The Story of Gellert has become the most famous version of the martyred hound story. Prince Llewellyn the Great of Wales was given a puppy by prince John (later King John) of England that Llewellyn called Gellert. As the years rolled by Gellert became Llewellyn’s favourite hunting dog because of the animal’s loyalty and the affection he showed him, so when it was time for Gellert to retire from the pack he was brought home to join Llewellyn’s wife and baby son as a full member of the family. Gellert and the infant got along splendidly and seemed to form a close bond and when the baby’s mother died soon after Gellert was always there to comfort the child.
One day Llewellyn went hunting to catch a dangerous wolf that had been taking farm animals and even attacking people and left his young son at home with Gellert to keep him company. During the hunt Llewellyn found the wolf near to his home and gave chase but eventually lost it. This was an embarrassment for Llewellyn, who was famous for his hunting skills and had promised the villagers that he would bring the wolf’s rampages to an end, so he stayed out until the evening in a fruitless search for the wolf. When he returned home Gellert ran up to his master with his tail wagging and his face covered in dried blood. Llewellyn rushed up to his son’s room where his eyes met with a gruesome tableau. Blood was splattered all over the floor and up the walls, the cot was over-tuned, tapestries, furs and ornaments were thrown asunder and a large amount of blood was pooled all around a suspicious looking pile of sheets.
Believing the dog had murdered the boy, Llewellyn ran his sword though the hound in a fit of rage. However, as Llewellyn drew out the sword he heard his son’s cries from underneath the upturned cot. He ran over to the cot and found his son underneath it unharmed, so he ran over to the pile of sheets and pulled them up, to find out where the pool of blood had come from. It was the wolf Llewellyn had been hunting. After it had escaped it had come to the house and tried to attack the boy, but Gelert had protected the child and killed the wolf after a violent battle. Llewellyn was distraught upon discovering his mistake and ran over to the dieing hound. He held him in his arms and comforted him as he slowly bled to death. As the loyal dog licked his masters hand while the last of its live ebbed away the prince swore that he would build a memorial to the bravest and most loyal of all dogs atop the animal’s grave so that nobody would ever forget what had happened.
Such a nice story, however it’s all a complete fabrication. There never was a dog named Gellert. The tale had in-fact been invented by Bedd Gellert inn owners, the Pritchards, in order to entice tourists to the pretty little town. The towns name is thought in reality to have derived from it being the grave site of an 8th century Christian missionary named Kellert.
So that’s Gellert dealt with but what, you may ask, does that story have to do with the water leaper?
The water leaper was said to have the body of a toad but a tail instead of hind legs and wings instead of forelegs. Local belief in the water leaper was certainly strong enough in the 18th century to prompt shepherds not to use their dogs around the banks of llyn Glas for fear of an over zealous dog herding an animal into the water where ‘something’ would catch hold of it and pull the sheep to its doom.
The only detailed encounter with a water leaper ever recorded in print and was transcribed by John Rhys who was studying the folklore of the area in the late 18th century. The encounter took place sometime in the first few decades of the 18th century; a local fisherman called Ifan Owen, also known as Han, had had an awful day’s fishing;
Whenever Han had cast out that day something had nibbled at his bait and removed it cleanly from the hook without getting snagged on it or pulling at the line. Because Han made his living from fishing he grew steadily more annoyed each time his bait was stolen and eventually, when he could take it no more he moved to another spot, beside a small cliff in the valley.
When Han cast his line out here he felt something pull at his bait almost instantly and, not wanting to lose any more of his bait, he pulled his rod back much more sharply than usual to be sure of hooking the animal that had been getting away with his bait all day.
Having finally hooked his tormentor Han had to pull with all his might to get the creature out of the water. After an epic struggle the monster erupted out of the water it shot off the hook towards the cliff, so fast that, according to Han
“It dashed so against the cliff that it blazed like lightning”.
Han later recounted that if it were not the Llamhigyn then it must have been the devil himself.
Han claimed that both he and his father before him had seen the water leaper on several occasions and in a number of places along this stretch of water and it was said to scream loudly whenever a fisherman was able to pull it to the surface.
Unlike a lot of accounts of strange animals in folklore this sighting was said to have occurred within living memory of the time it was first committed to print. The person who related Han Owen’s tale to John Rhys, who printed it in his 1901 book ‘Celtic folklore, welsh and Manx’, was William Jones, who just happened to be a descendant on his mothers side of the Pritchards, who ran the local pub and hotel in Bedd Gellert and invented the tale of Gellert the martyred hound
The Pritchard family held regular tall-storytelling nights with relatives and friends from Bedd Gellert and the nearby parish of Dolwyddelen. Han Owen was regularly in demand for these nights as he had few equals in the area in his ability to spin a yarn and it was at one of these nights that William Jones first heard Han Owen delivering the tales of his encounters with the water leaper.
Given the dubious pedigree of the tale the smart money is on the water leaper having been one of Han’s tall tales, but you can make up your own mind about that.