Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 61

Set out for Wrexham — Craig y Forwyn — Uncertainty — The Collier — Cadogan Hall — Methodistical Volume.

HAVING learnt from a newspaper that a Welsh book on Welsh Methodism had been just published at Wrexham, I determined to walk to that place and purchase it. I could easily have procured the work through a bookseller at Llangollen, but I wished to explore the hill-road which led to Wrexham, what the farmer under the Eglwysig rocks had said of its wildness having excited my curiosity, which the procuring of the book afforded me a plausible excuse for gratifying. If one wants to take any particular walk it is always well to have some business, however trifling, to transact at the end of it; so having determined to go to Wrexham by the mountain road, I set out on the Saturday next after the one on which I had met the farmer who had told me of it.

The day was gloomy, with some tendency to rain. I passed under the hill of Dinas Bran. About a furlong from its western base I turned round and surveyed it — and perhaps the best view of the noble mountain is to be obtained from the place where I turned round. How grand though sad from there it looked, that grey morning, with its fine ruin on its brow above which a little cloud hovered! It put me in mind of some old king, unfortunate and melancholy but a king still, with the look of a king, and the ancestral crown still on his furrowed forehead. I proceeded on my way, all was wild and solitary, and the yellow leaves were falling from the trees of the groves. I passed by the farmyard, where I had held discourse with the farmer on the preceding Saturday, and soon entered the glen, the appearance of which had so much attracted my curiosity. A torrent, rushing down from the north, was on my right. It soon began to drizzle, and mist so filled the glen that I could only distinguish objects a short way before me, and on either side. I wandered on a considerable way, crossing the torrent several times by rustic bridges. I passed two lone farm-houses and at last saw another on my left hand. The mist had now cleared up, but it still slightly rained — the scenery was wild to a degree — a little way before me was a tremendous pass, near it an enormous crag of a strange form rising to the very heavens, the upper part of it of a dull white colour. Seeing a respectable-looking man near the house I went up to him.

“Am I in the right way to Wrexham?” said I, addressing him in English.

“You can get to Wrexham this way, sir,” he replied.

“Can you tell me the name of that crag?” said I, pointing to the large one.

“That crag, sir, is called Craig y Forwyn.”

“The maiden’s crag,” said I; “why is it called so?”

“I do not know sir; some people say that it is called so because its head is like that of a woman, others because a young girl in love leaped from the top of it and was killed.”

“And what is the name of this house?” said I.

“This house, sir, is called Plas Uchaf.”

“Is it called Plas Uchaf,” said I, “because it is the highest house in the valley?”

“It is, sir; it is the highest of three homesteads; the next below it is Plas Canol — and the one below that Plas Isaf.”

“Middle place and lower place,” said I. “It is very odd that I know in England three people who derive their names from places so situated. One is Houghton, another Middleton, and the third Lowdon; in modern English, Hightown, Middletown, and Lowtown.”

“You appear to be a person of great intelligence, sir.”

“No, I am not — but I am rather fond of analysing words, particularly the names of persons and places. Is the road to Wrexham hard to find?”

“Not very, sir; that is, in the day-time. Do you live at Wrexham?”

“No,” I replied, “I am stopping at Llangollen.”

“But you won’t return there to-night?”

“Oh yes, I shall!”

“By this road?”

“No, by the common road. This is not a road to travel by night.”

“Nor is the common road, sir, for a respectable person on foot; that is, on a Saturday night. You will perhaps meet drunken colliers who may knock you down.”

“I will take my chance for that,” said I, and bade him farewell. I entered the pass, passing under the strange-looking crag. After I had walked about half a mile the pass widened considerably and a little way further on debauched on some wild moory ground. Here the road became very indistinct. At length I stopped in a state of uncertainty. A well-defined path presented itself, leading to the east, whilst northward before me there seemed scarcely any path at all. After some hesitation I turned to the east by the well-defined path, and by so doing went wrong, as I soon found.

