Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 74

Proceed on Journey — The Lad and Dog — Old Bala — The Pass — Extensive View — The Two Men — The Tap Nyth — The Meeting of the Waters — The Wild Valley — Dinas Mawddwy.

THE Monday morning was gloomy and misty, but it did not rain, a circumstance which gave me no little pleasure, as I intended to continue my journey without delay. After breakfast I bade farewell to my kind host, and also to the freckled maid, and departed, my satchel o’er my shoulder and my umbrella in my hand.

I had consulted the landlord on the previous day as to where I had best make my next halt, and had been advised by him to stop at Mallwyd. He said that if I felt tired I could put up at Dinas Mawddwy, about two miles on this side of Mallwyd, but that if I were not he would advise me to go on, as I should find very poor accommodation at Dinas. On my inquiring as to the nature of the road, he told me that the first part of it was tolerably good, lying along the eastern side of the lake, but that the greater part of it was very rough, over hills and mountains, belonging to the great chain of Arran, which constituted upon the whole the wildest part of all Wales.

Passing by the northern end of the lake I turned to the south, and proceeded along a road a little way above the side of the lake. The day had now to a certain extent cleared up, and the lake was occasionally gilded by beams of bright sunshine. After walking a little way I overtook a lad dressed in a white greatcoat and attended by a tolerably large black dog. I addressed him in English, but finding that he did not understand me I began to talk to him in Welsh.

“That’s a fine dog,” said I.

LAD. — Very fine, sir, and a good dog; though young he has been known to kill rats.

MYSELF. — What is his name?

LAD. — His name is Toby, sir.

MYSELF. — And what is your name?

LAD. — John Jones, sir.

MYSELF. — And what is your father’s?

LAD. — Waladr Jones, sir.

MYSELF. — Is Waladr the same as Cadwaladr?

LAD. — In truth, sir, it is.

MYSELF. — That is a fine name.

LAD. — It is, sir; I have heard my father say that it was the name of a king.

MYSELF. — What is your father?

LAD. — A farmer, sir.

MYSELF. — Does he farm his own land?

LAD. — He does not, sir; he is tenant to Mr Price of Hiwlas.

MYSELF. — Do you live far from Bala?

LAD. — Not very far, sir.

MYSELF. — Are you going home now?

LAD. — I am not, sir; our home is on the other side of Bala. I am going to see a relation up the road.

MYSELF. — Bala is a nice place.

LAD. — It is, sir; but not so fine as old Bala.

MYSELF. — I never heard of such a place. Where is it?

LAD. — Under the lake, sir.

MYSELF. — What do you mean?

LAD. — It stood in the old time where the lake now is, and a fine city it was, full of fine houses, towers, and castles, but with neither church nor chapel, for the people neither knew God nor cared for Him, and thought of nothing but singing and dancing and other wicked things. So God was angry with them, and one night, when they were all busy at singing and dancing and the like, God gave the word, and the city sank down into Unknown, and the lake boiled up where it once stood.

MYSELF. — That was a long time ago.

LAD. — In truth, sir, it was.

MYSELF. — Before the days of King Cadwaladr.

LAD. — I daresay it was, sir.

I walked fast, but the lad was a shrewd walker, and though encumbered with his greatcoat contrived to keep tolerably up with me. The road went over hill and dale, but upon the whole more upward than downward. After proceeding about an hour and a half we left the lake, to the southern extremity of which we had nearly come, somewhat behind, and bore away to the south-east, gradually ascending. At length the lad, pointing to a small farm-house on the side of a hill, told me he was bound thither, and presently bidding me farewell, turned aside up a footpath which led towards it.

About a minute afterwards a small delicate furred creature with a white mark round its neck and with a little tail trailing on the ground ran swiftly across the road. It was a weasel or something of that genus; on observing it I was glad that the lad and the dog were gone, as between them they would probably have killed it. I hate to see poor wild animals persecuted and murdered, lose my appetite for dinner at hearing the screams of a hare pursued by greyhounds, and am silly enough to feel disgust and horror at the squeals of a rat in the fangs of a terrier, which one of the sporting tribe once told me were the sweetest sounds in “natur.”

I crossed a bridge over a deep gulley which discharged its waters into a river in a valley on the right. Arran rose in great majesty on the farther side of this vale, its head partly shrouded in mist. The day now became considerably overcast. I wandered on over much rough ground till I came to a collection of houses at the bottom of a pass leading up a steep mountain. Seeing the door of one of the houses open I peeped in, and a woman who was sitting knitting in the interior rose and came out to me. I asked the name of the place. The name which she told me sounded something like Ty Capel Saer — the House of the Chapel of the Carpenter. I inquired the name of the river in the valley. Cynllwyd, hoary-headed, she seemed to say; but here, as well as with respect to her first answer, I speak under correction, for her Welsh was what my old friends, the Spaniards, would call muy cerrado, that is, close or indistinct. She asked me if I was going up the bwlch. I told her I was.

