Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 63

Preparations for Departure — Cat provided for — A Pleasant Party — Last Night at Llangollen.

I WAS awakened early on the Sunday morning by the howling of wind. There was a considerable storm throughout the day, but unaccompanied by rain. I went to church both in the morning and the evening. The next day there was a great deal of rain. It was now the latter end of October; winter was coming on, and my wife and daughter were anxious to return home. After some consultation it was agreed that they should depart for London, and that I should join them there after making a pedestrian tour in South Wales.

I should have been loth to quit Wales without visiting the Deheubarth or Southern Region, a land differing widely, as I had heard, both in language and customs from Gwynedd or the Northern, a land which had given birth to the illustrious Ab Gwilym, and where the great Ryce family had flourished, which very much distinguished itself in the Wars of the Roses — a member of which Ryce ap Thomas placed Henry the Seventh on the throne of Britain — a family of royal extraction, and which after the death of Roderic the Great for a long time enjoyed the sovereignty of the south.

We set about making the necessary preparations for our respective journeys. Those for mine were soon made. I bought a small leather satchel with a lock and key, in which I placed a white linen shirt, a pair of worsted stockings, a razor and a prayer-book. Along with it I bought a leather strap with which to sling it over my shoulder: I got my boots new soled, my umbrella, which was rather dilapidated, mended; put twenty sovereigns into my purse, and then said I am all right for the Deheubarth.

As my wife and daughter required much more time in making preparations for their journey than I for mine, and as I should only be in their way whilst they were employed, it was determined that I should depart on my expedition on Thursday, and that they should remain at Llangollen till the Saturday.

We were at first in some perplexity with respect to the disposal of the ecclesiastical cat; it would of course not do to leave it in the garden to the tender mercies of the Calvinistic Methodists of the neighbourhood, more especially those of the flannel manufactory, and my wife and daughter could hardly carry it with them. At length we thought of applying to a young woman of sound church principles, who was lately married and lived over the water on the way to the railroad station, with whom we were slightly acquainted, to take charge of the animal, and she on the first intimation of our wish, willingly acceded to it. So with her poor puss was left along with a trifle for its milk-money, and with her, as we subsequently learned, it continued in peace and comfort till one morning it sprang suddenly from the hearth into the air, gave a mew, and died. So much for the ecclesiastical cat!

The morning of Tuesday was rather fine, and Mr Ebenezer E-, who had heard of our intended departure, came to invite us to spend the evening at the Vicarage. His father had left Llangollen the day before for Chester, where he expected to be detained some days. I told him we should be most happy to come. He then asked me to take a walk. I agreed with pleasure, and we set out, intending to go to Llansilio at the western end of the valley and look at the church. The church was an ancient building. It had no spire, but had the little erection on its roof, so usual to Welsh churches, for holding a bell.

In the churchyard is a tomb in which an old squire of the name of Jones was buried about the middle of the last century. There is a tradition about this squire and tomb to the following effect. After the squire’s death there was a lawsuit about his property, in consequence of no will having been found. It was said that his will had been buried with him in the tomb, which after some time was opened, but with what success the tradition sayeth not.

In the evening we went to the Vicarage. Besides the family and ourselves there was Mr R— and one or two more. We had a very pleasant party; and as most of those present wished to hear something connected with Spain, I talked much about that country, sang songs of Germania, and related in an abridged form Lope de Vega’s ghost story, which is decidedly the best ghost story in the world.

In the afternoon of Wednesday I went and took leave of certain friends in the town; amongst others of old Mr Jones. On my telling him that I was about to leave Llangollen, he expressed considerable regret, but said that it was natural for me to wish to return to my native country. I told him that before returning to England I intended to make a pedestrian tour in South Wales. He said that he should die without seeing the south; that he had had several opportunities of visiting it when he was young, which he had neglected, and that he was now too old to wander far from home. He then asked me which road I intended to take. I told him that I intended to strike across the Berwyn to Llan Rhyadr, then visit Sycharth, once the seat of Owain Glendower, lying to the east of Llan Rhyadr, then return to that place, and after seeing the celebrated cataract across the mountains to Bala — whence I should proceed due south. I then asked him whether he had ever seen Sycharth and the Rhyadr; he told me that he had never visited Sycharth, but had seen the Rhyadr more than once. He then smiled and said that there was a ludicrous anecdote connected with the Rhyadr, which he would relate to me. “A traveller once went to see the Rhyadr, and whilst gazing at it a calf which had fallen into the stream above, whilst grazing upon the rocks, came tumbling down the cataract. ‘Wonderful!’ said the traveller, and going away reported that it was not only a fall of water, but of calves, and was very much disappointed, on visiting the waterfall on another occasion, to see no calf come tumbling down.” I took leave of the kind old gentleman with regret, never expecting to see him again, as he was in his eighty-fourth year — he was a truly excellent character, and might be ranked amongst the venerable ornaments of his native place.

About half-past eight o’clock at night John Jones came to bid me farewell. I bade him sit down, and sent for a pint of ale to regale him with. Notwithstanding the ale, he was very melancholy at the thought that I was about to leave Llangollen, probably never to return. To enliven him I gave him an account of my late expedition to Wrexham, which made him smile more than once. When I had concluded he asked me whether I knew the meaning of the word Wrexham: I told him I believed I did, and gave him the derivation which the reader will find in an early chapter of this work. He told me that with all due submission, he thought he could give me a better, which he had heard from a very clever man, gwr deallus iawn, who lived about two miles from Llangollen on the Corwen road. In the old time a man of the name of Sam kept a gwestfa, or inn, at the place where Wrexham flow stands; when he died he left it to his wife, who kept it after him, on which account the house was first called Ty wraig Sam, the house of Sam’s wife, and then for shortness Wraig Sam, and a town arising about it by degrees, the town too was called Wraig Sam, which the Saxons corrupted into Wrexham.

I was much diverted with this Welsh derivation of Wrexham, which I did not attempt to controvert. After we had had some further discourse John Jones got up, shook me by the hand, gave a sigh, wished me a “taith hyfryd,” and departed. Thus terminated my last day at Llangollen.

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