Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 12

A Calvinistic–Methodist — Turn for Saxon — Our Congregation — Pont y Cyssyltau — Catherine Lingo.

I HAD inquired of the good woman of the house, in which we lived, whether she could not procure a person to accompany me occasionally in my walks, who was well acquainted with the strange nooks and corners of the country, and who could speak no language but Welsh; as I wished to increase my knowledge of colloquial Welsh by having a companion who would be obliged, in all he had to say to me, to address me in Welsh, and to whom I should perforce have to reply in that tongue. The good lady had told me that there was a tenant of hers who lived in one of the cottages, which looked into the perllan, who, she believed, would be glad to go with me, and was just the kind of man I was in quest of. The day after I had met with the adventures, which I have related in the preceding chapter, she informed me that the person in question was awaiting my orders in the kitchen. I told her to let me see him. He presently made his appearance. He was about forty-five years of age, of middle stature, and had a good-natured open countenance. His dress was poor, but clean.

“Well,” said I to him in Welsh, “are you the Cumro who can speak no Saxon?”

“In truth, sir, I am.”

“Are you sure that you know no Saxon?”

“Sir! I may know a few words, but I cannot converse in Saxon, nor understand a conversation in that tongue.”

“Can you read Cumraeg?”

“In truth, sir, I can.”

“What have you read in it?”

“I have read, sir, the Ysgrythyr-lan, till I have it nearly at the ends of my fingers.”

“Have you read anything else besides the holy Scripture?”

“I read the newspaper, sir, when kind friends lend it to me.”

“In Cumraeg?”

“Yes, sir, in Cumraeg. I can read Saxon a little but not sufficient to understand a Saxon newspaper.”

“What newspaper do you read?”

“I read, sir, Yr Amserau.”

“Is that a good newspaper?”

“Very good, sir, it is written by good men.”

“Who are they?”

“They are our ministers, sir.”

“Of what religion are you?”

“A Calvinistic Methodist, sir.”

“Why are you of the Methodist religion?”

“Because it is the true religion, sir.”

“You should not be bigoted. If I had more Cumraeg than I have, I would prove to you that the only true religion is that of the Lloegrian Church.”

“In truth, sir, you could not do that; had you all the Cumraeg in Cumru you could not do that.”

“What are you by trade?”

“I am a gwehydd, sir.”

“What do you earn by weaving?”

“About five shillings a week, sir.”

“Have you a wife?

“I have, sir.”

“Does she earn anything?”

“Very seldom, sir; she is a good wife, but is generally sick.”

“Have you children?”

“I have three, sir.”

“Do they earn anything?”

“My eldest son, sir, sometimes earns a few pence, the others are very small.”

“Will you sometimes walk with me, if I pay you?”

“I shall be always glad to walk with you, sir, whether you pay me or not.”

“Do you think it lawful to walk with one of the Lloegrian Church?”

“Perhaps, sir, I ought to ask the gentleman of the Lloegrian Church whether he thinks it lawful to walk with the poor Methodist weaver.”

“Well, I think we may venture to walk with one another. What is your name?”

“John Jones, sir.”

“Jones! Jones! I was walking with a man of that name the other night.”

“The man with whom you walked the other night is my brother, sir, and what he said to me about you made me wish to walk with you also.”

“But he spoke very good English.”

“My brother had a turn for Saxon, sir; I had not. Some people have a turn for the Saxon, others have not. I have no Saxon, sir, my wife has digon iawn — my two youngest children speak good Saxon, sir, my eldest son not a word.”

“Well; shall we set out?”

“If you please, sir.”

“To what place shall we go?”

“Shall we go to the Pont y Cyssylltau, sir?”

“What is that?”

“A mighty bridge, sir, which carries the Camlas over a valley on its back.”

“Good! let us go and see the bridge of the junction, for that I think is the meaning in Saxon of Pont y Cyssylltau.”

We set out; my guide conducted me along the bank of the Camlas in the direction of Rhiwabon, that is towards the east. On the way we discoursed on various subjects, and understood each other tolerably well. I asked if he had been anything besides a weaver. He told me that when a boy he kept sheep on the mountain. “Why did you not go on keeping sheep?” said “I would rather keep sheep than weave.”

“My parents wanted me at home, sir,” said he; “and I was not sorry to go home; I earned little, and lived badly.”

“A shepherd,” said I, “can earn more than five shillings a week.”

“I was never a regular shepherd, sir,” said he. “But, sir, I would rather be a weaver with five shillings a week in Llangollen, than a shepherd with fifteen on the mountain. The life of a shepherd, sir, is perhaps not exactly what you and some other gentlefolks think. The shepherd bears much cold and wet, sir, and he is very lonely; no society save his sheep and dog. Then, sir, he has no privileges. I mean gospel privileges. He does not look forward to Dydd Sul, as a day of llawenydd, of joy and triumph, as the weaver does; that is if he is religiously disposed. The shepherd has no chapel, sir, like the weaver. Oh, sir, I say again that I would rather be a weaver in Llangollen with five shillings a week, than a shepherd on the hill with fifteen.”