“Rather you than I,” said she, looking up to the heavens, which had assumed a very dismal, not to say awful, appearance.

Presently I began to ascend the pass or bwlch, a green hill on my right intercepting the view of Arran, another very lofty hill on my left with wood towards the summit. Coming to a little cottage which stood on the left I went to the door and knocked. A smiling young woman opened it, of whom I asked the name of the house.

“Ty Nant — the House of the Dingle,” she replied.

“Do you live alone?” said I.

“No; mother lives here.”

“Any Saesneg?”

“No,” said she with a smile, “S’sneg of no use here.”

Her face looked the picture of kindness. I was now indeed in Wales amongst the real Welsh. I went on some way. Suddenly there was a moaning sound, and rain came down in torrents. Seeing a deserted cottage on my left I went in. There was fodder in it, and it appeared to serve partly as a barn, partly as a cow-house. The rain poured upon the roof, and I was glad I had found shelter. Close behind this place a small brook precipitated itself down rocks in four successive falls.

The rain having ceased I proceeded, and after a considerable time reached the top of the pass. From thence I had a view of the valley and lake of Bala, the lake looking like an immense sheet of steel. A round hill, however, somewhat intercepted the view of the latter. The scene in my immediate neighbourhood was very desolate; moory hillocks were all about me of a wretched russet colour; on my left, on the very crest of the hill up which I had so long been toiling, stood a black pyramid of turf, a pole on the top of it. The road now wore nearly due west down a steep descent. Arran was slightly to the north of me. I, however, soon lost sight of it, as I went down the farther side of the hill, which lies over against it to the south-east. The sun, now descending, began to shine out. The pass down which I was now going was yet wilder than the one up which I had lately come. Close on my right was the steep hill’s side out of which the road or path had been cut, which was here and there overhung by crags of wondrous forms; on my left was a very deep glen, beyond which was a black, precipitous, rocky wall, from a chasm near the top of which tumbled with a rushing sound a slender brook, seemingly the commencement of a mountain stream, which hurried into a valley far below towards the west. When nearly at the bottom of the descent I stood still to look around me. Grand and wild was the scenery. On my left were noble green hills, the tops of which were beautifully gilded by the rays of the setting sun. On my right a black, gloomy, narrow valley or glen showed itself; two enormous craggy hills of immense altitude, one to the west and the other to the east of the entrance; that to the east terminating in a peak. The background to the north was a wall of rocks forming a semicircle, something like a bent bow with the head downward; behind this bow, just in the middle, rose the black loaf of Arran. A torrent tumbled from the lower part of the semicircle, and after running for some distance to the south turned to the west, the way I was going.

Observing a house a little way within the gloomy vale I went towards it, in the hope of finding somebody in it who could give me information respecting this wild locality. As I drew near the door two tall men came forth, one about sixty, and the other about half that age. The elder had a sharp, keen look; the younger a lumpy and a stupid one. They were dressed like farmers. On my saluting them in English the elder returned my salutation in that tongue, but in rather a gruff tone. The younger turned away his head and said nothing.

“What is the name of this house?” said I, pointing to the building.

“The name of it,” said the old man, “is Ty Mawr.”

“Do you live in it?” said I.

“Yes, I live in it.”

“What waterfall is that?” said I, pointing to the torrent tumbling down the crag at the farther end of the gloomy vale.

“The fountain of the Royal Dyfi.”

“Why do you call the Dyfy royal?” said I.

“Because it is the king of the rivers in these parts.”

“Does the fountain come out of a rock?”

“It does not; it comes out of a lake, a llyn.”

“Where is the llyn?”

“Over that crag at the foot of Aran Vawr.”

“Is it a large lake?”

“It is not; it is small.”

“Deep?”

“Very.”

“Strange things in it?”

“I believe there are strange things in it.” His English now became broken.

“Crocodiles?”

“I do not know what cracadailes be.”

“Efync?”

“Ah! No, I do not tink there be efync dere. Hu Gadarn in de old time kill de efync dere and in all de lakes in Wales. He draw them out of the water with his ychain banog his humpty oxen, and when he get dem out he burn deir bodies on de fire, he good man for dat.”

“What do you call this allt?” said I, looking up to the high pinnacled hill on my right.

“I call that Tap Nyth yr Eryri.”

“Is not that the top nest of the eagles?”

“I believe it is. Ha! I see you understand Welsh.”

“A little,” said I. “Are there eagles there now?”

“No, no eagle now.”

“Gone like avanc?”

“Yes, gone like avanc, but not so long. My father see eagle on Tap Nyth, but my father never see avanc in de llyn.”

“How far to Dinas?”

“About three mile.”

“Any thieves about?”

“No, no thieves here, but what come from England,” and he looked at me with a strange, grim smile.

“What is become of the red-haired robbers of Mawddwy?”

“Ah,” said the old man, staring at me, “I see you are a Cumro. The red-haired thieves of Mawddwy! I see you are from these parts.”

“What’s become of them?”

“Oh, dead, hung. Lived long time ago; long before eagle left Tap Nyth.”

