Saturday, September 17, 2016

Deganwy Hill

When I wrote my first book in the early 90's, I chose as my hero a historical king, Maelgwn the Great. Most of what we know about Maelgwn is from the writings of a 6th century monk named Gildas. His work is not really a history but a denouncement of the leaders of his era, particularly Maelgwn. Although Gildas refers to Maelgwn by the unforgettable epithet, o thou dragon of the island, he also calls him a "tyrant among tyrants" and recounts his numerous sins.
Being a romantic, I glossed over Gildas's accounting of Maelgwn's less than savory nature and used the dark age king's larger-than-life reputation to create a hero who was complex and enigmatic enough to be featured in two books (or four, if you count the two books I wrote about his sons).

At the time I wrote the first book, Dragon of the Island, there was no internet and I had to rely on what information I could glean from British history books, where there were vague mentions of Maelgwn here and there. I had also never been to Wales, and so I conjured the mountain fortress where Maelgwn takes his less-than-willing Roman-British princess bride, completely from my imagination.
Although it is was built some 800 years later, Dolweddylyn Castle in North Wales makes for a credible stand-in for Maelgwn's formidable stronghold. 
Deganwy seen from Conwy Castle across the bay.
By the time I wrote Dragon's Dream, I had uncovered more details about Maelgwn, including that his main fortress was at Deganwy Hill in North Wales. Over ten years after I first imagined Maelgwn and his world, I finally had a chance to visit Deganwy with my daughter. We arrived at sunset and climbed the steep hillside, annoying the sheep who grazed there and having an unpleasant encounter with nettles, which sting pretty fiercely.
 But the climb was more than worth it for the fabulous views.
You can see why Maelgwn chose Deganwy, as it surveys a huge swath of the North Wales coast. Important in a time when you are regularly being raided by the Scotti, also known as the Irish.
It was fascinating for me to visit the place that figured so largely in my fictional world. Although Deganwy Hill (and consequently, the fortress that Maelgwn built there 1500 years ago) is smaller than I imagined, I was not disappointed. The area is steeped in a mystical allure so compelling that even viewing it in bright sunlight, with a golf course and housing development nearby, it still retains its magic.
And Maelgwn himself still maintains a fierce hold on the Welsh imagination...and on my heart.
Near Dolweddylyn Castle, 2011


  1. Hello Mary.
    Thanks for another brilliant post about Wales. Scotland and Ireland have a big hold on my heart and soul but one day - maybe as soon as 2017 - I want to visit Wales. BTW, I just LOVED Dragon of the Island. ;) I'm a slow reader but I definitely want to read your other Dragon stories.
    Annie (aka Kelly Ann Scott)

    1. Thanks, Annie. Very gratifying to hear that my books bring pleasure. Cheers!

  2. Thank you SO much for sharing your lovely photos (and knowledge) with us!

  3. Excellent post with beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing, Mary. :)

  4. Love your photos, and how cool that you imagined it before you actually saw it. Research and reading are great tools for creating fictional worlds, and now we have Google Earth. Even for historical fiction, if you can picture the area without the airport, or the housing estate, chances are the river ran a similar course 500 years ago, and those same hills would have been there.

  5. Beautiful post, Mary. Loved seeing the inspiration behind your stories. Thanks for sharing them with us. :)