Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 106

Pen y Glas — Salt of the Earth — The Quakers’ Yard — The Rhugylgroen.

AS I proceeded on my way the scenery to the south on the farther side of the river became surprisingly beautiful. On that side noble mountains met the view, green fields and majestic woods, the latter brown it is true, for their leaves were gone, but not the less majestic for being brown. Here and there were white farm-houses: one of them, which I was told was called Pen y Glas, was a truly lovely little place. It stood on the side of a green hill with a noble forest above it, and put me wonderfully in mind of the hunting lodge, which Ifor Hael allotted as a retreat to Ab Gwilym and Morfydd, when they fled to him from Cardigan to avoid the rage of the Bow Bach, and whose charming appearance made him say to his love:-

“More bliss for us our fate propounds On Taf’s green banks than Teivy’s bounds.”

On I wandered. After some time the valley assumed the form of an immense basin, enormous mountains composed its sides. In the middle rose hills of some altitude, but completely overcrowned by the mountains around. These hills exhibited pleasant inclosures, and were beautifully dotted with white farm-houses. Down below meandered the Taf, its reaches shining with a silver-like splendour. The whole together formed an exquisite picture, in which there was much sublimity, much still quiet life, and not a little of fantastic fairy loveliness.

The sun was hastening towards the west as I passed a little cascade on the left, the waters of which, after running under the road, tumbled down a gully into the river. Shortly afterwards meeting a man I asked him how far it was to Caerfili.

“When you come to the Quakers’ Yard, which is a little way further on, you will be seven miles from Caerfili.”

“What is the Quakers’ Yard?”

“A place where the people called Quakers bury their dead.”

“Is there a village near it?

“There is, and the village is called by the same name.”

“Are there any Quakers in it?”

“Not one, nor in the neighbourhood, but there are some, I believe, in Cardiff.”

“Why do they bury their dead there?”

“You should ask them, not me. I know nothing about them, and don’t want; they are a bad set of people.”

“Did they ever do you any harm?”

“Can’t say they did. Indeed I never saw one in the whole of my life.”

“Then why do you call them bad?”

“Because everybody says they are.”

“Not everybody. I don’t; I have always found them the salt of the earth.”

“Then it is salt that has lost its savour. But perhaps you are one of them?”

“No, I belong to the Church of England.”

“Oh, you do. Then good-night to you. I am a Methodist. I thought at first that you were one of our ministers, and had hoped to hear from you something profitable and conducive to salvation, but — ”

“Well, so you shall. Never speak ill of people of whom you know nothing. If that isn’t a saying conducive to salvation, I know not what is. Good evening to you.”

I soon reached the village. Singular enough, the people of the very first house, at which I inquired about the Quakers’ Yard, were entrusted with the care of it. On my expressing a wish to see it, a young woman took down a key, and said that if I would follow her she would show it me. The Quakers’ burying-place is situated on a little peninsula or tongue of land, having a brook on its eastern and northern sides, and on its western the Taf. It is a little oblong yard, with low walls, partly overhung with ivy. The entrance is a porch to the south. The Quakers are no friends to tombstones, and the only visible evidence that this was a place of burial was a single flag-stone, with a half-obliterated inscription, which with some difficulty I deciphered, and was as follows:-

To the Memory of THOMAS EDMUNDS Who died April the ninth 1802 aged 60 years. And of MARY EDMUNDS Who died January the fourth 1810 aged 70.

The beams of the descending sun gilded the Quakers’ burial-ground as I trod its precincts. A lovely resting-place looked that little oblong yard on the peninsula, by the confluence of the waters, and quite in keeping with the character of the quiet Christian people who sleep within it. The Quakers have for some time past been a decaying sect, but they have done good work in their day, and when they are extinct they are not destined to be soon forgotten. Soon forgotten! How should a sect ever be forgotten, to which have belonged three such men as George Fox, William Penn, and Joseph Gurney?

Shortly after I left the Quakers’ Yard the sun went down and twilight settled upon the earth. Pursuing my course I reached some woodlands, and on inquiring of a man, whom I saw standing at the door of a cottage, the name of the district, was told that it was called Ystrad Manach — the Monks’ Strath or valley. This name it probably acquired from having belonged in times of old to some monkish establishment. The moon now arose and the night was delightful. As I was wandering along I heard again the same wild noise which I had heard the night before, on the other side of Merthyr Tydvil. The cry of the owl afar off in the woodlands. Oh that strange bird! Oh that strange cry! The Welsh, as I have said on a former occasion, call the owl Dylluan. Amongst the cowydds of Ab Gwilym there is one to the dylluan. It is full of abuse against the bird, with whom the poet is very angry for having with its cry frightened Morfydd back, who was coming to the wood to keep an assignation with him, but not a little of this abuse is wonderfully expressive and truthful. He calls the owl a grey thief — the haunter of the ivy bush — the chick of the oak, a blinking eyed witch, greedy of mice, with a visage like the bald forehead of a big ram, or the dirty face of an old abbess, which bears no little resemblance to the chine of an ape. Of its cry he says that it is as great a torment as an agonizing recollection, a cold shrill laugh from the midst of a kettle of ice; the rattling of sea-pebbles in an old sheep-skin, on which account many call the owl the hag of the Rhugylgroen. The Rhugylgroen, it will be as well to observe, is a dry sheepskin containing a number of pebbles, and is used as a rattle for frightening crows. The likening the visage of the owl to the dirty face of an old abbess is capital, and the likening the cry to the noise of the rhugylgroen is anything but unfortunate. For, after all, what does the voice of the owl so much resemble as a diabolical rattle. I’m sure I don’t know. Reader, do you?

I reached Caerfili at about seven o’clock, and went to the “Boar’s Head,” near the ruins of a stupendous castle, on which the beams of the moon were falling.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 14:50