Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 70

Mountain Scenery — The Rhyadr — Wonderful Feat.

AFTER walking about a mile with the cataract always in sight, I emerged from the glen into an oblong valley extending from south to north, having lofty hills on all sides, especially on the west, from which direction the cataract comes. I advanced across the vale till within a furlong of this object, when I was stopped by a deep hollow or nether vale into which the waters of the cataract tumble. On the side of this hollow I sat down, and gazed down before me and on either side. The water comes spouting over a crag of perhaps two hundred feet in altitude between two hills, one south-east and the other nearly north. The southern hill is wooded from the top, nearly down to where the cataract bursts forth; and so, but not so thickly, is the northern hill, which bears a singular resemblance to a hog’s back. Groves of pine are on the lower parts of both; in front of a grove low down on the northern hill is a small white house of a picturesque appearance. The water of the cataract, after reaching the bottom of the precipice, rushes in a narrow brook down the vale in the direction of Llan Rhyadr. To the north-east, between the hog-backed hill and another strange-looking mountain, is a wild glen, from which comes a brook to swell the waters discharged by the Rhyadr. The south-west side of the vale is steep, and from a cleft of a hill in that quarter a slender stream rushing impetuously joins the brook of the Rhyadr, like the rill of the northern glen. The principal object of the whole is of course the Rhyadr. What shall I liken it to? I scarcely know, unless to an immense skein of silk agitated and disturbed by tempestuous blasts, or to the long tail of a grey courser at furious speed. Through the profusion of long silvery threads or hairs, or what looked such, I could here and there see the black sides of the crag down which the Rhyadr precipitated itself with something between a boom and a roar.

After sitting on the verge of the hollow for a considerable time I got up, and directed my course towards the house in front of the grove. I turned down the path which brought me to the brook which runs from the northern glen into the waters discharged by the Rhyadr, and crossing it by stepping-stones, found myself on the lowest spur of the hog-backed hill. A steep path led towards the house. As I drew near two handsome dogs came rushing to welcome the stranger. Coming to a door on the northern side of the house I tapped, and a handsome girl of about thirteen making her appearance, I inquired in English the nearest way the waterfall; she smiled, and in her native language said that she had no Saxon. On my telling her in Welsh that I was come to see the Pistyll she smiled again, and said that I was welcome, then taking me round the house, she pointed to a path and bade me follow it. I followed the path which led downward to a tiny bridge of planks, a little way below the fall. I advanced to the middle of the bridge, then turning to the west, looked at the wonderful object before me.

There are many remarkable cataracts in Britain and the neighbouring isles, even the little Celtic Isle of Man has its remarkable waterfall; but this Rhyadr, the grand cataract of North Wales, far exceeds them all in altitude and beauty, though it is inferior to several of them in the volume of its flood. I never saw water falling so gracefully, so much like thin beautiful threads, as here. Yet even this cataract has its blemish. What beautiful object has not something which more or less mars its loveliness? There is an ugly black bridge or semi-circle of rock, about two feet in diameter and about twenty feet high, which rises some little way below it, and under which the water, after reaching the bottom, passes, which intercepts the sight, and prevents it from taking in the whole fall at once. This unsightly object has stood where it now stands since the day of creation, and will probably remain there to the day of judgment. It would be a desecration of nature to remove it by art, but no one could regret if nature in one of her floods were to sweep it away.

As I was standing on the planks a woman plainly but neatly dressed came from the house. She addressed me in very imperfect English, saying that she was the mistress of the house and should be happy to show me about. I thanked her for her offer, and told her that she might speak Welsh, whereupon she looked glad, and said in that tongue that she could speak Welsh much better than Saesneg. She took me by a winding path up a steep bank on the southern side of the fall to a small plateau, and told me that was the best place to see the Pistyll from. I did not think so, for we were now so near that we were almost blinded by the spray, though, it is true, the semicircle of rock no longer impeded the sight; this object we now saw nearly laterally rising up like a spectral arch, spray and foam above it, and water rushing below. “That is a bridge rather for ysprydoedd 9 to pass over than men,” said I.

“It is,” said the woman; “but I once saw a man pass over it.”

“How did he get up?” said I. “The sides are quite steep and slippery.”

“He wriggled to the sides like a llysowen, 10 till he got to the top, when he stood upright for a minute, and then slid down on the other side.”

“Was he any one from these parts?” said I.

“He was not. He was a dyn dieithr, a Russian; one of those with whom we are now at war.”

“Was there as much water tumbling then as now?”

“More, for there had fallen more rain.”

“I suppose the torrent is sometimes very dreadful?” said I.

“It is indeed, especially in winter; for it is then like a sea, and roars like thunder or a mad bull.”

After I had seen all I wished of the cataract, the woman asked me to come to the house and take some refreshment. I followed her to a neat little room where she made me sit down and handed me a bowl of butter-milk. On the table was a book in which she told me it was customary for individuals who visited the cataract to insert their names. I took up the book which contained a number of names mingled here and there with pieces of poetry. Amongst these compositions was a Welsh englyn on the Rhyadr, which, though incorrect in its prosody, I thought stirring and grand. I copied it, and subjoin it with a translation which I made on the spot.

“Crychiawg, ewynawg anian — yw y Rhyadr Yn rhuo mal taran; Colofn o dwr, gloyw-dwr glan, Gorwyllt, un lliw ag arian.”

Foaming and frothing from mountainous height, Roaring like thunder the Rhyadr falls; Though its silvery splendour the eye may delight, Its fury the heart of the bravest appals.

9 Spirits.

10 Eel.


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