THE WITCHES OF LLANDDONA

by Ross Davies
(Pentraeth)

People believed in the malevolent powers of witches right up to the 18th century and, probably beyond that as well.


Witches were so feared and hated that they were blamed for everything going wrong in the lives of villagers, from various maladies to the deaths of valuable farm animals or even human beings.

An ancient law also advocated the death by hanging of any witch found guilty of such deeds.

However, in 1736, this old law was repealed because Parliament became concerned that too many charges against such women were based on very unsafe evidence, so from that year on, no woman paid with her life just for being a so-called witch.

The trouble was that old beliefs died hard. In some areas, people started taking the law into their own hands - a kind of summary justice - by hounding a group of witches into a open boat, which had no sail, oars, or any other means of steering.

It was then launched into the open sea. The hope was that, sooner of later, a gale would spring up, causing waves to swamp the boat and send its occupants to a watery grave at the bottom of the sea. In that way, no one could be held liable for their deaths.

Anglesey, it seems, also had its fair share of solo witches dotted around the island, but the village of Llanddona, in particular, became notorious, at one time, for harbouring a whole group of them lumped together. There are two tales in existence that may explain this extraordinary phenomenon.

The first one tells of the sudden arrival of an open boat, full of wet, bedraggled women, that had been swept on the sands of Llanddona beach by a strong tide.

Its occupants looked half dead. As they tried to drag their exhausted bodies out of the boat on to the relative safety of the sands, they were seen by nearby fisherman.

News of their arrival spread like wildfire through Llanddona, and in no time at all most of the population had turned out on the beach.

They had guessed the identity of the strangers but held no pity in their hearts for them. They had all gathered there with every intention of bundling the whole lot back out to sea.

In the ensuing struggle, in which the strangers were being steadily pushed back towards the tide line, one witch, in her desperation, caused a spring of clear, fresh water to gush like a fountain out of the sand.

The villagers were so stunned by this display of magical powers that they fell back, thus allowing the strangers to stay. However, the village itself was banned to them so they were forced to make a home on some common ground a fair distance away.

There they stayed, as a group, for the rest of their lifetime, giving rise to much speculation, suspicion and fear as to their activities, and bringing much notoriety to the name of Llanddona.

The second story has much the same theme, but with some variations.

During one stormy night in the teeth of a howling gale, a Spanish ship was driven hard on to the sandy beach of Llanddona. It was held fast and soon started to break up under the battering of the waves.

The crew had to abandon ship and try to struggle through the seething waters to safety. Most downed in the attempt, but the survivors who succceed in reaching dry land turned out to be part of a Spanish circus troupe that had been travelling on the ship.

Although it was dark, they eventually found a steep, crumbly path that led to a cliff top at one end of the bay. When dawn broke, they saw that they had reached a piece of rough moorland overlooking the sea.

On the beach below, the ship was wrecked beyond repair, leaving them with no hope of returning to their homeland. So they had to settle for making this piece of moorland a home for the whole group.

However, the residents of Llanddona took exception to this intrusion by total strangers, who looked so different in dress and behaviour and spoke another language. Most of the strangers were diminutive midgets with red hair - a feature, it is said, of a certain area in Spain.

Midgets, of course, were popular entertainers in circuses, but not at all acceptable in a place like Llanddona.

The locals tried their best to eject these trespassers, but the strangers retaliated by using all their circus skills in acrobatics, sleight of hand and magic tricks to confuse and bamboozle them. It was their only means of defence.

The upshot was that they finally won the day and were reluctantly accepted and allowed to stay.
As time passed, the Spaniards lived together on the moorland, keeping very much to themselves.

This only fuelled local suspicions that they were actually witches. In fact, Sian Bwt (Short Betty) became the chief suspect because she had two thumbs on her left hand and was only 44 inches in height - all the supposed hallmarks of a witch.

So this nest of so-called witches brought much notoriety to the name of Llanddona for the duration of their lifetime.

Perhaps, now, the reader might like to judge which of these two stories is the most feasible!

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