death, exactly, Meredydd was not so sure. Nevertheless, he was determined to do his very best to rid the area of the loathsome beast. Fortunately, as Meredydd got back to the spot where the monster slept, he could see that it had not moved. There was no time to lose. The young shepherd-boy used all his might to raise the axe over his head and then brought it down hard and fast on the neck of the sleeping monster. In a spilt second, head and neck were severed. The jaws of the severed head snapped wildly and widely, in a fashion to a headless chicken, while the neck thrashed around for a few moments before falling limp on the grass. The nightmare was over, no thanks to a powerful warlock, but all thanks to a young shepherd-hand.
Deep in the heart of North Wales there exists a large expanse of water called Lake Bala. You may say, well, there’s nothing particularly strange about that. You would be correct. Lake Bala is not out of the ordinary, in the slightest. But what is rumored to dwell in its dark depths most assuredly is out of the ordinary. It’s the domain of a violent lake monster called Teggie. Or, is the story born out of secret, military experiments? It all very much depends on who you ask and who you believe. Before we get to the matter of Teggie, it’s worth noting that within Lake Bala there lurks a creature called the Gwyniad. It can hardly be termed a monster, as it’s just a small fish. But there is one issue concerning the Gwyniad that does have a bearing upon the matter of Teggie. The Gwyniad is a fish that dates back to the prehistoric era and is found in Lake Bala and nowhere else – at all. This has, quite naturally, given rise to a thought-provoking question: what else of a prehistoric nature might be in Lake Bala? And how big might it grow? The questions are intriguing. The answers are even more so.
Whereas sightings of the Loch Ness Monster date back more than 1,500 years, Lake Bala’s resident unknown beast has only been reported for just over a century. Some locals, who claim to have seen the Teggies at close quarters, say the creatures resemble huge, violent, northern pike. They are ferocious fish that can easily grow to four feet in length; occasionally five; and, rumor has it, even six. If, however, the Teggies are northern pike, then they would have to be true giants, since witnesses claim that the creatures they encountered were in the order of ten to fifteen feet. No-one, surely, needs telling that a too close encounter with such a creature would result in a swift and bloody death – but not for a Teggie, though. Then there are the equally baffling reports of a reptilian monster that vaguely resembles a crocodile. Such a scenario is unlikely, as a colony of crocodiles would stand little chance of adapting to, and surviving, a harsh North Wales’ winter – never mind untold numbers of centuries of such winters. There is, however, a third theory for what the Teggies might be. It’s just as strange and controversial as the crocodile and northern pike scenarios, but in a very different fashion.
There are longstanding rumors in and around the Bala area that in the build-up to the First World War, the British Royal Navy clandestinely let loose a group of seals into the lake. The reason: to strap them with dynamite and train them to attacks specific targets, namely warships. It should be noted that the dynamite was not real and the “warships” were just small rowing boats. In other words, the project was a test-run, in the event that the Royal Navy might find itself at war with Germany (which it did in 1914, when the First World War broke out), and suicidal seals, strapped with explosives, might be required to fight for their country. So the story goes, the seals proved impossible to train, and the project was abandoned. And, so today, what people are seeing today are brief glimpses of the original seals that bred and bred and so on. Of course, it’s very possible this is nothing more than a tall tale, passed on through the generations and without any actual facts to support it. And, it must be said, it would be very difficult to mistake a seal for a crocodile or a huge, violent pike. Thus, the legend of Teggie continues to thrive. In her 1909 book, Folk and Folk Stories of Wales, folklorist Marie Trevelyan told a fascinating story of a strange creature said to haunt a particular portion of Wales. She said, of the story provided to her more than a century ago by a then-elderly, local woman: “The woods around Penllin Castle, Glamorgan, had the reputation of being frequented by winged serpents, and these were the terror of old and young alike. An aged inhabitant of Penllyne, who died a few years ago, said that in his boyhood the winged serpents were described as very beautiful.
“They were coiled when in repose, and ‘looked as if they were covered with jewels of all sorts. Some of them had crests sparkling with all the colors of the rainbow.’ When disturbed they glided swiftly, ‘sparkling all over,’ to their hiding places. When angry, they ‘flew over people’s heads, with outspread wings, bright, and sometimes with eyes too, like the feathers in a peacock’s tail.’ He said it was ‘no old story invented to frighten children,’ but a real fact. His father and uncle had killed some of them, for they were as bad as foxes for poultry. The old man attributed the extinction of the winged serpents to the fact that they were ‘errors in the farmyards and coverts.’” A similar story, also provided to Trevelyan, and also from the same area, states: “An old woman, whose parents in her early childhood took her to visit Penmark Place, Glamorgan, said she often heard the people talking about the ravages of the winged serpents in that neighbourhood. She described them in the same way as the man of Penllyne.
