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The Elf Dancers of Cae Caled

Within these pages you will read many stories of the Tylwyth Teg, or fairies, and they are as varied as those who tell them.  Some stories will paint them as noble creatures, some as mischievous and some as evil.  Yet, there was another type of Tylweth Teg that were nothing but malevolent, called, amongst other names as the ‘ellyllon’, or goblins.  And it is the ellyllon which we meet in perhaps the most genuinely unnerving story of the appearance of these creatures of Annwn. The Rev. Dr. Edward Williams, born in Glan Clwyd Isa in 1750, was a Welsh nonconformist minister and writer, much admired by his contemporaries.  In a series of letters, he tells of an event which he reflects might elicit a ‘smile’, but which in truth would not be out of place in an early Stephen King novel.  The very best accounts of this tale are those of Williams’ own words, and with good reason.  He tells it much better than anyone else ever could.  The tale is here quoted verbatim from Elias Owen’s, ‘Welsh Folk Lore’.


'On a fine summer day (about midsummer) between the hours of 12 at noon and one, my eldest sister and myself, our next neighbour's children Barbara and Ann Evans, both older than myself, were in a field called Cae Caled near their house, all innocently engaged at play by a hedge under a tree, and not far from the stile next to that house, when one of us observed on the middle of the field a company of - what shall I call them? Beings, neither men, women, nor children, dancing with great briskness.  They were full in view less than a hundred yards from us, consisting of about seven or eight couples: we could not well reckon them, owing to the briskness of their motions and the consternation with which we were struck at a sight so unusual.  They were all clothed in red, a dress not unlike a military uniform, without hats, but their heads tied with handkerchiefs of a reddish colour, sprigged or spotted with yellow, all uniform in this as in habit, all tied behind with the corners hanging down their backs, and white handkerchiefs in their hands held loose by the corners.  They appeared of a size somewhat less than our own, but more like dwarfs than children.


On the first discovery we began, with no small dread, to question one another as to what they could be, as there were no soldiers in the country, nor was it the time for May dancers, and as they differed much from all the human beings we had ever seen.  Thus alarmed we dropped our play, left our station, and made for the stile.  Still keeping our eyes upon them we observed one of their company starting from the rest and making towards us with a running pace.  I being the youngest was the last at the stile, and, though struck with an inexpressible panic, saw the grim elf just at my heels, having a full and clear, though terrific view of him, with his ancient, swarthy, and grim complexion.  I screamed out exceedingly; my sister also and our companions set up a roar, and the former dragged me with violence over the stile on which, at the instant I was disengaged from it, this warlike Lilliputian leaned and stretched himself after me, but came not over.


With palpitating hearts and loud cries we ran towards the house, alarmed the family, and told them our trouble.  The men instantly left their dinner, with whom still trembling we went to the place, and made the most solicitous and diligent enquiry in all the neighbourhood, both at that time and after, but never found the least vestige of any circumstance that could contribute to a solution of this remarkable phenomenon.’


This was not Williams’ first mention of the curious event that so clearly scarred raw a memory. The Rev. Edmund Jones (1702-1793), author of ‘A Relation of Apparitions of Spirits’, published in 1780, was in correspondence with a, ‘pious young’ Williams, who at the time of writing to Jones was seemingly still at school. The tale of the Elf Dancers of Cae Caled was related to the fearless preacher and superstitious clergyman, and is fascinating not only in the story itself, but also in the consistency of its detail. There is little different between the tellings, though there is some considerable time between the two. The later telling is more reflective, as you would expect.


Wirt Sikes, writing in his ‘British Goblins’, published in 1880 gives his own version of the tale, and plays fairly fast and loose with the details. His assertion that the strange folk met so frightfully in cae caled were coblynau, otherwise known as ‘knockers, is understandably given short shrift by Elias Owen, especially since he suggests the little folk ‘were taking a holiday’ and somehow contrives to alter Williams’ name to Egbert.


Both Elias Owen and William’s make comment on the truth of his childhood experience, and both attempt a rational explanation, but come up short.  Williams, of course writing some years later on the event, attests that, ‘though I have often in mature age called to my mind the principles of religion and philosophy to account for it, I am forced to class it among my unknowables.’  There is something in the desire to look for a rational truth which makes the tale that much more beguiling.


As to where this terrifying event took place, the field of Cae Caled is now part of a larger field called Cae Ffynnon (Well Field), between Glan Clwyd Isa and Glan Clwyd Ganol off the B5429 Aberwheeler to Llandyrnog road. The Rev. Dr Edward Williams' family had lived at Glan Clwyd Isa from at least the 1550’s. Today, it is possible to rent holiday cottages in this beautiful part of the country.

Further Reading

Jones, E (1780), Apparitions of Sprits, In The County of Monmouth, and the Principality of Wales, E.Lewis, Newport.

Owen, E (1896), Welsh Folk-Lore: A Collection of the Folk-Tales and Legends of North Wales, Woodall, Minshull & Co, Oswestry and Wrexham.

Sikes, W (1880), British Goblins: Welsh Folk-Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rinington, London.

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