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The River Daughters of Plynlimon

Concept art from Disney's Fantasia, 1940

Concept art from Disney's Fantasia, 1940

Folklore tells of the origins of many things around the British Isles, and rivers in particular seem to have captured the imagination of men throughout the ages. Believed to be magical places, they each had many names over the centuries, even personified and worshipped as nymphs or goddesses.

In this tale, I attempt to retell a story from Bill Gwilliam's account [1] of the origins of the rivers Severn, Wye, and Ystwyth. I have penned it in my own words, and have included references to alternative names recorded for these river-daughters by Geoffrey of Monmouth [2], and Henry Skrine [3].

There is far more lore, and many more stories associated with these rivers. I hope to share those with you another time.

"Water Nymphs" by Gaston Bussiere, 1927

"Water Nymphs" by Gaston Bussiere, 1927

The River Daughters

Plynlimon stretched his strong arms and gazed upon his beautiful daughters.

High on the plateau known as the Elenydd, in the hills of Wales, the mountain lord had watched over them from their beginnings in the mist and moss to the mighty rivers that they soon would be. All three of his daughters had grown so fair and strong, and the time had finally come for them to make their own ways in the world.

“Daughters, I have nurtured and raised you from the bogs and marshes, now each of you sparkles as a bubbling spring. You must now make your journeys towards the sea as you are come of age. How will you travel?”

Hasty Ystwyth danced forward to Plynlimon, eager to see the salty waters of the sea. Smallest of the sisters, she made up for it by being the most bold.

“Father, I shall travel to the west, for I desire to see the sea. Too long have I waited in the mountains, and now I yearn to hear the gulls cry.”

“Then go forth, daughter, and receive my blessing.”

Ystwyth smiled and laughed as she shimmered and danced her way through the lands of Wales, meeting the sea at the town that bears her name; Aberystwyth.

"Water Nymph" by Qlaz on Deviant Art

"Water Nymph" by Qlaz on Deviant Art

The second daughter rose and stepped forwards.

“Father, I wish to see the great cities of men that I have heard the skylarks sing of. I have only imagined what a tall spire or riverside town might look like, and I desire a closer look. I wish to wander into the flood meadows and see how mortals might live. I have not the haste of Ystwyth, but I wish to gather the waters to me so I might learn the wisdom of the lands.”

“Very well, Habren. You may go forth with my blessing.”

Habren smiled and slowly waded into her pool, before beginning her great journey to the sea. Not only would she dance through Wales, but onwards through England where they name her Severn. Through great cities and arable farmland she glides, meeting the sea at the Bristol Channel.

She was true to her word, and each year her curiosity brings woe to those that dare build their houses too close to the riverbank.

"Water Nymph" by AvantFae on Deviant Art

"Water Nymph" by AvantFae on Deviant Art

The third daughter stood in quiet contemplation as she watched her sisters go their separate ways, their routes leaving ribbons of silver across the landscape.

“And you, Vaga, where will your journey take you?”

The nymph stepped forward with quiet resolve and kissed her father’s cheek.

“Bold is Ystywyth, and hungry for knowledge is Habren. Beauty is what I seek. I shall travel south through the valleys and forests, and sing to all the creatures that I find on my way. The fish will find in my path a nursery, and a safe route for the salmon. I wish for my waters to bring pleasure and joy to all that know me.”

“Very well, Vaga. Go forth with my blessing.”

The daughter nodded gratefully and slowly sank into her pool. With a last look to the peaks of her father’s domain, her green eyes sparkled with the excitement of her adventures to come as she merged into the waters.

Plynlimon sighed as the last of his daughters began her great journey to the sea. Vaga the Wanderer would be known to men as the river Wye, and would soon meet her sister, Habren, at the Severn Estuary. Surely they would have much to talk about before they caught up with hasty Ystwyth.

The old mountain knew that this was no goodbye. For their journeys were to become an endless cycle as his daughters carried the waters to the sea. They were the rivers, and the rivers were them. And to him they would soon return, to begin their journeys again and again.


[1] Worcestershire's Hidden Past, Bill Gwilliam - ISBN 978-1899062058

[2] Historia Regum Britanniae, Geoffrey of Monmouth - ISBN 978-0140441703

[3] A General Account of all the Rivers of Note in Great Britain, Henry Skrine - ASIN - B009IRVA0A

© 2015 Pollyanna Jones

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