Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 23

An Expedition — Pont y Pandy — The Sabbath — Glendower’s Mount — Burial Place of Old — Corwen — The Deep Glen — The Grandmother — The Roadside Chapel.

I WAS now about to leave Llangollen, for a short time, and to set out on an expedition to Bangor, Snowdon, and one or two places in Anglesea. I had determined to make the journey on foot, in order that I might have perfect liberty of action, and enjoy the best opportunities of seeing the country. My wife and daughter were to meet me at Bangor, to which place they would repair by the railroad, and from which, after seeing some of the mountain districts, they would return to Llangollen by the way they came, where I proposed to join them, returning, however, by a different way from the one I went, that I might traverse new districts. About eleven o’clock of a brilliant Sunday morning I left Llangollen, after reading the morning-service of the Church to my family. I set out on a Sunday because I was anxious to observe the general demeanour of the people, in the interior of the country, on the Sabbath.

I directed my course towards the west, to the head of the valley. My wife and daughter after walking with me about a mile bade me farewell, and returned. Quickening my pace I soon left Llangollen valley behind me and entered another vale, along which the road which I was following, and which led to Corwen and other places, might be seen extending for miles. Lumpy hills were close upon my left, the Dee running noisily between steep banks, fringed with trees, was on my right; beyond it rose hills which form part of the wall of the Vale of Clwyd; their tops bare, but their sides pleasantly coloured with yellow corn-fields and woods of dark verdure. About an hour’s walking, from the time when I entered the valley, brought me to a bridge over a gorge, down which water ran to the Dee. I stopped and looked over the side of the bridge nearest to the hill. A huge rock about forty feet long by twenty broad, occupied the entire bed of the gorge, just above the bridge, with the exception of a little gullet to the right, down which between the rock and a high bank, on which stood a cottage, a run of water purled and brawled. The rock looked exactly like a huge whale lying on its side, with its back turned towards the runnel. Above it was a glen of trees. After I had been gazing a little time a man making his appearance at the door of the cottage just beyond the bridge I passed on, and drawing nigh to him, after a slight salutation, asked him in English the name of the bridge.

“The name of the bridge, sir,” said the man, in very good English, “is Pont y Pandy.”

“Does not that mean the bridge of the fulling mill?”

“I believe it does, sir,” said the man.

“Is there a fulling mill near?”

“No, sir, there was one some time ago, but it is now a sawing mill.”

Here a woman, coming out, looked at me steadfastly.

“Is that gentlewoman your wife?”

“She is no gentlewoman, sir, but she is my wife.”

“Of what religion are you?”

“We are Calvinistic–Methodists, sir.”

“Have you been to chapel?”

“We are just returned, sir.”

Here the woman said something to her husband, which I did not hear, but the purport of which I guessed from the following question which he immediately put.

“Have you been to chapel, sir?”

“I do not go to chapel; I belong to the Church.”

“Have you been to church, sir?”

“I have not — I said my prayers at home, and then walked out.”

“It is not right to walk out on the Sabbath-day, except to go to church or chapel.”

“Who told you so?”

“The law of God, which says you shall keep holy the Sabbath-day.”

“I am not keeping it unholy.”

“You are walking about, and in Wales when we see a person walking idly about, on the Sabbath-day, we are in the habit of saying, Sabbath-breaker, where are you going?”

“The Son of Man walked through the fields on the Sabbath-day, why should I not walk along the roads?”

“He who called Himself the Son of Man was God and could do what He pleased, but you are not God.”

“But He came in the shape of a man to set an example. Had there been anything wrong in walking about on the Sabbath-day, He would not have done it.”

Here the wife exclaimed, “How worldly-wise these English are!”

“You do not like the English,” said I.

“We do not dislike them,” said the woman; “at present they do us no harm, whatever they did of old.”

“But you still consider them,” said I, “the seed of Y Sarfes cadwynog, the coiling serpent.”

“I should be loth to call any people the seed of the serpent,” said the woman.

“But one of your great bards did,” said I.

“He must have belonged to the Church, and not to the chapel then,” said the woman. “No person who went to chapel would have used such bad words.”

“He lived,” said I, “before people were separated into those of the Church and the chapel; did you ever hear of Taliesin Ben Beirdd?”

“I never did,” said the woman.

“But I have,” said the man; “and of Owain Glendower too.”

“Do people talk much of Owen Glendower in these parts?” said I.

“Plenty,” said the man, “and no wonder, for when he was alive he was much about here — some way farther on there is a mount, on the bank of the Dee, called the mount of Owen Glendower, where it is said he used to stand and look out after his enemies.”

