Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 71

Wild Moors — The Guide — Scientific Discourse — The Land of Arthur — The Umbrella — Arrival at Bala.

WHEN I had rested myself and finished the buttermilk, I got up, and making the good woman a small compensation for her civility, inquired if I could get to Bala without returning to Llan Rhyadr.

“Oh yes,” said she, “if you cross the hills for about five miles you will find yourself upon a road which will take you straight to Bala.”

“Is there anyone here,” said I, “who will guide me over the hills, provided I pay him for his trouble?”

“Oh yes,” said she, “I know one who will be happy to guide you whether you pay him or not.”

She went out and presently returned with a man about thirty-five, stout and well-looking, and dressed in a waggoner’s frock.

“There,” said she, “this is the man to show you over the hills; few know the paths better.”

I thanked her, and telling the man I was ready, bade him lead the way. We set out, the two dogs of which I have spoken attending us, and seemingly very glad to go. We ascended the side of the hog-backed hill to the north of the Rhyadr. We were about twenty minutes in getting to the top, close to which stood a stone or piece of rock, very much resembling a church altar, and about the size of one. We were now on an extensive moory elevation, having the brook which forms the Rhyadr a little way on our left. We went nearly due west, following no path, for path there was none, but keeping near the brook. Sometimes we crossed water-courses which emptied their tribute into the brook, and every now and then ascended and descended hillocks covered with gorse and whin. After a little time I entered into conversation with my guide. He had not a word of English.

“Are you married?” said I.

“In truth I am, sir.”

“What family have you?”

“I have a daughter.”

“Where do you live?”

“At the house of the Rhyadr.”

“I suppose you live there as servant?”

“No, sir, I live there as master.”

“Is the good woman I saw there your wife?”

“In truth, sir, she is.”

“And the young girl I saw your daughter?”

“Yes, sir, she is my daughter.”

“And how came the good woman not to tell me you were her husband?”

“I suppose, sir, you did not ask who I was, and she thought you did not care to know.”

“But can you be spared from home?”

“Oh yes, sir, I was not wanted at home.”

“What business are you?”

“I am a farmer, sir.”

“A sheep farmer?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Who is your landlord.”

“Sir Watkin.”

“Well, it was very kind of you to come with me.”

“Not at all, sir; I was glad to come with you, for we are very lonesome at Rhyadr, except during a few weeks in the summer, when the gentry come to see the Pistyll. Moreover, I have sheep lying about here which need to be looked at now and then, and by coming hither with you I shall have an opportunity of seeing them.”

We frequently passed sheep feeding together in small numbers. In two or three instances my guide singled out individuals, caught them, and placing their heads between his knees examined the insides of their eyelids, in order to learn by their colour whether or not they were infected with the pwd or moor disorder. We had some discourse about that malady. At last he asked me if there was a remedy for it.

“Oh yes,” said I; “a decoction of hoarhound.”

“What is hoarhound?” said he.

“Llwyd y Cwn,” said I. “Pour some of that down the sheep’s throat twice a day, by means of a horn, and the sheep will recover, for the bitterness, do you see, will destroy the worm 11 in the liver, which learned men say is the cause of the disorder.”

We left the brook on our left hand and passed by some ruined walls which my guide informed me had once belonged to houses but were now used as sheepfolds. After walking several miles, according to my computation, we began to ascend a considerable elevation covered with brown heath and ling. As we went on the dogs frequently put up a bird of a black colour, which flew away with a sharp whirr.

“What bird is that?” said I.

“Ceiliog y grug, the cock of the heath,” replied my guide. “It is said to be very good eating, but I have never tasted it. The ceiliog y grug is not food for the like of me. It goes to feed the rich Saxons in Caer Ludd.”

We reached the top of the elevation.

“Yonder,” said my guide, pointing to a white bare place a great way off to the west, “is Bala road.”

“Then I will not trouble you to go any further,” said I; “I can find my way thither.”