"There was a ‘king and queen’ of winged serpents, she said, in the woods round Bewper. The old people in her early days said that wherever winged serpents were to be seen ‘there was sure to be buried money or something of value’ near at hand. Her grandfather told her of an encounter with a winged serpent in the woods near Porthkerry Park, not far from Penmark. He and his brother ‘made up their minds to catch one, and watched a whole day for the serpent to rise. Then they shot at it, and the creature fell wounded, only to rise and attack my uncle, beating him about the head with its wings.’ She said a fierce fight ensured between the men and the serpent, which was at last killed. She had seen its skin and feathers, but after the grandfather’s death they were thrown away. That serpent was as notorious ‘as any fox’ in the farmyards and coverts around Penmark.”
And, finally: Rhayader is the oldest town in mid-Wales. Its origins date back more than 5,000 years, and specifically to Neolithic times. Rhayader’s long legacy is also evidenced by the fact that, in 1899, a large collection of gold jewelry was found buried on the town’s Gwastedyn Hill. Archaeologists were able to date the priceless artifacts to the 5th century and link them to a princess named Rowena. She was the daughter of a local, powerful, warlord, Hengest, and someone who married a much-feared character known as High King Vortigen. Neither Hengest nor Vortigen were able to instill as much fear in the people of Rhayader as did a deadly and mysterious beast that surfaced in 1988. It was between September and December 1988 that the town was hit by a spate of mysterious deaths. Not, thankfully, of people, but of sheep. Although several farms were targeted by the stealthy predator – and always under cover of darkness – it was the Bodalog Farm, owned by the Pugh family that suffered most of all. Over the course of several weeks, they lost close to forty sheep to the deadly intruder. Oddest of all: the sheep were not eaten, whether in whole or in part. The only evidence of the attacks were deep, penetrating bites to the sternum.
That was when the conspiracy theories began to take hold. There were claims of a local police cover-up. The stories grew and grew, amid claims that “Men in Black”-style characters from “the government” were roaming around town, doing their utmost to silence those with knowledge of the attacks. Supposedly, there was good reason why the MIB wanted to stifle all the talk of the deaths: the sheep had been drained of blood, vampire-style. Inevitably, and despite the best efforts of the MIB, the British media soon latched onto the story and it made the headlines across some of the nation’s major, daily newspapers. As the death rate increased, so did the wild rumors: there was talk of a large, black cat in the area – such as a black leopard. Of course, such animals are not native to the United Kingdom, something which only added to the mystery. Plus, no one actually saw the big cat, if that is really what it was. It was simply a theory – but, undeniably, one that provoked a great deal of food for thought in the town’s pubs on weekend nights. With concern growing, a decision was taken to use foxhounds to try and chase the monster of the early hours. And this is when things became decidedly intriguing – and sinister, too.
The dogs soon picked up on the scene – their wild behavior made that very clear. They picked up on something else, too; something that had previously been overlooked. In certain parts of the fields where the sheep had been killed, corridors of flattened ground were uncovered. They gave every indication of something not walking along the fields, but slithering along them. In mere moments, all the talk of big cats was gone. In their place were giant snakes. On top of that, and as the dogs continued to chase down the scent, they were led to the banks of the 134-mile-long River Wye, the fifth longest river in the UK. The conclusion was all but inevitable: some form of large, unknown water beast was – undercover of the night – surfacing out of the depths of the river, stealthily crossing the fields, and feeding on the blood of the unfortunate sheep. But what could the creature have been? Certainly, there are no large snakes roaming around the UK. Yet, the flattened areas of field suggested a beast somewhere around twelve-to-fifteen feet long had indeed been slithering around. Richard Freeman, of the England-based Center for Fortean Zoology, took a lot of interest in the case when it surfaced. He said of the snake theory: “Britain’s only venomous snake, the adder, Vipera berus, is far too small to have killed the sheep. This case begs many odd questions: why would an animal go to all the trouble of wasting venom and energy killing so many sheep, then not eat any? If it was a large, exotic, venomous snake that had escaped from captivity, how did it cope with October in Wales?”
Freeman’s question was – and still is – an important one, as snakes require warm climates in which to survive and thrive. There is nothing warm about mid-Wales in October! Perhaps aware that it was being hunted down, the creature ceased its violent killing spree in early December 1988, and Rhayader finally returned to normality and there were collective sighs of relief all around town. Decades later, the mystery of what that water-borne monstrosity was remains precisely that: a mystery. There is, however, one last thing to muse upon: in 1912, Ella Leather penned a book titled The Folk-Lore of Hertfordshire. It told of how, centuries ago, people local to the River Wye believed that the river was home to something terrifying that required a human sacrifice once a year, as a form of appeasement and to ensure that the beast did not launch an all-out, murderous rampage around the area. Based on what happened in Rhayader in 1988, perhaps the old legends had a basis in terrifying, savage fact. Indeed, there are monsters in Wales!