Where better to start than the hauntingly beautiful Caerphilly Castle with its ghostly Green Lady? Built by the Norman lord Gilbert de Clare around 1268, water and stone united to create the ultimate defence against attack by the Welsh Prince Llewellyn. Imprisoned within these concentric rings of stone and acres of water is the Green Lady. Legend has it she is Gilbert’s wife, Alice of Angouleme, who fell in love with a Welsh knight. She died of a broken heart after Gilbert executed her lover. Waiting for his return she roams the castle under cover of darkness.
The military might of Caerphilly’s medieval fortress, with its siege engines and weaponry, stands in contrast to Cyfarthfa Castle, the most impressive monument of the industrial age in the Valleys. Commissioned in 1824 by the ironmaster William Crawshay II, his grandly castellated mansion overlooked his immensely successful Ironworks. Inside are wonderful decorative art collections and curiosities from around the world.
Amongst the portraits hanging on the Castle’s walls is one of Lady Charlotte Guest. She was the wife of another Merthyr ironmaster, Josiah Guest, and her husband’s ironworks were the largest in the world. We have her to thank for translating into the English language Wales’ best known collection of Welsh folk tales - the Mabinogion. These medieval stories speak of legendary figures from the Welsh royal families and are full of magical white horses, giants, heroes and beautiful and clever women - just like Charlotte. Because of her work translating the Mabinogion into English, and for promoting Welsh language and culture, she became one of the most influential figures of 19th century cultural history in Wales.
Modern mythical creatures
‘Sultan’, is a modern mythical creation, a gigantic horse, hewn out of 60 tonnes of coal shale on the former Penallta Colliery coal tip. Reputedly named after a favourite pit pony, ‘Sultan’ is a reminder of the hundreds of thousands of pit ponies that hauled coal underground alongside the miners. His eye is local anthracite coal, his hooves black coal shale, whilst the grasses growing on his back blow in the wind, just like the brown shaggy pit ponies, released onto the mountains for their annual ‘holiday’. You can sit in his ear, because at 200m long and 15 m high Sultan is one of the largest earth sculptures in the country.