He spoke true. The red-haired banditti of Mawddwy were exterminated long before the conclusion of the sixteenth century, after having long been the terror not only of these wild regions but of the greater part of North Wales. They were called the red-haired banditti because certain leading individuals amongst them had red foxy hair.

“Is that young man your son?” said I, after a little pause.

“Yes, he my son.”

“Has he any English?”

“No, he no English, but he plenty of Welsh — that is if he see reason.”

I spoke to the young man in Welsh, asking him if he had ever been up to the Tap Nyth, but he made no answer.

“He no care for your question,” said the old man; “ask him price of pig.” I asked the young fellow the price of hogs, whereupon his face brightened up, and he not only answered my question, but told me that he had fat hog to sell. “Ha, ha,” said the old man; “he plenty of Welsh now, for he see reason. To other question he no Welsh at all, no more than English, for he see no reason. What business he on Tap Nyth with eagle? His business down below in sty with pig. Ah, he look lump, but he no fool; know more about pig than you or I, or any one ‘twixt here and Mahuncleth.”

He now asked me where I came from, and on my telling him from Bala, his heart appeared to warm towards me, and saying that I must be tired, he asked me to step in and drink buttermilk, but I declined his offer with thanks, and bidding the two adieu, returned to the road.

I hurried along and soon reached a valley which abounded with trees and grass; I crossed a bridge over a brook, not what the old man had called the Dyfi, but the stream whose source I had seen high up the bwlch, and presently came to a place where the two waters joined. Just below the confluence on a fallen tree was seated a man decently dressed; his eyes were fixed on the rushing stream. I stopped and spoke to him.

He had no English, but I found him a very sensible man. I talked to him about the source of the Dyfi. He said it was a disputed point which was the source. He himself was inclined to believe that it was the Pistyll up the bwlch. I asked him of what religion he was. He said he was of the Church of England, which was the Church of his father and his grandfather, and which he believed to be the only true Church. I inquired if it flourished. He said it did, but that it was dreadfully persecuted by all classes of dissenters, who, though they were continually quarrelling with one another, agreed in one thing, namely, to persecute the Church. I asked him if he ever read. He said he read a great deal, especially the works of Huw Morris, and that reading them had given him a love for the sights of nature. He added that his greatest delight was to come to the place where he then was of an evening, and look at the waters and hills. I asked him what trade he was. “The trade of Joseph,” said he, smiling. “Saer.” “Farewell, brother,” said I; “I am not a carpenter, but like you I read the works of Huw Morris and am of the Church of England.” I then shook him by the hand and departed.

I passed a village with a stupendous mountain just behind it to the north, which I was told was called Moel Vrith or the party-coloured moel. I was now drawing near to the western end of the valley. Scenery of the wildest and most picturesque description was rife and plentiful to a degree: hills were here, hills were there; some tall and sharp, others huge and humpy; hills were on every side; only a slight opening to the west seemed to present itself. “What a valley!” I exclaimed. But on passing through the opening I found myself in another, wilder and stranger, if possible. Full to the west was a long hill rising up like the roof of a barn, an enormous round hill on its north-east side, and on its south-east the tail of the range which I had long had on my left — there were trees and groves and running waters, but all in deep shadow, for night was now close at hand.

“What is the name of this place?” I shouted to a man on horseback, who came dashing through a brook with a woman in a Welsh dress behind him.

“Aber Cowarch, Saxon!” said the man in a deep guttural voice, and lashing his horse disappeared rapidly in the night.

“Aber Cywarch!” I cried, springing half a yard into the air. “Why, that’s the place where Ellis Wynn composed his immortal ‘Sleeping Bard,’ the book which I translated in the blessed days of my youth. Oh, no wonder that the ‘Sleeping Bard’ is a wild and wondrous work, seeing that it was composed amidst the wild and wonderful scenes which I here behold.”

I proceeded onwards up an ascent; after some time I came to a bridge across a stream, which a man told me was called Avon Gerres. It runs into the Dyfi, coming down with a rushing sound from a wild vale to the north-east between the huge barn-like hill and Moel Vrith. The barn-like hill I was informed was called Pen Dyn. I soon reached Dinas Mawddwy, which stands on the lower part of a high hill connected with the Pen Dyn. Dinas, trough at one time a place of considerable importance, if we may judge from its name, which signifies a fortified city, is at present little more than a collection of filthy huts. But though a dirty squalid place, I found it anything but silent and deserted. Fierce-looking, red-haired men, who seemed as if they might be descendants of the red — haired banditti of old, were staggering about, and sounds of drunken revelry echoed from the huts. I subsequently learned that Dinas was the head-quarters of miners, the neighbourhood abounding with mines both of lead and stone. I was glad to leave it behind me. Mallwyd is to the south of Dinas — the way to it is by a romantic gorge down which flows the Royal Dyfi. As I proceeded along this gorge the moon rising above Moel Vrith illumined my path. In about half-an-hour I found myself before the inn at Mallwyd.

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