“Do you mean to say,” said I, “that you live with your family on five shillings a week?”

“No, sir. I frequently do little commissions by which I earn something. Then, sir, I have friends, very good friends. A good lady of our congregation sent me this morning half-a-pound of butter. The people of our congregation are very kind to each other, sir.”

“That is more,” thought I to myself, “than the people of my congregation are; they are always cutting each other’s throats.” I next asked if he had been much about Wales.

“Not much, sir. However, I have been to Pen Caer Gybi, which you call Holy Head, and to Beth Gelert, sir.”

“What took you to those places?”

“I was sent to those places on business, sir; as I told you before, sir, I sometimes execute commissions. At Beth Gelert I stayed some time. It was there I married, sir; my wife comes from a place called Dol Gellyn near Beth Gelert.”

“What was her name?”

“Her name was Jones, sir.”

“What, before she married?”

“Yes, sir, before she married. You need not be surprised, sir; there are plenty of the name of Jones in Wales. The name of my brother’s wife, before she married, was also Jones.”

“Your brother is a clever man,” said I.

“Yes, sir, for a Cumro he is clebber enough.”

“For a Cumro?”

“Yes, sir, he is not a Saxon, you know.”

“Are Saxons then so very clever?”

“Oh yes, sir; who so clebber? The clebberest people in Llangollen are Saxons; that is, at carnal things — for at spiritual things I do not think them at all clebber. Look at Mr A., sir.”

“Who is he?”

“Do you not know him, sir? I thought everybody knew Mr A. He is a Saxon, sir, and keeps the inn on the road a little way below where you live. He is the clebberest man in Llangollen, sir. He can do everything. He is a great cook, and can wash clothes better than any woman. Oh, sir, for carnal things, who so clebber as your countrymen!”

After walking about four miles by the side of the canal we left it, and bearing to the right presently came to the aqueduct, which strode over a deep and narrow valley, at the bottom of which ran the Dee. “This is the Pont y Cysswllt, sir,” said my guide; “it’s the finest bridge in the world, and no wonder, if what the common people say be true, namely that every stone cost a golden sovereign.”

We went along it; the height was awful. My guide, though he had been a mountain shepherd, confessed that he was somewhat afraid. “It gives me the pendro, sir,” said he, “to look down.” I too felt somewhat dizzy, as I looked over the parapet into the glen. The canal which this mighty bridge carries across the gulf is about nine feet wide, and occupies about two-thirds of the width of the bridge and the entire western side. The footway is towards the east. From about the middle of the bridge there is a fine view of the forges on the Cefn Bach and also of a huge hill near it called the Cefn Mawr. We reached the termination, and presently crossing the canal by a little wooden bridge we came to a village. My guide then said, “If you please, sir, we will return by the old bridge, which leads across the Dee in the bottom of the vale.” He then led me by a romantic road to a bridge on the west of the aqueduct, and far below. It seemed very ancient. “This is the old bridge, sir,” said my guide; “it was built a hundred years before the Pont y Cysswllt was dreamt of.” We now walked to the west, in the direction of Llangollen, along the bank of the river. Presently we arrived where the river, after making a bend, formed a pool. It was shaded by lofty trees, and to all appearance was exceedingly deep. I stopped to look at it, for I was struck with its gloomy horror. “That pool, sir,” said John Jones, “is called Llyn y Meddwyn, the drunkard’s pool. It is called so, sir, because a drunken man once fell into it, and was drowned. There is no deeper pool in the Dee, sir, save one, a little below Llangollen, which is called the pool of Catherine Lingo. A girl of that name fell into it, whilst gathering sticks on the high bank above it. She was drowned, and the pool was named after her. I never look at either without shuddering, thinking how certainly I should be drowned if I fell in, for I cannot swim, sir.”

“You should have learnt to swim when you were young,” said I, “and to dive too. I know one who has brought up stones from the bottom, I daresay, of deeper pools than either, but he was a Saxon, and at carnal things, you know, none so clebber as the Saxons.”

I found my guide a first-rate walker and a good botanist, knowing the names of all the plants and trees in Welsh. By the time we returned to Llangollen I had formed a very high opinion of him, in which I was subsequently confirmed by what I saw of him during the period of our acquaintance, which was of some duration. He was very honest, disinterested, and exceedingly good-humoured. It is true, he had his little skits occasionally at the Church, and showed some marks of hostility to the church cat, more especially when he saw it mounted on my shoulders; for the creature soon began to take liberties, and in less than a week after my arrival at the cottage, generally mounted on my back, when it saw me reading or writing, for the sake of the warmth. But setting aside those same skits at the Church, and that dislike of the church cat, venial trifles after all, and easily to be accounted for, on the score of his religious education, I found nothing to blame, and much to admire, in John Jones, the Calvinistic Methodist of Llangollen.


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