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The Smell of Thyme

In a correspondence to the journal, Bye-Gones (September 30th, 1891, p172), Elias Owen writes of the memory of the foul murder of two children many years before his time in the parish of Llanasa. The bodies of the children were buried in the garden of their cottage, the graves covered in thyme in an effort to hide the despicable crime. However, it seems the terrible deed would not be silenced, since Owen reports the tradition that people passing the cottage would often notice a smell of thyme in the air, though none was grown there, perhaps as consequence of the murder. Curiously, it was said that those that expected to smell the thyme when passing, would fail to do so, while those that knew nothing of the crime would be surprised by the fragrance in the air. A memory of a crime so appalling that it broke the natural order of things.

'It need hardly be added that ever after the murder a bwgan [spirit] frequented the spot.'

Elias Owen, Bye-Gones, September 30th 1891, P.172


The cottage is now lost. Owen identifies it close to a place he names as Yr-ardd-ddu, The Black Garden, which rather smacks of a name given in memory of the horror, and which perhaps is a local name and unlikely to be found on OS maps of the age. They were said to be on the road to Pen-y-Glasdir and Pen-y-ffordd, which perhaps places the terrible crime in the vicinity of Picton.


Smell has ever been an important part of our engagement with the supernatural, and such stories are legion. And there is sense to it. The part of our brain that engages with smell works closely with the amygdala and hippocampus, both of which rule over our memories and emotions. Apparently, our other senses do not have the same relationship. The reason a smell can instantly cast us back decades. Here, at Yr-ardd-ddu, the smell of thyme can cast us back through generations, the murder of two children tearing through the fabric of time.

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