Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 73

Breakfast — The Freckled Maid — Llan uwch Llyn — The Landlady — Llewarch Hen — Conversions to the Church.

AWAKING occasionally in the night I heard much storm and rain. The following morning it was gloomy and lowering. As it was Sunday I determined to pass the day at Bala, and accordingly took my Prayer Book out of my satchel, and also my single white shirt, which I put on.

Having dressed myself I went to the coffee-room and sat down to breakfast. What a breakfast! — pot of hare; ditto of trout; pot of prepared shrimps; dish of plain shrimps; tin of sardines; beautiful beef-steak; eggs, muffin; large loaf, and butter, not forgetting capital tea. There’s a breakfast for you!

As the little freckled maid was removing the breakfast things I asked her how old she was.

“Eighteen, sir, last Candlemas,” said the freckled maid.

“Are your parents alive?”

“My mother is, sir, but my father is dead.”

“What was your father?”

“He was an Irishman, sir! and boots to this inn.”

“Is your mother Irish?”

“No, sir, she is of this place; my father married her shortly after he came here.”

“Of what religion are you?”

“Church, sir, Church.”

“Was your father of the Church?”

“Not always, sir; he was once what is called a Catholic. He turned to the Church after he came here.”

“A’n’t there a great many Methodists in Bala?”

“Plenty, sir, plenty.”

“How came your father not to go over to the Methodists instead of the Church?”

“‘Cause he didn’t like them, sir; he used to say they were a trumpery, cheating set; that they wouldn’t swear, but would lie through a three-inch board.”

“I suppose your mother is a Church-woman?”

“She is now, sir; but before she knew my father she was a Methodist.”

“Of what religion is the master of the house?”

“Church, sir, Church; so is all the family.”

“Who is the clergyman of the place?”

“Mr Pugh, sir!”

“Is he a good preacher?”

“Capital, sir! and so is each of his curates; he and they are converting the Methodists left and right.”

“I should like to hear him.”

“Well, sir! that you can do. My master, who is going to church presently, will be happy to accommodate you in his pew.”

I went to church with the landlord, a tall gentlemanly man of the name of Jones — Oh that eternal name of Jones! Rain was falling fast, and we were glad to hold up our umbrellas. We did not go to the church at Bala, at which there was no service that morning, but to that of a little village close by, on the side of the lake, the living of which is incorporated with that of Bala. The church stands low down by the lake at the bottom of a little nook. Its name which is Llan uwch Llyn, is descriptive of its position, signifying the Church above the Lake. It is a long, low, ancient edifice, standing north-east by south-west. The village is just above it on a rising ground, behind which are lofty hills pleasantly dotted with groves, trees, and houses. The interior of the edifice has a somewhat dilapidated appearance. The service was in Welsh. The clergyman was about forty years of age, and had a highly-intelligent look. His voice was remarkably clear and distinct. He preached an excellent practical sermon, text, 14th chapter, 22nd verse of Luke, about sending out servants to invite people to the supper. After the sermon there was a gathering for the poor.

As I returned to the inn I had a good deal of conversation with the landlord on religious subjects. He told me that the Church of England, which for a long time had been a down-trodden Church in Wales, had of late begun to raise its head, and chiefly owing to the zeal and activity of its present ministers; that the former ministers of the Church were good men, but had not energy enough to suit the times in which they lived; that the present ministers fought the Methodist preachers with their own weapons, namely, extemporary preaching, and beat them, winning shoals from their congregations. He seemed to think that the time was not far distant when the Anglican Church would be the popular as well as the established Church of Wales.

Finding myself rather dull in the inn, I went out again, notwithstanding that it rained. I ascended the toman or mound which I had visited on a former occasion. Nothing could be more desolate and dreary than the scene around. The woods were stripped of their verdure and the hills were half shrouded in mist. How unlike was this scene to the smiling, glorious prospect which had greeted my eyes a few months before. The rain coming down with redoubled violence, I was soon glad to descend and regain the inn.

Shortly before dinner I was visited by the landlady, a fine tall woman of about fifty, with considerable remains of beauty in her countenance. She came to ask me if I was comfortable. I told her that it was my own fault if I was not. We were soon in very friendly discourse. I asked her her maiden name.