I mounted the side of a brown hill covered with moss-like grass, and here and there heather. By the time I arrived at the top of the hill the sun shone out, and I saw Rhiwabon and Cefn Mawr before me in the distance. “I am going wrong,” said I; “I should have kept on due north. However, I will not go back, but will steeple-chase it across the country to Wrexham, which must be towards the north-east.” So turning aside from the path, I dashed across the hills in that direction; sometimes the heather was up to my knees, and sometimes I was up to the knees in quags. At length I came to a deep ravine which I descended; at the bottom was a quagmire, which, however, I contrived to cross by means of certain stepping-stones, and came to a cart path up a heathery hill which I followed. I soon reached the top of the hill, and the path still continuing, I followed it till I saw some small grimy-looking huts, which I supposed were those of colliers. At the door of the first I saw a girl. I spoke to her in Welsh, and found she had little or none. I passed on, and seeing the door of a cabin open I looked in — and saw no adult person, but several grimy but chubby children. I spoke to them in English, and found they could only speak Welsh. Presently I observed a robust woman advancing towards me; she was barefooted and bore on her head an immense lump of coal. I spoke to her in Welsh, and found she could only speak English. “Truly,” said I to myself, “I am on the borders. What a mixture of races and languages!” The next person I met was a man in a collier’s dress; he was a stout-built fellow of the middle age, with a coal-dusty surly countenance. I asked him in Welsh if I was in the right direction for Wrexham, he answered in a surly manner in English, that I was. I again spoke to him in Welsh, making some indifferent observation on the weather, and he answered in English yet more gruffly than before. For the third time I spoke to him in Welsh, whereupon looking at me with a grin of savage contempt, and showing a set of teeth like those of a mastiff, he said, “How’s this? why you haven’t a word of English? A pretty fellow you, with a long coat on your back and no English on your tongue, an’t you ashamed of yourself? Why, here am I in a short coat, yet I’d have you to know that I can speak English as well as Welsh, aye and a good deal better.” “All people are not equally clebber,” said I, still speaking Welsh. “Clebber,” said he, “clebber! what is clebber? why can’t you say clever! Why, I never saw such a low, illiterate fellow in my life;” and with these words he turned away with every mark of disdain, and entered a cottage near at hand.

“Here I have had,” said I to myself, as I proceeded on my way, “to pay for the over-praise which I lately received. The farmer on the other side of the mountain called me a person of great intelligence, which I never pretended to be, and now this collier calls me a low, illiterate fellow, which I really don’t think I am. There is certainly a Nemesis mixed up with the affairs of this world; every good thing which you get, beyond what is strictly your due, is sure to be required from you with a vengeance. A little over-praise by a great deal of underrating — a gleam of good fortune by a night of misery.”

I now saw Wrexham Church at about the distance of three miles, and presently entered a lane which led gently down from the hills, which were the same heights I had seen on my right hand, some months previously, on my way from Wrexham to Rhiwabon. The scenery now became very pretty — hedge-rows were on either side, a luxuriance of trees and plenty of green fields. I reached the bottom of the lane, beyond which I saw a strange-looking house upon a slope on the right hand. It was very large, ruinous, and seemingly deserted. A little beyond it was a farm-house, connected with which was a long row of farming buildings along the road-side. Seeing a woman seated knitting at the door of a little cottage, I asked her in English the name of the old, ruinous house?

“Cadogan Hall, sir,” she replied.

“And whom does it belong to?” said I.

“I don’t know exactly,” replied the woman, “but Mr Morris at the farm holds it, and stows his things in it.”

“Can you tell me anything about it?” said I.

“Nothing farther,” said the woman, “than that it is said to be haunted, and to have been a barrack many years ago.”

“Can you speak Welsh?” said I.

“No,” said the woman, “I are Welsh but have no Welsh language.”

Leaving the woman I put on my best speed and in about half an hour reached Wrexham.

The first thing I did on my arrival was to go to the bookshop and purchase the Welsh Methodistic book. It cost me seven shillings, and was a thick, bulky octavo with a cut-and-come-again expression about it, which was anything but disagreeable to me, for I hate your flimsy publications. The evening was now beginning to set in, and feeling somewhat hungry I hurried off to the Wynstay Arms through streets crowded with market people. On arriving at the inn I entered the grand room and ordered dinner. The waiters, observing me splashed with mud from head to foot, looked at me dubiously; seeing, however, the respectable-looking volume which I bore in my hand — none of your railroad stuff — they became more assured, and I presently heard one say to the other, “It’s all right — that’s Mr So-and-So, the great Baptist preacher. He has been preaching amongst the hills — don’t you see his Bible?”

Seating myself at a table I inspected the volume. And here perhaps the reader expects that I shall regale him with an analysis of the Methodistical volume at least as long as that of the life of Tom O’ the Dingle. In that case, however, he will be disappointed; all that I shall at present say of it is, that it contained a history of Methodism in Wales, with the lives of the principal Welsh Methodists. That it was fraught with curious and original matter, was written in a straightforward, Methodical style, and that I have no doubt it will some day or other be extensively known and highly prized.

After dinner I called for half a pint of wine. Whilst I was trifling over it, a commercial traveller entered into conversation with me. After some time he asked me if I was going further that night.

“To Llangollen,” said I.

“By the ten o’clock train?” said he.

“No,” I replied, “I’m going on foot.”

“On foot!” said he; “I would not go on foot there this night for fifty pounds.”

“Why not?” said I.

“For fear of being knocked down by the colliers, who will be all out and drunk.”

“If not more than two attack me,” said I, “I shan’t much mind. With this book I am sure I can knock down one, and I think I can find play for the other with my fists.”

The commercial traveller looked at me. “A strange kind of Baptist minister,” I thought I heard him say.

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