Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 66

Sycharth — The Kindly Welcome — Happy Couple — Sycharth — Recalling the Dead — Ode to Sycharth.

I WAS now at the northern extremity of the valley near a great house past which the road led in the direction of the north-east. Seeing a man employed in breaking stones I inquired the way to Sychnant.

“You must turn to the left,” said he, “before you come to yon great house, follow the path which you will find behind it, and you will soon be in Sychnant.”

“And to whom does the great house belong?”

“To whom? why, to Sir Watkin.”

“Does he reside there?”

“Not often. He has plenty of other houses, but he sometimes comes there to hunt.”

“What is the place’s name?”

“Llan Gedwin.”

I turned to the left, as the labourer had directed me. The path led upward behind the great house round a hill thickly planted with trees. Following it I at length found myself on a broad road on the top extending east and west, and having on the north and south beautiful wooded hills. I followed the road which presently began to descend. On reaching level ground I overtook a man in a waggoner’s frock, of whom I inquired the way to Sycharth. He pointed westward down the vale to what appeared to be a collection of houses, near a singular-looking monticle, and said, “That is Sycharth.”

We walked together till we came to a road which branched off on the right to a little bridge.

“That is your way,” said he, and pointing to a large building beyond the bridge, towering up above a number of cottages, he said, “that is the factory of Sycharth;” he then left me, following the high road, whilst I proceeded towards the bridge, which I crossed, and coming to the cottages entered one on the right hand of a remarkably neat appearance.

In a comfortable kitchen by a hearth on which blazed a cheerful billet sat a man and woman. Both arose when I entered: the man was tall, about fifty years of age, and athletically built; he was dressed in a white coat, corduroy breeches, shoes, and grey worsted stockings. The woman seemed many years older than the man; she was tall also, and strongly built, and dressed in the ancient female costume, namely, a kind of round, half Spanish hat, long blue woollen kirtle or gown, a crimson petticoat, and white apron, and broad, stout shoes with buckles.

“Welcome, stranger,” said the man, after looking me a moment or two full in the face.

“Croesaw, dyn dieithr — welcome, foreign man,” said the woman, surveying me with a look of great curiosity.

“Won’t you sit down?” said the man, handing me a chair.

I sat down, and the man and woman resumed their seats.

“I suppose you come on business connected with the factory?” said the man.

“No,” said I, “my business is connected with Owen Glendower.”

“With Owen Glendower?” said the man, staring.

“Yes,” said I, “I came to see his place.”

“You will not see much of his house now,” said the man — “it is down; only a few bricks remain.”

“But I shall see the place where his house stood,” said I, “which is all I expected to see.”

“Yes, you can see that.”

“What does the dyn dieithr say?” said the woman in Welsh with an inquiring look.

“That he is come to see the place of Owen Glendower.”

“Ah!” said the woman with a smile.

“Is that good lady your wife?” said I.

“She is.”

“She looks much older than yourself.”

“And no wonder. She is twenty-one years older.”

“How old are you?”

“Fifty-three.”

“Dear me,” said I, “what a difference in your ages. How came you to marry?”

“She was a widow and I had lost my wife. We were lone in the world, so we thought we would marry.”

“Do you live happily together?”

“Very.”

“Then you did quite right to marry. What is your name?”

“David Robert.”

“And that of your wife?”

“Gwen Robert.”

“Does she speak English?”

“She speaks some, but not much.”

“Is the place where Owen lived far from here?”

“It is not. It is the round hill a little way above the factory.”

“Is the path to it easy to find?”

“I will go with you,” said the man. “I work at the factory, but I need not go there for an hour at least.”

He put on his hat and bidding me follow him went out. He led me over a gush of water which passing under the factory turns the wheel; thence over a field or two towards a house at the foot of the mountain where he said the steward of Sir Watkin lived, of whom it would be as well to apply for permission to ascend the hill, as it was Sir Watkin’s ground. The steward was not at home; his wife was, however, and she, when we told her we wished to go to the top of Owain Glendower’s Hill, gave us permission with a smile. We thanked her and proceeded to mount the hill or monticle once the residence of the great Welsh chieftain, whom his own deeds and the pen of Shakespear have rendered immortal.

Owen Glendower’s hill or mount at Sycharth, unlike the one bearing his name on the banks of the Dee, is not an artificial hill, but the work of nature, save and except that to a certain extent it has been modified by the hand of man. It is somewhat conical and consists of two steps or gradations, where two fosses scooped out of the hill go round it, one above the other, the lower one embracing considerably the most space. Both these fosses are about six feet deep, and at one time doubtless were bricked, as stout large, red bricks are yet to be seen, here and there, in their sides. The top of the mount is just twenty-five feet across. When I visited it it was covered with grass, but had once been subjected to the plough as various furrows indicated. The monticle stands not far from the western extremity of the valley, nearly midway between two hills which confront each other north and south, the one to the south being the hill which I had descended, and the other a beautiful wooded height which is called in the parlance of the country Llwyn Sycharth or the grove of Sycharth, from which comes the little gush of water which I had crossed, and which now turns the wheel of the factory and once turned that of Owen Glendower’s mill, and filled his two moats, part of the water by some mechanical means having been forced up the eminence. On the top of this hill or monticle in a timber house dwelt the great Welshman Owen Glendower, with his wife, a comely, kindly woman, and his progeny, consisting of stout boys and blooming girls, and there, though wonderfully cramped for want of room, he feasted bards who requited his hospitality with alliterative odes very difficult to compose, and which at the present day only a few book-worms understand. There he dwelt for many years, the virtual if not the nominal king of North Wales, occasionally no doubt looking down with self-complaisance from the top of his fastness on the parks and fish-ponds of which he had several; his mill, his pigeon tower, his ploughed lands, and the cottages of a thousand retainers, huddled round the lower part of the hill, or strewn about the valley; and there he might have lived and died had not events caused him to draw the sword and engage in a war, at the termination of which Sycharth was a fire-scathed ruin, and himself a broken-hearted old man in anchorite’s weeds, living in a cave on the estate of Sir John Scudamore, the great Herefordshire proprietor, who married his daughter Elen, his only surviving child.