“Owen,” said she, laughing, “which, after my present name of Jones, is the most common name in Wales.”

“They were both one and the same originally,” said I, “Owen and Jones both mean John.”

She too was a staunch member of the Church of England, which she said was the only true Church. She spoke in terms of high respect and admiration of her minister, and said that a new church was being built, the old one not being large enough to accommodate the numbers who thronged to hear him.

I had a noble goose for dinner, to which I did ample justice. About four o’clock, the weather having cleared up, I took a stroll. It was a beautiful evening, though rain clouds still hovered about. I wandered to the northern end of Llyn Tegid, which I had passed in the preceding evening. The wind was blowing from the south, and tiny waves were beating against the shore, which consisted of small brown pebbles. The lake has certainly not its name, which signifies Lake of Beauty, for nothing. It is a beautiful sheet of water, and beautifully situated. It is oblong and about six miles in length. On all sides, except to the north, it is bounded by hills. Those at the southern end are very lofty, the tallest of which is Arran, which lifts its head to the clouds like a huge loaf. As I wandered on the strand I thought of a certain British prince and poet, who in the very old time sought a refuge in the vicinity of the lake from the rage of the Saxons. His name was Llewarch Hen, of whom I will now say a few words.

Llewarch Hen, or Llewarch the Aged, was born about the commencement of the sixth and died about the middle of the seventh century, having attained to the prodigious age of one hundred and forty or fifty years, which is perhaps the lot of about forty individuals in the course of a millennium. If he was remarkable for his years he was no less so for the number of his misfortunes. He was one of the princes of the Cumbrian Britons; but Cumbria was invaded by the Saxons, and a scene of horrid war ensued. Llewarch and his sons, of whom he had twenty-four, put themselves at the head of their forces, and in conjunction with the other Cumbrian princes made a brave but fruitless opposition to the invaders. Most of his sons were slain, and he himself with the remainder sought shelter in Powys, in the hall of Cynddylan, its prince. But the Saxon bills and bows found their way to Powys too. Cynddylan was slain, and with him the last of the sons of Llewarch, who, reft of his protector, retired to a hut by the side of the lake of Bala, where he lived the life of a recluse, and composed elegies on his sons and slaughtered friends, and on his old age, all of which abound with so much simplicity and pathos that the heart of him must be hard indeed who can read them unmoved. Whilst a prince he was revered for his wisdom and equity, and he is said in one of the historical triads to have been one of the three consulting warriors of Arthur.

In the evening I attended service in the old church at Bala. The interior of the edifice was remarkably plain; no ornament of any kind was distinguishable; the congregation was overflowing, amongst whom I observed the innkeeper and his wife, the little freckled maid and the boots. The entire service was in Welsh. Next to the pew in which I sat was one filled with young singing women, all of whom seemed to have voices of wonderful power. The prayers were read by a strapping young curate at least six feet high. The sermon was preached by the rector, and was a continuation of the one which I had heard him preach in the morning. It was a very comforting discourse, as the preacher clearly proved that every sinner will be pardoned who comes to Jesus. I was particularly struck with one part. The preacher said that Jesus’ arms being stretched out upon the cross was emblematic of His surprising love and His willingness to receive anybody. The service concluded with the noble anthem Teyrnasa Jesu Mawr, “May Mighty Jesus reign!”

The service over I returned to the parlour of the inn. There I sat for a long-time, lone and solitary, staring at the fire in the grate. I was the only guest in the house; a great silence prevailed both within and without; sometimes five minutes elapsed without my hearing a sound, and then, perhaps, the silence would be broken by a footstep at a distance in the street. At length, finding myself yawning, I determined to go to bed. The freckled maid as she lighted me to my room inquired how I liked the sermon. “Very much,” said I. “Ah,” said she, “did I not tell you that Mr Pugh was a capital preacher?” She then asked me how I liked the singing of the gals who sat in the next pew to mine. I told her that I liked it exceedingly. “Ah,” said she, “them gals have the best voices in Bala. They were once Methody gals, and sang in the chapels, but were converted, and are now as good Church as myself. Them gals have been the cause of a great many convarsions, for all the young fellows of their acquaintance amongst the Methodists — ”

“Follow them to church,” said I, “and in time become converted. That’s a thing of course. If the Church gets the girls she is quite sure of the fellows.”

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