“No, you could not,” said my guide; “if you were to make straight for that place you would perhaps fall down a steep, or sink into a peat hole up to your middle, or lose your way and never find the road, for you would soon lose sight of that place. Follow me, and I will lead you into a part of the road more to the left, and then you can find your way easily enough to that bare place, and from thence to Bala.” Thereupon he moved in a southerly direction down the steep and I followed him. In about twenty minutes we came to the road.

“Now,” said my guide, “you are on the road; bear to the right and you cannot miss the way to Bala.”

“How far is it to Bala?” said I.

“About twelve miles,” he replied.

I gave him a trifle, asking at the same time if it was sufficient. “Too much by one-half,” he replied; “many, many thanks.” He then shook me by the hand, and accompanied by his dogs departed, not back over the moor, but in a southerly direction down the road.

Wending my course to the north, I came to the white bare spot which I had seen from the moor, and which was in fact the top of a considerable elevation over which the road passed. Here I turned and looked at the hills I had come across. There they stood, darkly blue, a rain cloud, like ink, hanging over their summits. Oh, the wild hills of Wales, the land of old renown and of wonder, the land of Arthur and Merlin!

The road now lay nearly due west. Rain came on, but it was at my back, so I expanded my umbrella, flung it over my shoulder and laughed. Oh, how a man laughs who has a good umbrella when he has the rain at his back, aye and over his head too, and at all times when it rains except when the rain is in his face, when the umbrella is not of much service. Oh, what a good friend to a man is an umbrella in rain time, and likewise at many other times. What need he fear if a wild bull or a ferocious dog attacks him, provided he has a good umbrella? He unfurls the umbrella in the face of the bull or dog, and the brute turns round quite scared, and runs away. Or if a footpad asks him for his money, what need he care provided he has an umbrella? He threatens to dodge the ferrule into the ruffian’s eye, and the fellow starts back and says, “Lord, sir! I meant no harm. I never saw you before in all my life. I merely meant a little fun.” Moreover, who doubts that you are a respectable character provided you have an umbrella? You go into a public-house and call for a pot of beer, and the publican puts it down before you with one hand without holding out the other for the money, for he sees that you have an umbrella and consequently property. And what respectable man, when you overtake him on the way and speak to him, will refuse to hold conversation with you, provided you have an umbrella? No one. The respectable man sees you have an umbrella, and concludes that you do not intend to rob him, and with justice, for robbers never carry umbrellas. Oh, a tent, a shield, a lance, and a voucher for character is an umbrella. Amongst the very best friends of man must be reckoned an umbrella. 12

The way lay over dreary, moory hills; at last it began to descend, and I saw a valley below me with a narrow river running through it, to which wooded hills sloped down; far to the west were blue mountains. The scene was beautiful but melancholy; the rain had passed away, but a gloomy almost November sky was above, and the mists of night were coming down apace.

I crossed a bridge at the bottom of the valley and presently saw a road branching to the right. I paused, but after a little time went straight forward. Gloomy woods were on each side of me and night had come down. Fear came upon me that I was not on the right road, but I saw no house at which I could inquire, nor did I see a single individual for miles of whom I could ask. At last I heard the sound of hatchets in a dingle on my right, and catching a glimpse of a gate at the head of a path, which led down into it, I got over it. After descending some time I hallooed. The noise of the hatchets ceased. I hallooed again, and a voice cried in Welsh, “What do you want?” “To know the way to Bala,” I replied. There was no answer, but presently I heard steps, and the figure of a man drew nigh, half undistinguishable in the darkness, and saluted me. I returned his salutation, and told him I wanted to know the way to Bala. He told me, and I found I had been going right. I thanked him and regained the road. I sped onward, and in about half-an-hour saw some houses, then a bridge, then a lake on my left, which I recognised as the lake of Bala. I skirted the end of it, and came to a street cheerfully lighted up, and in a minute more was in the White Lion Inn.

11 For an account of this worm, which has various denominations, see article “Fasciola Hepatica” in any Encyclopaedia.

12 As the umbrella is rather a hackneyed subject two or three things will of course be found in the above eulogium on an umbrella which have been said by other folks on that subject; the writer, however, flatters himself that in his eulogium on an umbrella two or three things will also be found which have never been said by any one else about an umbrella.

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