Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 64

Departure for South Wales — Tregeiriog — Pleasing Scene — Trying to Read — Garmon and Lupus — The Cracked Voice — Effect of a Compliment — Llan Rhyadr.

THE morning of the 21st of October was fine and cold; there was a rime frost on the ground. At about eleven o’clock I started on my journey for South Wales, intending that my first stage should be Llan Rhyadr. My wife and daughter accompanied me as far as Plas Newydd. As we passed through the town I shook hands with honest A-, whom I saw standing at the door of a shop, with a kind of Spanish hat on his head, and also with my venerable friend old Mr Jones, whom I encountered close beside his own domicile. At the Plas Newydd I took an affectionate farewell of my two loved ones, and proceeded to ascend the Berwyn. Near the top I turned round to take a final look at the spot where I had lately passed many a happy hour. There lay Llangollen far below me, with its chimneys placidly smoking, its pretty church rising in its centre, its blue river dividing it into two nearly equal parts, and the mighty hill of Brennus overhanging it from the north.

I sighed, and repeating Einion Du’s verse

“Tangnefedd i Llangollen!”

turned away.

I went over the top of the hill and then began to descend its southern side, obtaining a distant view of the plains of Shropshire on the east. I soon reached the bottom of the hill, passed through Llansanfraid, and threading the vale of the Ceiriog at length found myself at Pont y Meibion in front of the house of Huw Morris, or rather of that which is built on the site of the dwelling of the poet. I stopped and remained before the house thinking of the mighty Huw, till the door opened, and out came the dark-featured man, the poet’s descendant, whom I saw when visiting the place in company with honest John Jones — he had now a spade in his hand and was doubtless going to his labour. As I knew him to be of a rather sullen unsocial disposition, I said nothing to him, but proceeded on my way. As I advanced the valley widened, the hills on the west receding to some distance from the river. Came to Tregeiriog a small village, which takes its name from the brook; Tregeiriog signifying the hamlet or village on the Ceiriog. Seeing a bridge which crossed the rivulet at a slight distance from the road, a little beyond the village, I turned aside to look at it. The proper course of the Ceiriog is from south to north; where it is crossed by the bridge, however, it runs from west to east, returning to its usual course, a little way below the bridge. The bridge was small and presented nothing remarkable in itself: I obtained, however, as I looked over its parapet towards the west a view of a scene, not of wild grandeur, but of something which I like better, which richly compensated me for the slight trouble I had taken in stepping aside to visit the little bridge. About a hundred yards distant was a small water-mill, built over the rivulet, the wheel going slowly, slowly round; large quantities of pigs, the generality of them brindled, were either browsing on the banks or lying close to the sides half immersed in the water; one immense white hog, the monarch seemingly of the herd, was standing in the middle of the current. Such was the scene which I saw from the bridge, a scene of quiet rural life well suited to the brushes of two or three of the old Dutch painters, or to those of men scarcely inferior to them in their own style, Gainsborough, Moreland, and Crome. My mind for the last half-hour had been in a highly excited state; I had been repeating verses of old Huw Morris, brought to my recollection by the sight of his dwelling-place; they were ranting roaring verses, against the Roundheads. I admired the vigour but disliked the principles which they displayed; and admiration on the one hand and disapproval on the other, bred a commotion in my mind like that raised on the sea when tide runs one way and wind blows another. The quiet scene from the bridge, however, produced a sedative effect on my mind, and when I resumed my journey I had forgotten Huw, his verses, and all about Roundheads and Cavaliers.

I reached Llanarmon, another small village, situated in a valley through which the Ceiriog or a river very similar to it flows. It is half-way between Llangollen and Llan Rhyadr, being ten miles from each. I went to a small inn or public-house, sat down and called for ale. A waggoner was seated at a large table with a newspaper before him on which he was intently staring.

“What news?” said I in English.

“I wish I could tell you,” said he in very broken English, “but I cannot read.”

“Then why are you looking at the paper?” said I.

“Because,” said he, “by looking at the letters I hope in time to make them out.”

“You may look at them,” said I, “for fifty years without being able to make out one. You should go to an evening school.”

“I am too old,” said he, “to do so now; if I did the children would laugh at me.”

“Never mind their laughing at you,” said I, “provided you learn to read; let them laugh who win!”

“You give good advice, mester,” said he, “I think I shall follow it.”

“Let me look at the paper,” said I.

He handed it to me. It was a Welsh paper, and full of dismal accounts from the seat of war.

“What news, mester?” said the waggoner.

“Nothing but bad,” said I; “the Russians are beating us and the French too.”

“If the Rusiaid beat us,” said the waggoner, “it is because the Francod are with us. We should have gone alone.”

“Perhaps you are right,” said I; “at any rate we could not have fared worse than we are faring now.”

I presently paid for what I had had, inquired the way to Llan Rhyadr, and departed.

