They say that Britain was once inhabited by giants . They were supposed to have gone away somewhere before people settled here. But I think they are still here. Sometimes there are stories about them as ogres or in the Mabinogion stories they are characters with names like Bran who has a brother and sister who are not giants as the story is told. Or Ysbadadden who is called ‘chief giant’ but has a daughter called Olwen who is not called a giant. Lots of giant stories have beautiful daughters in them. I think that these stories hide the fact that not all giants are big and nasty. And not all of them are male. Some are not big at all or can’t be seen. But they are there keeping to themselves. That’s my feeling. I can’t prove it so I won’t try to present any evidence for that here. But I will write about two female giants who do have stories recorded about them and who I have tried to find out about and who I have felt to be around when I have been out and about in their territory.
Moll is a giant of the Welsh borders. There was a standing stone in the village of Llowes in Radnorshire called ‘Moll Wallbee’s Stone’ after her. It’s now in the church in Painscastle and a cross has been carved on it , maybe to banish her. Not far away in Hay on Wye is a small castle which she built in one night according to legend. But now she is about on the hills further north, west of the border up as far as Radnor Forest. She is an outcast and doesn’t want anything to do with humans. But up on the hilltops it’s still quiet and she is at home, keeping herself to herself.
Back in the days when she built the castle she was more sociable and had a husband who was also a giant, but it seems he lived further up in Painscastle. I got a bit of a whiff of him when I visited the old earthen banks of the ruin there. They say he carried off young women and he was killed when one was being rescued from his castle . But maybe that’s the sort of thing they say about anyone they think is uncivilized. Anyway he doesn’t seem to be around any more, unlike Moll up on the hills.
The story of Melangell and the hare was one I knew when I was small. But I didn’t think much more about until I heard she might have been a giant too. I took up the suggestion that I should visit the valley in North Wales where she hid away and where she was supposed to have hidden a hare under her frock from a hunter. A one-track road goes up the valley from the village and there are high cliffs on both sides. The road only goes to the old church of St Melangell and after that it’s just a path to more cliffs so you can’t get through. There is a circle of ancient yew trees all around it and some Bronze Age remains.
Inside the church there is a large rib which might be from a whale but it is called ‘the giant’s rib’. Outside there is a stone like a big flat bowl called ‘the giant’s bed’. I think the story making her a saint must be a recent one. She has been in that valley for a long time and you can still feel her there. The folklore that a female giant lived in the valley and the story of Melangell living there just seem to be the same story except that one is more of a story while the other one is about someone or something living in the valley. Lots of things have been written and there may be something in them. But I just listened and heard her. Not speaking to me directly because I don’t think giants speak to humans. But she was there. Keeping herself to herself.