Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 85

Dinner at the Hospice — Evening Gossip — A Day of Rain — A Scanty Flock — The Bridge of the Minister — Legs in Danger.

I DINED in a parlour of the inn commanding an excellent view of the hollow and the Rheidol fall. Shortly after I had dined, a fierce storm of rain and wind came on. It lasted for an hour, and then everything again became calm. Just before evening was closing in I took a stroll to a village which stands a little way to the west of the inn. It consists only of a few ruinous edifices, and is chiefly inhabited by miners and their families. I saw no men, but plenty of women and children. Seeing a knot of women and girls chatting I went up and addressed them. Some of the girls were very good-looking; none of the party had any English; all of them were very civil. I first talked to them about religion, and found that, without a single exception, they were Calvinistic–Methodists. I next talked to them about the Plant de Bat. They laughed heartily at the first mention of their name, but seemed to know very little about their history. After some twenty minutes’ discourse I bade them good-night and returned to my inn.

The night was very cold; the people of the house, however, made up for me a roaring fire of turf, and I felt very comfortable. About ten o’clock I went to bed, intending next morning to go and see Plynlimmon, which I had left behind me on entering Cardiganshire. When the morning came, however, I saw at once that I had entered upon a day by no means adapted for excursions of any considerable length, for it rained terribly; but this gave me very little concern; my time was my own, and I said to myself: “If I can’t go today I can perhaps go tomorrow.” After breakfast I passed some hours in a manner by no means disagreeable, sometimes meditating before my turf fire, with my eyes fixed upon it, and sometimes sitting by the window, with my eyes fixed upon the cascade of the Rheidol, which was every moment becoming more magnificent. At length about twelve o’clock, fearing that if I stayed within I should lose my appetite for dinner, which has always been one of the greatest of my enjoyments, I determined to go and see the Minister’s Bridge which my friend the old mining captain had spoken to me about. I knew that I should get a wetting by doing so, for the weather still continued very bad, but I don’t care much for a wetting provided I have a good roof, a good fire, and good fare to betake myself to afterwards.

So I set out. As I passed over the bridge of the Mynach River I looked down over the eastern balustrade. The Bridge of the Evil One, which is just below it, was quite invisible. I could see, however, the pot or crochan distinctly enough, and a horrible sight it presented. The waters were whirling round in a manner to describe which any word but frenzied would be utterly powerless. Half-an-hour’s walking brought me to the little village through which I had passed the day before. Going up to a house I knocked at the door, and a middle-aged man opening it, I asked him the way to the Bridge of the Minister. He pointed to the little chapel to the west, and said that the way lay past it, adding that he would go with me himself, as he wanted to go to the hills on the other side to see his sheep.

We got presently into discourse. He at first talked broken English, but soon began to speak his native language. I asked him if the chapel belonged to the Methodists.

“It is not a chapel,” said he, “it is a church.”

“Do many come to it?” said I.

“Not many, sir, for the Methodists are very powerful here. Not more than forty or fifty come.”

“Do you belong to the Church?” said I.

“I do, sir — thank God!”

“You may well be thankful,” said I, “for it is a great privilege to belong to the Church of England.”

“It is so, sir,” said the man, ‘though few, alas! think so.”

I found him a highly-intelligent person. On my talking to him about the name of the place, he said that some called it Spytty Cynfyn, and others Spytty Cynwyl, and that both Cynwyl and Cynfyn were the names of people, to one or other of which the place was dedicated, and that, like the place farther on called Spytty Ystwyth, it was in the old time a hospital or inn for the convenience of the pilgrims going to the great monastery of Ystrad Flur or Strata Florida.

Passing through a field or two we came to the side of a very deep ravine, down which there was a zigzag path leading to the bridge. The path was very steep, and, owing to the rain, exceedingly slippery. For some way it led through a grove of dwarf oaks, by grasping the branches of which I was enabled to support myself tolerably well; nearly at the bottom, however, where the path was most precipitous, the trees ceased altogether. Fearing to trust my legs, I determined to slide down, and put my resolution in practice, arriving at a little shelf close by the bridge without any accident. The man, accustomed to the path, went down in the usual manner. The bridge consisted of a couple of planks and a pole flung over a chasm about ten feet wide, on the farther side of which was a precipice with a path at least quite as steep as the one down which I had come, and without any trees or shrubs by which those who used it might support themselves. The torrent rolled about nine feet below the bridge; its channel was tortuous; on the south-east side of the bridge was a cauldron, like that on which I had looked down from the bridge over the river of the monks. The man passed over the bridge and I followed him; on the other side we stopped and turned round. The river was rushing and surging, the pot was boiling and roaring, and everything looked wild and savage; but the locality, for awfulness and mysterious gloom, could not compare with that on the east side of the Devil’s Bridge, nor for sublimity and grandeur with that on the west.

“Here you see, sir,” said the man, “the Bridge of the Offeiriad, called so, it is said, because the popes used to pass over it in the old time; and here you have the Rheidol, which, though not so smooth nor so well off for banks as the Hafren and the Gwy, gets to the sea before either of them, and, as the pennill says, is quite as much entitled to honour:-

“‘Hafren a Wy yn hyfryd eu wedd A Rheidol vawr ei anrhydedd.’

Good rhyme, sir, that. I wish you would put it into Saesneg.”

“I am afraid I shall make a poor hand of it,” said I; “however, I will do my best:-

“‘Oh pleasantly do glide along the Severn and the Wye; But Rheidol’s rough, and yet he’s held by all in honour high.’

“Very good rhyme that, sir! though not so good as the pennill Cymraeg. Ha, I do see that you know the two languages and are one poet. And now, sir, I must leave you, and go to the hills to my sheep, who I am afraid will be suffering in this dreadful weather. However, before I go, I should wish to see you safe over the bridge.”

I shook him by the hand, and retracing my steps over the bridge, began clambering up the bank on my knees.

“You will spoil your trousers, sir!” cried the man from the other side.

“I don’t care if I do,” said I, “provided I save my legs, which are in some danger in this place, as well as my neck, which is of less consequence.”

I hurried back amidst rain and wind to my friendly hospice, where, after drying my wet clothes as well as I could, I made an excellent dinner on fowl and bacon. Dinner over, I took up a newspaper which was brought me, and read an article about the Russian war, which did not seem to be going on much to the advantage of the allies. Soon flinging the paper aside, I stuck my feet on the stove, one on each side of the turf fire, and listened to the noises without. The bellowing of the wind down the mountain passes and the roaring of the Rheidol fall at the north side of the valley, and the rushing of the five cascades of the river Mynach, were truly awful. Perhaps I ought not to have said the five cascades of the Mynach, but the Mynach cascade, for now its five cascades had become one, extending from the chasm over which hung the bridge of Satan to the bottom of the valley.

After a time I fell into a fit of musing. I thought of the Plant de Bat; I thought of the spitties or hospitals connected with the great monastery of Ystrad Flur or Strata Florida; I thought of the remarkable bridge close by, built by a clever monk of that place to facilitate the coming of pilgrims with their votive offerings from the north to his convent; I thought of the convent built in the time of our Henry the Second by Ryce ab Gruffyd, prince of South Wales; and lastly, I thought of a wonderful man who was buried in its precincts, the greatest genius which Wales, and perhaps Britain, ever produced, on whose account, and not because of old it had been a magnificent building, and the most celebrated place of popish pilgrimage in Wales, I had long ago determined to visit it on my journey, a man of whose life and works the following is a brief account.


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