Giants feature often in the myth and legend of North East Wales, indeed giants are a staple of mythology throughout the world. They are often, it seems, a means by which heroes prove their strength and nobility, they are in effect a trial by which fame is gained.
St Collen, who settled in the Vale of Llangollen sometime in the 6th century and to whom the church in Llangollen is dedicated, is said to have vanquished a giantess, known as Cawres y Bwlch (Giantess of the Pass), noted for her taste for human flesh. For many years she lived at Bwlch Rhiwfelen and plagued Cyrn y Brain on Llandegla Moor, as well as the surrounding area, picking off unwary travellers. Given her isolation, and the growing reputation for danger on the moor, her takings were poor, and she was forever bad tempered. Constantly hungry, it became clear that she was venturing closer and closer to the settlements of Llandegla, Llanarmon-yn-Ial, and Pentredwr and had even been seen in the hills overlooking Llangollen. It was clear something had to be done.
St Collen was a holy man, but he had once been a warrior, and certainly knew how to use a sword. The holy man of God knew that to kill the giantess would be a service to the Lord, and so reluctantly took up arms again. Unearthing his neglected armour, he strapped it on and made his way up the Horseshoe Pass to the Llandegla moors.
The moor was fog bound that day, and gloomy with it, and the giantess was nowhere to be seen, even though Collen could feel her presence close by. Indeed, she was stalking Collen, a little wary of attacking a man in armour and wielding a sword. She was used to simpler pickings, one which did not threaten her too much. But she was hungry, so very hungry and her stomach rumbled so.
It was this that saved Collen. The giantess’ rumbling stomach gave the holy man of God just enough warning to turn in time as the giantess lunged from the fog. Collen swept his blade down, more in instinct than intention, and chopped off the giantess left arm. Both the giantess and Collen seemed shocked by this, and both for a moment stared at the limb on the ground with surprised curiosity.
It was Collen who broke the momentary glamour, backing away from the beast. The giantess looked up at the holy man, roared suddenly, picked up her severed limb and ran at Collen, beating him with the blood soaked flesh. Collen defended himself as best he could, but her rage was overwhelming. He dodged when he could, ducked when he had to and parried the flailing arm when able. However, tired as Collen was becoming, the giantess was clearly suffering more. Bleeding freely from the stump at her shoulder, her strength was failing and eventually she fell to her knees, panting and growling.
Even on her knees, she looked down on Collen who stood before her, ‘I would ask for-‘ she began to say, but before she could finish, Collen impaled her on his sword, driving the weapon through her heart. She is also said to have called out to Arthur the Giant, resident it seems in the Eglwyseg Rocks.
Is this spring above the Horseshoe Pass, the place where St Collen washed the blood of the giantess from his armour - the waters are said to run a little red to this day, though there was little evidence of such colour on this autumn day.
Unceremoniously, he kicked her off his sword and as she crumpled onto the ground, he swiftly beheaded the giantess with a mighty blow. Collen left both the corpse and the head where they lay, and wandered off in search of somewhere to wash the gore from his sword and armour. Finding a spring, he bathed in its waters until clean. Forever since, this spring has been called Ffynnon Collen, and to this day it is said to run a little red in memory of Collen’s killing of the people eating giantess.