The village of Llanarmon takes its name from its church, which is dedicated to Garmon, an Armorican bishop, who with another called Lupus came over into Britain in order to preach against the heresy of Pelagius. He and his colleague resided for some time in Flintshire, and whilst there enabled in a remarkable manner the Britons to achieve a victory over those mysterious people the Picts, who were ravaging the country far and wide. Hearing that the enemy were advancing towards Mold, the two bishops gathered together a number of the Britons, and placed them in ambush in a dark valley through which it was necessary for the Picts to pass in order to reach Mold, strictly enjoining them to remain quiet till all their enemies should have entered the valley and then do whatever they should see them, the two bishops, do. The Picts arrived, and when they were about half-way through the valley the two bishops stepped forward from a thicket and began crying aloud, “Alleluia!” The Britons followed their example, and the wooded valley resounded with cries of “Alleluia! Alleluia!” The shouts and the unexpected appearance of thousands of men caused such terror to the Picts that they took to flight in the greatest confusion; hundreds were trampled to death by their companions, and not a few were drowned in the river Alan 8 which runs through the valley.

There are several churches dedicated to Garmon in Wales, but whether there are any dedicated to Lupus I am unable to say. After leaving Llanarmon I found myself amongst lumpy hills through which the road led in the direction of the south. Arriving where several roads met I followed one and became bewildered amidst hills and ravines. At last I saw a small house close by a nant or dingle, and turned towards it for the purpose of inquiring my way. On my knocking at the door a woman made her appearance, of whom I asked in Welsh whether I was in the road to Llan Rhyadr. She said that I was out of it, but that if I went towards the south I should see a path on my left which would bring me to it. I asked her how far it was to Llan Rhyadr.

“Four long miles,” she replied.

“And what is the name of the place where we are now?” said I.

“Cae Hir” (the long inclosure), said she.

“Are you alone in the house?” said I.

“Quite alone,” said she; “but my husband and people will soon be home from the field, for it is getting dusk.”

“Have you any Saxon?” said I.

“Not a word,” said she, “have I of the iaith dieithr, nor has my husband, nor any one of my people.”

I bade her farewell, and soon reached the road, which led south and north. As I was bound for the south I strode forward briskly in that direction. The road was between romantic hills; heard Welsh songs proceeding from the hill fields on my right, and the murmur of a brook rushing down a deep nant on my left. I went on till I came to a collection of houses which an old woman, with a cracked voice and a small tin milk-pail, whom I assisted in getting over a stile into the road, told me was called Pen Strit — probably the head of the street. She spoke English, and on my asking her how she had learnt the English tongue, she told me that she had learnt it of her mother who was an English woman. She said that I was two miles from Llan Rhyadr, and that I must go straight forward. I did so till I reached a place where the road branched into two, one bearing somewhat to the left, and the other to the right. After standing a minute in perplexity I took the right-hand road, but soon guessed that I had taken the wrong one, as the road dwindled into a mere footpath. Hearing some one walking on the other side of the hedge I inquired in Welsh whether I was going right for Llan Rhyadr, and was answered by a voice in English, apparently that of a woman, that I was not, and that I must go back. I did so, and presently a woman came through a gate to me.

“Are you the person,” said I, “who just now answered me in English after I had spoken in Welsh?”

“In truth I am,” said she, with a half laugh.

“And how came you to answer me in English after I had spoken to you in Welsh?”

“Because,” said she, “it was easy enough to know by your voice that you were an Englishman.”

“You speak English remarkably well,” said I.

“And so do you Welsh,” said the woman; “I had no idea that it was possible for any Englishman to speak Welsh half so well.”

“I wonder,” thought I to myself, “what you would have answered if I had said that you speak English execrably.” By her own account she could read both Welsh and English. She walked by my side to the turn, and then up the left-hand road, which she said was the way to Llan Rhyadr. Coming to a cottage she bade me good-night and went in. The road was horribly miry: presently, as I was staggering through a slough, just after I had passed a little cottage, I heard a cracked voice crying, “I suppose you lost your way?” I recognised it as that of the old woman whom I had helped over the stile. She was now standing behind a little gate which opened into a garden before the cottage. The figure of a man was standing near her. I told her that she was quite right in her supposition.

“Ah,” said she, “you should have gone straight forward.”

“If I had gone straight forward,” said I, “I must have gone over a hedge, at the corner of a field which separated two roads; instead of bidding me go straight forward you should have told me to follow the left-hand road.”

“Well,” said she, “be sure you keep straight forward now.”

I asked her who the man was standing near her.

“It is my husband,” said she.

“Has he much English?” said I.

“None at all,” said she, “for his mother was not English, like mine.” I bade her good-night and went forward. Presently I came to a meeting of roads, and to go straight forward it was necessary to pass through a quagmire; remembering, however, the words of my friend the beldame I went straight forward, though in so doing I was sloughed up to the knees. In a little time I came to rapid descent, and at the bottom of it to a bridge. It was now very dark; only the corner of the moon was casting a faint light. After crossing the bridge I had one or two ascents and descents. At last I saw lights before me which proved to be those of Llan Rhyadr. I soon found myself in a dirty little street, and, inquiring for the inn, was kindly shown by a man to one which he said was the best, and which was called the Wynstay Arms.

8 The above account is chiefly taken from the curious Welsh book called “Dych y prif Oesoedd.”


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51