Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 31

Start for Anglesey — The Post–Master — Asking Questions — Mynydd Lydiart — Mr Pritchard — Way to Llanfair.

WHEN I started from Bangor, to visit the birth-place of Gronwy Owen, I by no means saw my way clearly before me. I knew that he was born in Anglesey in a parish called Llanfair Mathafarn eithaf, that is St Mary’s of farther Mathafarn — but as to where this Mathafarn lay, north or south, near or far, I knew positively nothing. Passing through the northern suburb of Bangor I saw a small house in front of which was written “post-office” in white letters; before this house underneath a shrub in a little garden sat an old man reading. Thinking that from this person, whom I judged to be the post-master, I was as likely to obtain information with respect to the place of my destination as from any one, I stopped, and taking off my hat for a moment, inquired whether he could tell me anything about the direction of a place called Llanfair Mathafarn eithaf. He did not seem to understand my question, for getting up he came towards me and asked what I wanted: I repeated what I had said, whereupon his face became animated.

“Llanfair Mathafarn eithaf!” said he. “Yes, I can tell you about it, and with good reason, for it lies not far from the place where I was born.”

The above was the substance of what he said, and nothing more, for he spoke in English somewhat broken.

“And how far is Llanfair from here?” said I.

“About ten miles,” he replied.

“That’s nothing,” said I: “I was afraid it was much farther.”

“Do you call ten miles nothing,” said he, “in a burning day like this? I think you will be both tired and thirsty before you get to Llanfair, supposing you go there on foot. But what may your business be at Llanfair?” said he, looking at me inquisitively. “It is a strange place to go to, unless you go to buy hogs or cattle.”

“I go to buy neither hogs nor cattle,” said I, “though I am somewhat of a judge of both; I go on a more important errand, namely to see the birth-place of the great Gronwy Owen.”

“Are you any relation of Gronwy Owen?” said the old man, looking at me more inquisitively than before, through a large pair of spectacles which he wore.

“None whatever,” said I.

“Then why do you go to see his parish, it is a very poor one.”

“From respect to his genius,” said I; “I read his works long ago, and was delighted with them.”

“Are you a Welshman?” said the old man.

“No,” said I, “I am no Welshman.”

“Can you speak Welsh?” said he, addressing me in that language.

“A little,” said I; “but not so well as I can read it.”

“Well,” said the old man, “I have lived here a great many years, but never before did a Saxon call upon me, asking questions about Gronwy Owen, or his birth-place. Immortality to his memory! I owe much to him, for reading his writings taught me to be a poet!”

“Dear me!” said I, “are you a poet?”

“I trust I am,” said he; “though the humblest of Ynys Fon.”

A flash of proud fire, methought, illumined his features as he pronounced these last words.

“I am most happy to have met you,” said I; “but tell me how am I to get to Llanfair?”

“You must go first,” said he, “to Traeth Coch which in Saxon is called the ‘Red Sand.’ In the village called the Pentraeth which lies above that sand, I was born; through the village and over the bridge you must pass, and after walking four miles due north you will find yourself in Llanfair eithaf, at the northern extremity of Mon. Farewell! That ever Saxon should ask me about Gronwy Owen, and his birth-place! I scarcely believe you to be a Saxon, but whether you be or not, I repeat farewell.”

Coming to the Menai Bridge I asked the man who took the penny toll at the entrance, the way to Pentraeth Coch.

“You see that white house by the wood,” said he, pointing some distance into Anglesey; “you must make towards it till you come to a place where there are four cross roads and then you must take the road to the right.”

Passing over the bridge I made my way towards the house by the wood which stood on the hill till I came where the four roads met, when I turned to the right as directed.

The country through which I passed seemed tolerably well cultivated, the hedge-rows were very high, seeming to spring out of low stone walls. I met two or three gangs of reapers proceeding to their work with scythes in their hands.

In about half-an-hour I passed by a farm-house partly surrounded with walnut trees. Still the same high hedges on both sides of the road: are these hedges relics of the sacrificial groves of Mona? thought I to myself. Then I came to a wretched village through which I hurried at the rate of six miles an hour. I then saw a long, lofty, craggy hill on my right hand towards the east.

