Ceffyl Dwr, Bwci Bo, Corpse Candles and Tylwyth Teg.

The Ceffyl Dwr is known throughout Wales as a mysterious shape shifting creature, although what form it takes depends on the area of Wales that you are in!
For example:

  • In North Wales the creature takes the form of a fiery eyed, dark presence.
  • In South Wales he is represented as a "winged steed", taking his place by Rivers, Water Pools, and Waterfalls . Although that he is thought to be a positive creature he has been known as a "pest" to lone travellers.

Corpse Candles or ‘Wil-o-the-Wisp’ appear in folktales from around the world. In Welsh Folklore it is suggested that the Corpse Candles are "fairy fires" held by a small goblin by the name of Pwca. This goblin who is thought to be part of the Tylwyth Teg ("the Fair Folk"), leads lone travellers "off the beaten track", the traveller is then led to a marsh and the light is extinguished leaving the traveller lost. In some parts of Wales it is also thought that the presence of a Corpse Candle predicts that a funeral will take place in the community.

Ceffyl Dwr and Bwci Bo

As well as having spirit hounds to contend with, to say nothing of corpse candles, ghosts and phantom funerals, the children of Porthcawl in the nineteenth century were often petrified with fear at the mention of the Ceffyl Dwr and Bwci Bo.

The first, in English the Water Horse, was known throughout Wales and in other parts of Europe. It was a ghost horse that always frequented fords and crossing places of rivers and, as might be expected the River Ogmore had one. At first the creature seemed innocuous enough, quietly cropping the grass at the water’s edge. This tempted a traveller to mount the horse in order to get to the other side without wetting his feet. Immediately he has mounted the traveller found himself airborne, far above the earth. At an altitude of a couple if hundred feet the animal vanished leaving its rider to pluge to his death. The remains were gathered up and the horse repeated the trick with another unsuspecting person. In Ireland the horse was called Poocah, a word similar in meaning to the Welsh Bwca or Bwci Bo. 

To the Welsh children, however, the Bwci Bo was a goblin who haunted certain houses, mostly farms. He was also called Bwca’r Trwyn because of hid exceptionally long nose. This creature had to be appeased with pails of milk left outside the house each night. As long as this was done he kept quiet and even sometimes tided up the rooms while he inmates were asleep. But if spied upon or ill treated he would turn nasty and bring ill luck to the house. Children lived in terror of him and the writer (Alun Morgan) can testify that, at the tender age of eight, he went to bed one evening a quivering mass of nerves because an old aunt had threatened to call in Bwci Bo if he failed to improve his behaviour. That was in this century (1900’s).

Illustration by Margaret Wooding

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