After I had been a considerable time on the hill looking about me and asking questions of my guide, I took out a piece of silver and offered it to him, thanking him at the same time for the trouble he had taken in showing me the place. He refused it, saying that I was quite welcome.

I tried to force it upon him.

“I will not take it,” said he; “but if you come to my house and have a cup of coffee, you may give sixpence to my old woman.”

“I will come,” said I, “in a short time. In the meanwhile do you go; I wish to be alone.”

“What do you want to do?”

“To sit down and endeavour to recall Glendower, and the times that are past.”

The fine fellow looked puzzled; at last he said, “Very well,” shrugged his shoulders, and descended the hill.

When he was gone I sat down on the brow of the hill, and with my face turned to the east began slowly to chant a translation made by myself in the days of my boyhood of an ode to Sycharth composed by Iolo Goch when upwards of a hundred years old, shortly after his arrival at that place, to which he had been invited by Owen Glendower:-

Twice have I pledg’d my word to thee To come thy noble face to see; His promises let every man Perform as far as e’er he can! Full easy is the thing that’s sweet, And sweet this journey is and meet; I’ve vowed to Owain’s court to go, And I’m resolved to keep my vow; So thither straight I’ll take my way With blithesome heart, and there I’ll stay, Respect and honour, whilst I breathe, To find his honour’d roof beneath. My chief of long lin’d ancestry Can harbour sons of poesy; I’ve heard, for so the muse has told, He’s kind and gentle to the old; Yes, to his castle I will hie; There’s none to match it ‘neath the sky: It is a baron’s stately court, Where bards for sumptuous fare resort; There dwells the lord of Powis land, Who granteth every just demand. Its likeness now I’ll limn you out: ’Tis water girdled wide about; It shows a wide and stately door Reached by a bridge the water o’er; ’Tis formed of buildings coupled fair, Coupled is every couple there; Within a quadrate structure tall Muster the merry pleasures all. Conjointly are the angles bound — No flaw in all the place is found. Structures in contact meet the eye Upon the hillock’s top on high; Into each other fastened they The form of a hard knot display. There dwells the chief we all extol In timber house on lightsome knoll; Upon four wooden columns proud Mounteth his mansion to the cloud; Each column’s thick and firmly bas’d, And upon each a loft is plac’d; In these four lofts, which coupled stand, Repose at night the minstrel band; Four lofts they were in pristine state, But now partitioned form they eight. Tiled is the roof, on each house-top Rise smoke-ejecting chimneys up. All of one form there are nine halls Each with nine wardrobes in its walls With linen white as well supplied As fairest shops of fam’d Cheapside. Behold that church with cross uprais’d And with its windows neatly glaz’d; All houses are in this comprest — An orchard’s near it of the best, Also a park where void of fear Feed antler’d herds of fallow deer. A warren wide my chief can boast, Of goodly steeds a countless host. Meads where for hay the clover grows, Corn-fields which hedges trim inclose, A mill a rushing brook upon, And pigeon tower fram’d of stone; A fish-pond deep and dark to see, To cast nets in when need there be, Which never yet was known to lack A plenteous store of perch and jack. Of various plumage birds abound; Herons and peacocks haunt around, What luxury doth his hall adorn, Showing of cost a sovereign scorn; His ale from Shrewsbury town he brings; His usquebaugh is drink for kings; Bragget he keeps, bread white of look, And, bless the mark! a bustling cook. His mansion is the minstrels’ home, You’ll find them there whene’er you come Of all her sex his wife’s the best; The household through her care is blest She’s scion of a knightly tree, She’s dignified, she’s kind and free. His bairns approach me, pair by pair, O what a nest of chieftains fair! Here difficult it is to catch A sight of either bolt or latch; The porter’s place here none will fill; Her largess shall be lavish’d still, And ne’er shall thirst or hunger rude In Sycharth venture to intrude. A noble leader, Cambria’s knight, The lake possesses, his by right, And midst that azure water plac’d, The castle, by each pleasure grac’d.

And when I had finished repeating these lines I said, “How much more happy, innocent, and holy, I was in the days of my boyhood when I translate Iolo’s ode than I am at the present time!” Then covering my face with my hands I wept like a child.

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