A new interactive story trail based on some of Wales’ oldest myths and legends is being launched in Pontypridd.

The Mab Trail will be launched today (Saturday May 14) with special events at Pontypridd Museum and Ynysangharad Park to coincide with the Pontypridd Children’s Book Festival. 

The trail takes the form of a series of special stones and story boards placed in locations around the town based on the tales of The Mab, a new bilingual book for children, which reimagines the ancient stories of the Mabinogi for today’s young readers. 

The National Wales:

In his foreword to the collection, actor Michael Sheen writes: ‘These stories make the wall between worlds thrillingly thin. Their enchantment calls to us ever from the other side of the door.’ 

Edited by former Children’s Laureate for Wales Eloise Williams and Matt Brown, a children’s author who was educated in Wales, the idea was to reinvent the Mabinogion for a new generation of readers.

In an interview with Wales Arts Review, Brown admitted that the idea came from his own desire to ‘buy a copy of the Mabinogion that I could read with my ten-year-old. I hadn’t read the stories since I was in Primary School but remember them being full of knights and dragons and magic, all the things I thought he’d love.’ 

The National Wales:

Surprised to discover there was no such book in existence, he approached Eloise Williams with the idea to create one, and – afforded time during the coronavirus lockdown – the pair hatched a plan to crowdfund the project via the innovative Unbound publishing house.

The final product has been translated into Welsh by Bethan Gwanas and features illustrations by Max Low with contributions from Sophie Anderson, Nicola Davies, Darren Chetty, Alex Wharton, Zillah Bethel, Rhian Ivory, P.G. Bell, Hanan Issa and Claire Fayers.

The Mabinogion is the name given to a cycle of prose stories compiled in Middle Welsh from earlier oral traditions in the 12th and 13th centuries. The eleven wildly eclectic and fantastical tales feature all of human life – drama, philosophy, romance, tragedy, and humour. 

In the words of the blurb for The Mab, ‘they speak of a time when the gates between the Real World and the Otherworld were occasionally left open. And sometimes, just sometimes, it was possible to step through.’

The Mab is the latest in a lineage of reinterpretations of the stories that in many ways draw on the nebulous origins of the stories, which have occupied scholars for centuries – some arguing that they are pre-Christian Celtic, others that they bear the heavy influence of Anglo-French chivalric tradition.

Famously the full collection of tales in their canonical modern form was first translated into both English and modern Welsh by the linguist Lady Charlotte Guest, an English aristocrat from Lincolnshire who had married the foremost Welsh ironmaster of her era, going on to become an international industrialist, philanthropist and pioneering liberal educator. 

The National Wales: Portrait of Lady Charlotte GuestPortrait of Lady Charlotte Guest

And although Guest is most associated with the Dowlais Ironworks of Merthyr Tydfil, where her husband – Sir Josiah John Guest – was a member of parliament, the stories of the Mabinogion are now set also to become indelibly associated with Pontypridd.

The Mab Trail promises that ‘story-hunters will be able to discover all eleven stories… rooted in Pontypridd’s soil with interactive pieces of public art in the form of story stones, with images from The Mab by illustrator Max Low. 

Children and adults alike will be encouraged to take rubbings of the stones, encouraging them to experience the old stories – and to create some new ones of their own, inspired by the local landscape. 

The National Wales:

Created by Pontypridd Children’s Book Festival in partnership with Pontypridd Town Council, The Mab Trail aims to nurture ‘a love of Wales’ landscape, literature and traditions by promoting a love of reading’.

Cerith Mathias, Director of Pontypridd Children’s Book Festival says: ‘We’re thrilled to add The Mab Trail to Pontypridd’s already rich literary and cultural offering. By encouraging children (and grown-ups too!) really to get involved with the stories of The Mab Trail, literally to walk through them and connect them with the Welsh landscapes from which they were created, we’re certain that the trail will provide creative inspiration for a whole new generation of storytellers and artists.’

Tony Graham, Chief Executive and Clerk of Pontypridd Town Council added: ‘These important and legendary stories belong to all of us in Wales, and we’re proud to give them a new home in Pontypridd, and hope that The Mab Trail will ensure that they continue to be enjoyed in new and exciting ways for generations to come.’

The National Wales: Pontypridd Museum. Photo: Visit Rhondda Cynon TafPontypridd Museum. Photo: Visit Rhondda Cynon Taf

The Mab Trail will start and finish in Pontypridd Museum, taking in three other sites along the way. At Ynysangharad Park there will be four story stones depicting the women of The Mab. Three story stones at Berw Road Field will depict ‘the magic of The Mab’ while Pontypridd Common will host a further four stones containing the legends and animals in the stories.

Storyboards at each of the trail’s sites will have a QR code for The Mab Trail website, which has more information on the stories and a downloadable map and activity sheet.

The co-editors of the new book of magical Welsh tales say they are ‘thrilled’ and ‘delighted’ that the project has come to fruition in Pontypridd. 

‘These magical tales are rooted in Welsh landscapes,’ said Matt Brown, ‘so it seems perfect that people will be able to go on their own journeys of adventure, around Ponty, to discover them for themselves.’

Eloise Williams adds: ‘I spent a lot of time in the town as a child and know that my younger self would have been as thrilled to follow the tales around the park, common and fields, as my older self is. It’s joyful to think of people, young and old, connecting with the myths and celebrating these ancient Welsh legends. I am certain it will inspire new voices to carry the stories into the future, and that is truly exciting.’

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