Skip to content

Discover the legend of two dragons

A view from Dinas Emrys, Beddgelert, North Wales, looking towards a cloud-covered peak with a tree in the foreground.
The view from Dinas Emrys, Beddgelert | © National Trust Images/Gwenno Parry

Discover the story of the two sleeping dragons and their lair beneath a mountain in North Wales. Learn how a young Merlin played his part in this legendary tale.

Building a castle at Dinas Emrys, Craflwyn

In the fifth century the Celtic King Vortigern chose Dinas Emrys as the site for his castle. From here he hoped to escape the Saxons but his plans for a fortress weren't going well.

Every night the royal masons would lay down their tools only to return the next day to find they'd vanished. Overnight their carefully crafted walls had fallen down too.

A magical child

This was repeated day after day until Vortigern was forced to seek the help of sorcerers and magicians. They advised that the ground should be sprinkled with the blood of a child born to a human mother and a father from the ‘other world’.

Merlin and the dragons’ lair

A search was launched and eventually the child was found in Caer Myrddin in Carmarthen and preparations for the sacrifice were made. But the child, Myrddin Emrys, was no ordinary child. In fact, he was Merlin the wizard.

Merlin convinced Vortigern that two dragons lay sleeping under a lake inside the mountain. He told him that they were destroying the foundations of his fortress.

View of Nant Gwynant from Dinas Emrys, Beddgelert, North Wales
View of Nant Gwynant from Dinas Emrys, Beddgelert | © National Trust Images / Gwenno Parry

Underground lake

Vortigern was convinced the boy was correct. He commanded his labourers to dig deep into the mountain. When the men dug down they discovered an underground lake, just as Merlin had predicted.

Sleeping dragons

The lake was drained and revealed the two sleeping red and white dragons. They didn’t like having their sleep disturbed and they began to fight. Eventually the white dragon flew away and the red dragon returned quietly to his lair.

Two people are walking down an uneven grassy slope beside a small waterfall near Dinas Emrys, Beddgelert, Snowdonia, North Wales.
A waterfall on the way to Dinas Emrys, Beddgelert | © National Trust Images/Gwenno Parry

Dinas Emrys

Vortigern’s castle was finally built and duly named Dinas Emrys in honour of Myrddin Emrys, and the red dragon has been celebrated ever since.

Modern day discovery

In 1945 the site was excavated by archaeologists who discovered a lake and the ruins of a fortress dating to Vortigern’s time. The walls all showed signs of having been rebuilt several times. Could this be the site of the legendary tale?

Visitors sat in woodland by the Glaslyn river, Craflwyn and Beddgelert, Wales


Everyone needs nature, now more than ever. Donate today and you could help people and nature to thrive at the places we care for.

You might also be interested in

Three visitors stood under a tree with sunlight shining through the branches on a path at Craflwyn and Beddgelert, Wales

Discover the legend of Gelert 

Discover the tragic tale of Gelert, the faithful hound that gave the village of Beddgelert its name. Walk to the memorial grave on the edge of the village.

The exterior of Hen Dy, Gwynedd, Gwynedd

Holiday cottages in Eryri (Snowdonia) 

With its towering mountains, deep gorges and pristine lakes, Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri (Snowdonia National Park) is an ideal holiday destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Stay at one of our holiday cottages in Eryri (Snowdonia) and explore this special part of Wales.