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British Legendary dogs : Gelert and the Black dog of Bungay

British Legendary dogs : Gelert and the Black dog of Bungay


The story goes that in the thirteenth-century, Prince Llywelyn the Great had a palace at Beddgelert in Caernarvonshire, and as the Prince was a keen hunter, he spent much of his time in the surrounding countryside. He had many hunting dogs, but one day when he summoned them as usual with his horn, his favourite dog Gelert didn’t appear, so regretfully Llywelyn had to go hunting without him.

When Llywelyn returned from the hunt, he was greeted by Gelert who came bounding towards him, his jaws dripping with blood. The Prince was appalled, and a horrible thought came into his mind …was the blood on the dog’s muzzle that of his one-year old son?

His worst fears were realised when he saw in the child’s nursery, an upturned cradle, and walls spattered with blood! He searched for the child but there was no sign of him. Llywelyn was convinced that his favourite hound had killed his son. Mad with grief he took his sword and plunged it into Gelert’s heart.

As the dog howled in his death agony, Llywelyn heard a child’s cry coming from underneath the upturned cradle. It was his son, unharmed. Beside the child was an enormous wolf, dead, killed by the brave Gelert.

Llywelyn was struck with remorse and carried the body of his faithful dog outside the castle walls, and buried him where everyone could see the grave of this brave animal, and hear the story of his valiant fight with the wolf.

To this day, a cairn of stones marks the place, and the name Beddgelert means in Welsh ‘The grave of Gelert’. Every year thousands of people visit the grave of this brave dog; slight problem however, is that the cairn of stones is actually less than 200 years old!

Nevertheless this story has great appeal. History and myth appear to have become a little confused when in 1793, a man called David Pritchard came to live in Beddgelert. He was the landlord of the Royal Goat Inn and knew the story of the brave dog and adapted it to fit the village, and so benefit his trade at the inn.

He apparently invented the name Gelert, and introduced the name Llywelyn into the story because of the Prince’s connection with the nearby Abbey, and it was with the help of the parish clerk that Pritchard, not Llywelyn, raised the cairn!

However similar stories abound throughout the world for example The tale indeed appears in numerous cultures with minor variations. The Alpine ligurian poem R sacrifisi dr can, tells of how a shepherd shot his sheepdog after finding it covered in sheep blood, only to later find a dead wolf in the stable. In India, a black snake replaces the wolf and a mongoose replaces the dog.

In Malaysian folklore, a similar story involves a tame bear, kept by a Malay hunter as the guardian of his young daughter. As in the story of Gelert, the hunter returns home from an expedition, and finds his daughter gone and the bear covered in blood. Hastily thinking the bear has devoured his daughter, the hunter kills it with his spear, but later finds the body of a tiger, killed by the bear in defence of the hunter’s daughter, who shortly emerges from the jungle, from where she took refuge.

The Black dog of Bungay, Suffolk.

The most famous event connected with St Mary’s church Bungay, is the apparition of the devil in the disguise of a Black Dog in 1577. During a storm on Sunday, August 4th, a terrifying thunderstorm occurred with such – ‘darkness, rain, hail, thunder and lightning as was never seen the like’.

Storms were always greatly feared during a period when most houses were built of timber and thatch and a lightning strike could quickly set large areas of a town ablaze.

As the people knelt in fear, praying for mercy, suddenly there appeared in their midst a great black Hell Hound. It began tearing around the Church, attacking many of the congregation with its cruel teeth and claws. An old verse records:

‘All down the church in midst of fire, the hellish monster flew
And, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew’

Then as suddenly as it had appeared, it ran off, departing for Blythburgh Church about twelve miles away where it killed and mauled more people. Bungay Church was damaged, the tower struck by lightning and the Church clock was broken in pieces. Although there is no official record of injuries caused, the Churchwardens account book mentions that two men in the belfry were killed.

Nowadays we would attribute the whole event to the Church having been struck by lightning but, in that superstitious age, many accidents and disasters were considered to be the work of the Devil. There had long been a belief that a Satanic black hound roamed the area and so it was easy to believe for people in the dark interior of the Church, that this evil beast was responsible for the catastrophe.

The Black Dog is sometimes associated with Black Shuck, another spectral hound which haunts the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts. Many people still claim to see these beasts today and a sighting usually results in death or disaster of some kind.

The popularity of the legend has resulted in an image of the Black Dog being incorporated into the Town’s coat of arms and there are depictions of him on buildings around the town.


Similar to the bungay beast above the Barghest also called the Bargtjest, Bo-guest, Bargheist, Bargeist, Barguist, Bargest or Barguest is the name often given in the north of England, especially in Yorkshire, to a legendary monstrous black dog with huge teeth and claws, though in other cases the name can refer to a ghost or household elf, especially in Northumberland and Durham.. One is said to frequent a remote gorge named Troller’s Gill. There is also a story of a Barghest entering the city of York occasionally, where, according to legend, it preys on lone travellers in the city’s narrow Snickelways. A famous Barghest was said to live near Darlington who was said to take the form of a headless man (who would vanish in flames), a headless lady, a white cat, a dog, rabbit and black dog. Another was said to live in an “uncannie-looking” dale between Darlington and Houghton, near Throstlenest.

The Bargest seems similar to other legends around the UK attributed to werewolves and in some cases big cats, many people have heard of the beast of bodmin moor.