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10 Place Names in North Wales and What They Mean

For visitors to North Wales, the place names may look like jumbles of letters which are impossible to pronounce! But like all words, these place names have meanings, and they often tell a fascinating story about the history of the town or village. Here are some of the most interesting.

1. Beddgelert 

Many people believe this name refers to the legend of Llywelyn the Great’s dog Gelert. Llywelyn returned home to find his infant son’s cradle upturned and blood everywhere. Mistakenly believing Gelert had killed his son, Llywelyn killed the dog. But then he found the baby still alive beneath the cradle, along with the body of a wolf which Gelert had killed to protect the child. Llywelyn buried the dog, and in Beddgelert, there is a gravestone claiming to be Gelert’s.

Unfortunately, the village’s association with Gelert is nothing more than legend. The name actually means ‘Celert’s grave’ – Celert was a saint associated with the area. The ‘grave’ was placed there in the eighteenth century by the landlord of a local hotel who wanted to attract tourists.

2. Eryri 

This is the Welsh name for the Snowdonia national park. The name was once thought to originate from the word ‘eryr’, which means ‘eagle’. Eryri would therefore have meant ‘land of eagles’. However, this is now known to be false. Scholars have since proven that the word means Highlands, and originates from a Latin verb – ‘oriri’, which means ‘to rise’.

3. Rhuthun 

The name Rhuthun (Ruthin in English) comes from the words ‘rhudd’ and ‘din’, meaning ‘red fort’. This refers to the red bedrock in the area. The rock is sandstone, and was used to build the castle at Rhuthun in the 13th century.

When it was first built, the castle was called Castell Coch yng Ngwern-For. This translates to Red Castle in the Sea Swamps. It was later renamed simply Castell Rhuthun, or Ruthin Castle.

4. Llandudno 

Llandudno is named after the saint Tudno – it means ‘Tudno’s Church’. Tudno is a notable figure because he was said to be a son of King Seithenyn. According to legend, Seithenyn was the king of a realm called Cantre’r Gwaelod, but he failed to guard its flood defences and so the kingdom was submerged by the waves. Legend says that the bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod can still be heard ringing beneath the surface of the water.

Tudno is said to have studied at a monastery, trying to make amends for his father’s foolishness. He then went to live in a cave along the coast, and eventually founded a church nearby in the sixth century. This gave Llandudno its name.

5. Castell Dinas Bran 

Modern Welsh speakers would translate ‘Dinas Bran’ as ‘the city of crows’, but its origin is likely to be more complicated. Dinas Bran is a castle near the town of Llangollen, and ‘dinas’ used to mean ‘fortress’ rather than ‘city’. Bran does still mean ‘crows’, and The Fortress of Crows sounds appealingly Gothic! But some theorise that Bran is actually a name. Legends tell of a King Bran who built the fortress in an attempt to defend against a giant, but he failed and was forced to flee. And others say the castle was named after a nearby stream called Bran. Regardless, the name Crow Castle has been used in English for at least two hundred years.

Whatever the true origin of their names, the one thing these five places have in common is that they’re well worth a visit – so be sure to include them on the itinerary for your trip to North Wales!

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