Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 103

Town of Neath — Hounds and Huntsman — Spectral Chapel — The Glowing Mountain

NEATH is a place of some antiquity, for it can boast of the remains of a castle and is a corporate town. There is but little Welsh spoken in it. It is situated on the Neath, and exports vast quantities of coal and iron, of both of which there are rich mines in the neighbourhood. It derives its name from the river Nedd or Neth, on which it stands. Nedd or Neth is the same word as Nith, the name of a river in Scotland, and is in some degree connected with Nidda, the name of one in Germany. Nedd in Welsh signifies a dingle, and the word in its various forms has always something to do with lowness or inferiority of position. Amongst its forms are Nether and Nieder. The term is well applied to the Glamorganshire river, which runs through dingles and under mountains.

The Neath has its source in the mountains of Brecon, and enters the sea some little way below the town of Neath.

On the Monday morning I resumed my journey, directing my course up the vale of Neath towards Merthyr Tydvil, distant about four-and-twenty miles. The weather was at first rainy, misty and miserable, but improved by degrees. I passed through a village which I was told was called Llanagos; close to it were immense establishments of some kind. The scenery soon became exceedingly beautiful; hills covered with wood to the tops were on either side of the dale. I passed an avenue leading somewhere through groves, and was presently overtaken and passed by hounds and a respectable-looking old huntsman on a black horse; a minute afterwards I caught a glimpse of an old red-brick mansion nearly embosomed in groves, from which proceeded a mighty cawing. Probably it belonged to the proprietor of the dogs, and certainly looked a very fit mansion for a Glamorganshire squire, justice of the peace and keeper of a pack of hounds.

I went on, the vale increasing in beauty; there was a considerable drawback, however: one of those detestable contrivances, a railroad, was on the farther side — along which trains were passing, rumbling and screaming.

I saw a bridge on my right hand with five or six low arches over the river, which was here full of shoals. Asked a woman the name of the bridge.

“PONT FAWR ei galw, sir.”

I was again amongst the real Welsh — this woman had no English.

I passed by several remarkable mountains, both on the south and northern side of the vale. Late in the afternoon I came to the eastern extremity of the vale and ascended a height. Shortly afterwards I reached Rhigos, a small village.

Entering a public-house I called for ale and sat down amidst some grimy fellows, who said nothing to me and to whom I said nothing — their discourse was in Welsh and English. Of their Welsh I understood but little, for it was a strange corrupt jargon. In about half-an-hour after leaving this place I came to the beginning of a vast moor. It was now growing rather dusk, and I could see blazes here and there; occasionally I heard horrid sounds. Came to Irvan, an enormous mining-place with a spectral-looking chapel, doubtless a Methodist one. The street was crowded with rough, savage-looking men. “Is this the way to Merthyr Tydvil?” said I to one.

“Yes!” bawled the fellow at the utmost stretch of his voice.

“Thank you!” said I, taking off my hat and passing on.

Forward I went, up hill and down dale. Night now set in. I passed a grove of trees and presently came to a collection of small houses at the bottom of a little hollow. Hearing a step near me I stopped and said in Welsh: “How far to Merthyr Tydvil?”

“Dim Cumrag, sir!” said a voice, seemingly that of a man.

“Good night!” said I, and without staying to put the question in English, I pushed on up an ascent, and was presently amongst trees. Heard for a long time the hooting of an owl or rather the frantic hollo. Appeared to pass by where the bird had its station. Toiled up an acclivity and when on the top stood still and looked around me. There was a glow on all sides in the heaven, except in the north-east quarter. Striding on I saw a cottage on my left hand, and standing at the door the figure of a woman. “How far to Merthyr?” said I in Welsh.

“Tair milltir — three miles, sir.”

Turning round a corner at the top of a hill I saw blazes here and there, and what appeared to be a glowing mountain in the south-east. I went towards it down a descent which continued for a long, long way; so great was the light cast by the blazes and that wonderful glowing object, that I could distinctly see the little stones upon the road. After walking about half-an-hour, always going downwards, I saw a house on my left hand and heard a noise of water opposite to it. It was a pistyll. I went to it, drank greedily, and then hurried on. More and more blazes, and the glowing object looking more terrible than ever. It was now above me at some distance to the left, and I could see that it was an immense quantity of heated matter like lava, occupying the upper and middle parts of a hill, and descending here and there almost to the bottom in a zigzag and tortuous manner. Between me and the hill of the burning object lay a deep ravine. After a time I came to a house, against the door of which a man was leaning. “What is all that burning stuff above, my friend?”

“Dross from the iron forges, sir!”

I now perceived a valley below me full of lights, and descending reached houses and a tramway. I had blazes now all around me. I went through a filthy slough, over a bridge, and up a street, from which dirty lanes branched off on either side, passed throngs of savage-looking people talking clamorously, shrank from addressing any of them, and finally, undirected, found myself before the Castle Inn at Merthyr Tydvil.


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