“Is it easy to find?” said I.

“Very easy,” said the man, “it stands right upon the Dee and is covered with trees; there is no mistaking it.”

I bade the man and his wife farewell, and proceeded on my way. After walking about a mile, I perceived a kind of elevation which answered to the description of Glendower’s mount, which the man by the bridge had given me. It stood on the right hand, at some distance from the road, across a field. As I was standing looking at it a man came up from the direction in which I myself had come. He was a middle-aged man, plainly but decently dressed, and had something of the appearance of a farmer.

“What hill may that be?” said I in English, pointing to the elevation.

“Dim Saesneg, sir,” said the man, looking rather sheepish, “Dim gair o Saesneg.”

Rather surprised that a person of his appearance should not have a word of English, I repeated my question in Welsh.

“Ah, you speak Cumraeg, sir;” said the man evidently surprised that a person of my English appearance should speak Welsh. “I am glad of it! What hill is that, you ask — Dyna Mont Owain Glyndwr, sir.”

“Is it easy to get to?” said I.

“Quite easy, sir,” said the man. “If you please I will go with you.”

I thanked him, and opening a gate he conducted me across the field to the mount of the Welsh hero.

The mount of Owen Glendower stands close upon the southern bank of the Dee, and is nearly covered with trees of various kinds. It is about thirty feet high from the plain, and about the same diameter at the top. A deep black pool of the river which here runs far beneath the surface of the field, purls and twists under the northern side, which is very steep, though several large oaks spring out of it. The hill is evidently the work of art, and appeared to me to be some burying-place of old.

“And this is the hill of Owain Glyndwr?” said I.

“Dyma Mont Owain Glyndwr, sir, lle yr oedd yn sefyll i edrych am ei elvnion yn dyfod o Gaer Lleon. This is the hill of Owain Glendower, sir, where he was in the habit of standing to look out for his enemies coming from Chester.”

“I suppose it was not covered with trees then?” said I.

“No, sir; it has not been long planted with trees. They say, however, that the oaks which hang over the river are very old.”

“Do they say who raised this hill?”

“Some say that God raised it, sir; others that Owain Glendower raised it. Who do you think raised it?”

“I believe that it was raised by man, but not by Owen Glendower. He may have stood upon it, to watch for the coming of his enemies, but I believe it was here long before his time, and that it was raised over some old dead king by the people whom he had governed.”

“Do they bury kings by the side of rivers, sir?”

“In the old time they did, and on the tops of mountains; they burnt their bodies to ashes, placed them in pots and raised heaps of earth or stones over them. Heaps like this have frequently been opened, and found to contain pots with ashes and bones.”

“I wish all English could speak Welsh, sir.”

“Why?”

“Because then we poor Welsh who can speak no English could learn much which we do not know.”

Descending the monticle we walked along the road together. After a little time I asked my companion of what occupation he was and where he lived.

“I am a small farmer, sir,” said he, “and live at Llansanfraid Glyn Dyfrdwy across the river.”

“How comes it,” said I, “that you do not know English?”

“When I was young,” said he, “and could have easily learnt it, I cared nothing about it, and now that I am old and see its use, it is too late to acquire it.”

“Of what religion are you?” said I.

“I am of the Church,” he replied.

I was about to ask him if there were many people of his persuasion in these parts; before, however, I could do so he turned down a road to the right which led towards a small bridge, and saying that was his way home, bade me farewell and departed.

I arrived at Corwen which is just ten miles from Llangollen and which stands beneath a vast range of rocks at the head of the valley up which I had been coming, and which is called Glyndyfrdwy, or the valley of the Dee water. It was now about two o’clock, and feeling rather thirsty I went to an inn very appropriately called the Owen Glendower, being the principal inn in the principal town of what was once the domain of the great Owen. Here I stopped for about an hour refreshing myself and occasionally looking into a newspaper in which was an excellent article on the case of poor Lieutenant P. I then started for Cerrig-y-Drudion, distant about ten miles, where I proposed to pass the night. Directing my course to the north-west, I crossed a bridge over the Dee water and then proceeded rapidly along the road, which for some way lay between corn-fields, in many of which sheaves were piled up, showing that the Welsh harvest was begun. I soon passed over a little stream, the name of which I was told was Alowan. “Oh, what a blessing it is to be able to speak Welsh!” said I, finding that not a person to whom I addressed myself had a word of English to bestow upon me. After walking for about five miles I came to a beautiful but wild country of mountain and wood with here and there a few cottages. The road at length making an abrupt turn to the north, I found myself with a low stone wall on my left, on the verge of a profound ravine, and a high bank covered with trees on my right. Projecting out over the ravine was a kind of looking place, protected by a wall, forming a half-circle, doubtless made by the proprietor of the domain for the use of the admirers of scenery. There I stationed myself, and for some time enjoyed one of the wildest and most beautiful scenes imaginable. Below me was the deep narrow glen or ravine, down which a mountain torrent roared and foamed. Beyond it was a mountain rising steeply, its nearer side, which was in deep shade, the sun having long sunk below its top, hirsute with all kinds of trees, from the highest pinnacle down to the torrent’s brink. Cut on the top surface of the wall, which was of slate, and therefore easily impressible by the knife, were several names, doubtless those of tourists, who had gazed from the look-out on the prospect, amongst which I observed in remarkably bold letters that of T. . . .