“What mountain is that?” said I to an urchin playing in the hot dust of the road.

“Mynydd Lydiart!” said the urchin, tossing up a handful of the hot dust into the air, part of which in descending fell into my eyes.

I shortly afterwards passed by a handsome lodge. I then saw groves, mountain Lydiart forming a noble background.

“Who owns this wood?” said I in Welsh to two men who were limbing a felled tree by the road-side.

“Lord Vivian,” answered one, touching his hat.

“The gentleman is our countryman,” said he to the other after I had passed.

I was now descending the side of a pretty valley, and soon found myself at Pentraeth Coch. The part of the Pentraeth where I now was consisted of a few houses and a church, or something which I judged to be a church, for there was no steeple; the houses and church stood about a little open spot or square, the church on the east, and on the west a neat little inn or public-house over the door of which was written “The White Horse. Hugh Pritchard.” By this time I had verified in part the prediction of the old Welsh poet of the post-office. Though I was not yet arrived at Llanfair, I was, if not tired, very thirsty, owing to the burning heat of the weather, so I determined to go in and have some ale. On entering the house I was greeted in English by Mr Hugh Pritchard himself, a tall bulky man with a weather-beaten countenance, dressed in a brown jerkin and corduroy trowsers, with a broad low-crowned buff-coloured hat on his head, and what might he called half shoes and half high-lows on his feet. He had a short pipe in his mouth, which when he greeted me he took out, but replaced as soon as the greeting was over, which consisted of “Good-day, sir,” delivered in a frank, hearty tone. I looked Mr Hugh Pritchard in the face and thought I had never seen a more honest countenance. On my telling Mr Pritchard that I wanted a pint of ale, a buxom damsel came forward and led me into a nice cool parlour on the right-hand side of the door, and then went to fetch the ale.

Mr Pritchard meanwhile went into a kind of tap-room, fronting the parlour, where I heard him talking in Welsh about pigs and cattle to some of his customers. I observed that he spoke with some hesitation; which circumstance I mention as rather curious, he being the only Welshman I have ever known who, when speaking his native language, appeared to be at a loss for words. The damsel presently brought me the ale, which I tasted and found excellent; she was going away when I asked her whether Mr Pritchard was her father; on her replying in the affirmative I inquired whether she was born in that house.

“No!” said she; “I was born in Liverpool; my father was born in this house, which belonged to his fathers before him, but he left it at an early age and married my mother in Liverpool, who was an Anglesey woman, and so I was born in Liverpool.”

“And what did you do in Liverpool?” said I.

“My mother kept a little shop,” said the girl, “whilst my father followed various occupations.”

“And how long have you been here?” said I.

“Since the death of my grandfather,” said the girl, “which happened about a year ago. When he died my father came here and took possession of his birth-right.”

“You speak very good English,” said I; “have you any Welsh?”

“Oh yes, plenty,” said the girl; “we always speak Welsh together, but being born at Liverpool, I of course have plenty of English.”

“And which language do you prefer?” said I.

“I think I like English best,” said the girl, “it is the most useful language.”

“Not in Anglesey,” said I.

“Well,” said the girl, “it is the most genteel.”

“Gentility,” said I, “will be the ruin of Welsh, as it has been of many other things — what have I to pay for the ale?”

“Three pence,” said she.

I paid the money and the girl went out. I finished my ale, and getting up made for the door; at the door I was met by Mr Hugh Pritchard, who came out of the tap-room to thank me for my custom, and to bid me farewell. I asked him whether I should have any difficulty in finding the way to Llanfair.

“None whatever,” said he, “you have only to pass over the bridge of the Traeth, and to go due north for about four miles, and you will find yourself in Llanfair.”

“What kind of place is it?” said I.

“A poor straggling village,” said Mr Pritchard.

“Shall I be able to obtain a lodging there for the night?” said I.

“Scarcely one such as you would like,” said Hugh.

“And where had I best pass the night?” I demanded.

“We can accommodate you comfortably here,” said Mr Pritchard, “provided you have no objection to come back.”

I told him that I should be only too happy, and forthwith departed, glad at heart that I had secured a comfortable lodging for the night.

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