Cynan the Map-maker was born in Dyfed. He was the nephew of Prince Malgo and had a privileged life. He developed an interest in drawing and, as he grew older, became quite an accomplished map-maker. He was very close to the king and took the opportunity to learn how to read and write, giving him the ability to annotate his maps. He soon found himself travelling extensively outside of left Dyfed as various kingdoms clamoured for his services – he really was very good.
Cynan wandered through the country for a period of fifteen years, all the time drawing maps and keeping himself gainfully employed. While drawing came easy to Cynan, he rarely returned to Dyfed and he soon found that the life of the travelling artisan was not to his liking. He often had to stay in lodgings and villages that were not up to his regal standard. During this time he kept a diary and came up with the idea of writing a review of all of the villages he visited. This led to him writing his best known work – A Guide to Villages for the Discerning Traveller, which he published in 644. There are no surviving copies of the full manuscript and it is considered unlikely that there were many people who were able to read it. Literacy was uncommon in 7th Century Britain. He distributed it for free and it is said to have been considered an excellent fire starter on cold nights.
While most of his reviews have long since disappeared from the historical record, there are some that remain. The best example details one of his trips through the Kingdom of Mercia. This resulted in a particularly interesting chapter that has survived in tact to this day. He was not one to write a great deal about each village, but what he wrote made his point in a succinct manner. What follows is an example of his style (updated for the modern english language).
The village of Belche was not stimulating. It was full of backward people who, in all probability, should not be allowed to breed, judging by the result of the obvious in-breeding currently underway. I prefer my ale to be served by a barmaid with only five fingers, not six, and without a face so lopsided that it makes me feel dizzy.
The people of Lansing Boyle are unjustifiably proud of their hovels. This village is a wasteful use of wood, good farming land, and people.
After visiting Phestering, I realised that I have been to more interesting and attractive piles of human faeces than that place. It sits in the landscape like an abscess on the face of an otherwise fair maiden.
Glummeley Rogerring has no redeeming features. The inn served what can only be described as recycled vomit, and the lodgings were akin to sleeping in pig swill. The populace were among the most stupid I have ever come across.
Pocks-in-the-Nethers is easily the most attractive village in the region. This is not difficult, but I must give credit where credit is due. There are a refreshingly small number of dullards and oafs wandering the street, the ale made me feel only mildly unwell, not as if I was dying, and there was a steadfast adherence to mediocrity among all people. Shame about the food poisoning and rank smell that pervades the whole village.
As word spread about Cynan, he found that he found an icy welcome in most of the villages he visited. This was his own fault, as he would recite his review of one village in the neighbouring village; often after drinking copious amounts of ale. The fact that he was working for the local kings kept him from serious harm, but his life became a bit harder. His appalling memory meant that he sometimes returned to villages he’d slandered and found himself sleeping on the hardest bed, and served left-overs rather than freshly-cooked meals. This happened on a return visit to Pocks-in-the-Nethers, where he also contracted a pox in his nethers.
He eventually died a few years later, in 651, on his way to the funeral of Aiden of Lindisfarne. The soon to become Saint Aiden had died after, allegedly, saving the town of Bamburgh from fire (and from King Penda of Mercia, who had set fire to it) by getting God to change the wind direction through the power of prayer. Cynan’s fate was reportedly due to the effects of a serious case of foot-in-mouth disease. He suggested, within earshot of some very drunk local farmers with sharp scythes, that he’d seen weeping sores more attractive than their village of Fetid-on-the-Gnose.