“Eager for immortality, Mr T.,” said I; “but you are no H. M., no Huw Morris.”

Leaving the looking place I proceeded, and, after one or two turnings, came to another, which afforded a view if possible yet more grand, beautiful and wild, the most prominent objects of which were a kind of devil’s bridge flung over the deep glen and its foaming water, and a strange-looking hill beyond it, below which, with a wood on either side, stood a white farm-house — sending from a tall chimney a thin misty reek up to the sky. I crossed the bridge, which, however diabolically fantastical it looked at a distance, seemed when one was upon it, capable of bearing any weight, and soon found myself by the farm-house past which the way led. An aged woman sat on a stool by the door.

“A fine evening,” said I in English.

“Dim Saesneg;” said the aged woman.

“Oh, the blessing of being able to speak Welsh,” said I; and then repeated in that language what I had said to her in the other tongue.

“I daresay,” said the aged woman, “to those who can see.”

“Can you not see?”

“Very little. I am almost blind.”

“Can you not see me?”

“I can see something tall and dark before me; that is all.”

“Can you tell me the name of the bridge?”

“Pont y Glyn bin — the bridge of the glen of trouble.”

“And what is the name of this place?”

“Pen y bont — the head of the bridge.”

“What is your own name?”

“Catherine Hughes.”

“How old are you?”

“Fifteen after three twenties.”

“I have a mother three after four twenties; that is eight years older than yourself.”

“Can she see?”

“Better than I— she can read the smallest letters.”

“May she long be a comfort to you!”

“Thank you — are you the mistress of the house?”

“I am the grandmother.”

“Are the people in the house?”

“They are not — they are at the chapel.”

“And they left you alone?”

“They left me with my God.”

“Is the chapel far from here?”

“About a mile.”

“On the road to Cerrig y Drudion?”

“On the road to Cerrig y Drudion.”

I bade her farewell, and pushed on — the road was good, with high rocky banks on each side. After walking about the distance indicated by the old lady, I reached a building, which stood on the right-hand side of the road, and which I had no doubt was the chapel, from a half-groaning, half-singing noise which proceeded from it. The door being open, I entered, and stood just within it, bare-headed. A rather singular scene presented itself. Within a large dimly-lighted room, a number of people were assembled, partly seated in rude pews, and partly on benches. Beneath a kind of altar, a few yards from the door, stood three men — the middlemost was praying in Welsh in a singular kind of chant, with his arms stretched out. I could distinguish the words, “Jesus descend among us! sweet Jesus descend among us — quickly.” He spoke very slowly, and towards the end of every sentence dropped his voice, so that what he said was anything but distinct. As I stood within the door, a man dressed in coarse garments came up to me from the interior of the building, and courteously, and in excellent Welsh, asked me to come with him and take a seat. With equal courtesy, but far inferior Welsh, I assured him that I meant no harm, but wished to be permitted to remain near the door, whereupon with a low bow he left me. When the man had concluded his prayer, the whole of the congregation began singing a hymn, many of the voices were gruff and discordant, two or three, however, were of great power, and some of the female ones of surprising sweetness. At the conclusion of the hymn, another of the three men by the altar began to pray, just in the same manner as his comrade had done, and seemingly using much the same words. When he had done, there was another hymn, after which, seeing that the congregation was about to break up, I bowed my head towards the interior of the building, and departed.

Emerging from the hollow way, I found myself on a moor, over which the road lay in the direction of the north. Towards the west, at an immense distance, rose a range of stupendous hills, which I subsequently learned were those of Snowdon — about ten minutes’ walking brought me to Cerrig y Drudion, a small village near a rocky elevation, from which, no doubt, the place takes its name, which interpreted, is the Rock of Heroes.

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