Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 43

The Inn at Bangor — Port Dyn Norwig — Sea Serpent — Thoroughly Welsh Place — Blessing of Health.

I WENT to the same inn at Bangor at which I had been before. It was Saturday night and the house was thronged with people who had arrived by train from Manchester and Liverpool, with the intention of passing the Sunday in the Welsh town. I took tea in an immense dining or ball-room, which was, however, so crowded with guests that its walls literally sweated. Amidst the multitude I felt quite solitary — my beloved ones had departed for Llangollen, and there was no one with whom I could exchange a thought or a word of kindness. I addressed several individuals, and in every instance repented; from some I got no answers, from others what was worse than no answers at all — in every countenance near me suspicion, brutality, or conceit, was most legibly imprinted — I was not amongst Welsh, but the scum of manufacturing England.

Every bed in the house was engaged — the people of the house, however, provided me a bed at a place which they called the cottage, on the side of a hill in the outskirts of the town. There I passed the night comfortably enough. At about eight in the morning I arose, returned to the inn, breakfasted, and departed for Beth Gelert by way of Caernarvon.

It was Sunday, and I had originally intended to pass the day at Bangor, and to attend divine service twice at the Cathedral, but I found myself so very uncomfortable, owing to the crowd of interlopers, that I determined to proceed on my journey without delay; making up my mind, however, to enter the first church I should meet in which service was being performed; for it is really not good to travel on the Sunday without going into a place of worship.

The day was sunny and fiercely hot, as all the days had lately been. In about an hour I arrived at Port Dyn Norwig: it stood on the right side of the road. The name of this place, which I had heard from the coachman who drove my family and me to Caernarvon and Llanberis a few days before, had excited my curiosity with respect to it, as it signifies the Port of the Norway man, so I now turned aside to examine it. “No doubt,” said I to myself, “the place derives its name from the piratical Danes and Norse having resorted to it in the old time.” Port Dyn Norwig seems to consist of a creek, a staithe, and about a hundred houses: a few small vessels were lying at the staithe. I stood about ten minutes upon it staring about, and then feeling rather oppressed by the heat of the sun, I bent my way to a small house which bore a sign, and from which a loud noise of voices proceeded. “Have you good ale?” said I in English to a good-looking buxom dame of about forty, whom I saw in the passage.

She looked at me but returned no answer.

“Oes genoch cwrw da?” said I.

“Oes!” she replied with a smile, and opening the door of a room on the left-hand bade me walk in.

I entered the room; six or seven men, seemingly sea-faring people, were seated drinking and talking vociferously in Welsh. Their conversation was about the sea-serpent: some believed in the existence of such a thing, others did not. After a little time one said, “Let us ask this gentleman for his opinion.”

“And what would be the use of asking him?” said another, “we have only Cumraeg, and he has only Saesneg.”

“I have a little broken Cumraeg, at the service of this good company,” said I. “With respect to the snake of the sea I beg leave to say that I believe in the existence of such a creature; and am surprised that any people in these parts should not believe in it: why, the sea-serpent has been seen in these parts.”

“When was that, Gwr Boneddig?” said one of the company.

“About fifty years ago,” said I. “Once in October, in the year 1805, as a small vessel of the Traeth was upon the Menai, sailing very slowly, the weather being very calm, the people on board saw a strange creature like an immense worm swimming after them. It soon overtook them, climbed on board through the tiller-hole, and coiled itself on the deck under the mast — the people at first were dreadfully frightened, but taking courage they attacked it with an oar and drove it overboard; it followed the vessel for some time, but a breeze springing up they lost sight of it.”

“And how did you learn this?” said the last who had addressed me.

“I read the story,” said I, “in a pure Welsh book called the Greal.”

“I now remember hearing the same thing,” said an old man, “when I was a boy; it had slipt out of my memory, but now I remember all about it. The ship was called the ROBERT ELLIS. Are you of these parts, gentleman?”

“No,” said I, “I am not of these parts.”

“Then you are of South Wales — indeed your Welsh is very different from ours.”

“I am not of South Wales,” said I, “I am the seed not of the sea-snake but of the coiling serpent, for so one of the old Welsh poets called the Saxons.”

“But how did you learn Welsh?” said the old man.

“I learned it by the grammar,” said I, “a long time ago.”

“Ah, you learnt it by the grammar,” said the old man; “that accounts for your Welsh being different from ours. We did not learn our Welsh by the grammar — your Welsh is different from ours, and of course better, being the Welsh of the grammar. Ah, it is a fine thing to be a grammarian.”

“Yes, it is a fine thing to be a grammarian,” cried the rest of the company, and I observed that everybody now regarded me with a kind of respect.

A jug of ale which the hostess had brought me had been standing before me some time. I now tasted it and found it very good. Whilst despatching it, I asked various questions about the old Danes, the reason why the place was called the port of the Norwegian, and about its trade. The good folks knew nothing about the old Danes, and as little as to the reason of its being called the port of the Norwegian — but they said that besides that name it bore that of Melin Heli, or the mill of the salt pool, and that slates were exported from thence, which came from quarries close by.

Having finished my ale, I bade the company adieu and quitted Port Dyn Norwig, one of the most thoroughly Welsh places I had seen, for during the whole time I was in it, I heard no words of English uttered, except the two or three spoken by myself. In about an hour I reached Caernarvon.

The road from Bangor to Caernarvon is very good and the scenery interesting — fine hills border it on the left, or south-east, and on the right at some distance is the Menai with Anglesey beyond it. Not far from Caernarvon a sandbank commences, extending for miles up the Menai, towards Bangor, and dividing the strait into two.

I went to the Castle Inn which fronts the square or market-place, and being shown into a room ordered some brandy-and-water, and sat down. Two young men were seated in the room. I spoke to them and received civil answers, at which I was rather astonished, as I found by the tone of their voices that they were English. The air of one was far superior to that of the other, and with him I was soon in conversation. In the course of discourse he informed me that being a martyr to ill-health he had come from London to Wales, hoping that change of air, and exercise on the Welsh hills, would afford him relief, and that his friend had been kind enough to accompany him. That he had been about three weeks in Wales, had taken all the exercise that he could, but that he was still very unwell, slept little and had no appetite. I told him not to be discouraged, but to proceed in the course which he had adopted till the end of summer, by which time I thought it very probable that he would be restored to his health, as he was still young. At these words of mine a beam of hope brightened his countenance, and he said that he had no other wish than to regain his health, and that if he did he should be the happiest of men. The intense wish of the poor young man for health caused me to think how insensible I had hitherto been to the possession of the greatest of all terrestrial blessings. I had always had the health of an elephant, but I never remembered to have been sensible to the magnitude of the blessing or in the slightest degree grateful to God who gave it. I shuddered to think how I should feel if suddenly deprived of my health. Far worse, no doubt, than that poor invalid. He was young, and in youth there is hope — but I was no longer young. At last, however, I thought that if God took away my health He might so far alter my mind that I might be happy even without health, or the prospect of it; and that reflection made me quite comfortable.

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