Under the shadow of Pen y Fan, south Wales’ highest peak, lies the solitary lake of Llyn Cwm Llwch. Today, it’s the haunt of ramblers, but in centuries past, it was believed to hold the key to the fairy kingdom.
Legends tell us that in the middle of the dark waters sat an invisible island, ruled by a beneficent fairy queen. Once a year – on May Day – the queen would allow human visitors on to her island. As the first rays of sun warmed the verdant valley, a door would magically appear in one of the rocks that stood by the lakeside. If you dared step across its enchanted threshold, you would be welcomed by the queen’s beautiful handmaidens. Every May, local folk traveled to join the Beltane feast on Llyn Cwm Llwch Island, gorging themselves on luscious fruit and letting elfin wine drown their winter blues.
The queen had one more gift for her visitors. After the humans had drunk, danced and cavorted to their heart’s content, she would gaze into the web of time and reveal what the next year would bring. They would learn which crops would prosper and which would fail; see what threats neighbouring kingdoms would pose and how their enemies would be vanquished. Some would even be told where they could find love.
There was one simple proviso. No human visitor was allowed to take any of the island’s bountiful produce back through the door.
The deal was kept for hundreds of years. Then, one fateful May Day, a newcomer joined the festivities. He had travelled from across the border with the aim to smuggle a fairy apple back to the mainland. He would plant the pips to create an orchard, making his fortune from the fruit the trees would bear.
As the sun began to wane in the sky, he slipped the fruit into his jacket and made for the door, unaware that the queen already knew of his deceit. Her revenge was swift. As soon as he stepped back into the human realm, she appeared before him and demanded that he empty his pockets. Terrified, he obeyed, only to find the apple rotten and infested with bloated maggots. As he fell to his knees, the queen shattered his mind, driving him mad. In a fury, she expelled her human guests and slammed the door shut.
As the thwarted thief wailed balefully in the moonlight, the door faded from view and was never seen again. Without the queen’s annual predictions, the local villagers were ruined. The crops failed and the region fell to invaders. And all for one apple.
While the door at Llyn Cwm Llwch has remained resolutely shut, there are said to be plenty of other fairy isles scattered across Great Britain. The Green Meadows of Enchantment are believed to lie in the Bristol Channel, somewhere between Somerset and Pembrokeshire. In the 19th century, many a sailor returned to port boasting that he had weighed anchor on the Green Meadows and made merry with the elfin women. Strangely, no one could ever find it on a map. Easier to locate, however, is Le Creuz des Fees – or fairy hollow – within the Houmet peninsula on Guernsey. This granite cavern, said to be an entrance to the otherworld, can only ever be approached at low tide.
Sometimes the fairies can only be found beneath the waves. The depths of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland are said to hide a fairy citadel, once the stronghold of the fairies in the days they when walked the Earth as gods. Smugglers often stored their booty on the islands of Neagh but would make sure they left behind a drink for the little people. In return, the fairies would ensure that pursuing customs men would lose their way in heavy mists. As you can see, it always pays to keep on the right side of fairy folk.