Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 84

The Hospice — The Two Rivers — The Devil’s Bridge — Pleasant Recollections.

I ARRIVED at the Devil’s Bridge at about eleven o’clock of a fine but cold day, and took up my quarters at the inn, of which I was the sole guest during the whole time that I continued there; for the inn, standing in a lone, wild district, has very few guests except in summer, when it is thronged with tourists, who avail themselves of that genial season to view the wonders of Wales, of which the region close by is considered amongst the principal.

The inn, or rather hospice — for the sounding name of hospice is more applicable to it than the common one of inn — was built at a great expense by the late Duke of Newcastle. It is an immense lofty cottage with projecting eaves, and has a fine window to the east which enlightens a stately staircase and a noble gallery. It fronts the north, and stands in the midst of one of the most remarkable localities in the world, of which it would require a far more vigorous pen than mine to convey an adequate idea.

Far to the west is a tall, strange-looking hill, the top of which bears no slight resemblance to that of a battlemented castle. This hill, which is believed to have been in ancient times a stronghold of the Britons, bears the name of Bryn y Castell, or the hill of the castle. To the north-west are russet hills, to the east two brown paps, whilst to the south is a high, swelling mountain. To the north, and just below the hospice, is a profound hollow with all the appearance of the crater of an extinct volcano; at the bottom of this hollow the waters of two rivers unite; those of the Rheidol from the north, and those of the Afon y Mynach, or the Monks’ River, from the south-east. The Rheidol, falling over a rocky precipice at the northern side of the hollow, forms a cataract very pleasant to look upon from the middle upper window of the inn. Those of the Mynach which pass under the celebrated Devil’s Bridge are not visible, though they generally make themselves heard. The waters of both, after uniting, flow away through a romantic glen towards the west. The sides of the hollow, and indeed of most of the ravines in the neighbourhood, which are numerous, are beautifully clad with wood.

Penetrate now into the hollow above which the hospice stands. You descend by successive flights of steps, some of which are very slippery and insecure. On your right is the Monks’ River, roaring down its dingle in five successive falls, to join its brother the Rheidol. Each of the falls has its own peculiar basin, one or two of which are said to be of awful depth. The length which these falls with their basins occupy is about five hundred feet. On the side of the basin of the last but one is the cave, or the site of the cave, said to have been occupied in old times by the Wicked Children — the mysterious Plant de Bat — two brothers and a sister, robbers and murderers. At present it is nearly open on every side, having, it is said, been destroyed to prevent its being the haunt of other evil people. There is a tradition in the country that the fall at one time tumbled over its mouth. This tradition, however, is evidently without foundation, as from the nature of the ground the river could never have run but in its present channel. Of all the falls, the fifth or last is the most considerable: you view it from a kind of den, to which the last flight of steps, the ruggedest and most dangerous of all, has brought you. Your position here is a wild one. The fall, which is split into two, is thundering beside you; foam, foam, foam is flying all about you; the basin or cauldron is boiling frightfully below you; hirsute rocks are frowning terribly above you, and above them forest trees, dank and wet with spray and mist, are distilling drops in showers from their boughs.

But where is the bridge, the celebrated bridge of the Evil Man? From the bottom of the first flight of steps leading down into the hollow you see a modern-looking bridge, bestriding a deep chasm or cleft to the south-east, near the top of the dingle of the Monks’ River; over it lies the road to Pont Erwyd. That, however, is not the Devil’s Bridge; but about twenty feet below that bridge, and completely overhung by it, don’t you see a shadowy, spectral object, something like a bow, which likewise bestrides the chasm? You do! Well, that shadowy, spectral object is the celebrated Devil’s Bridge, or, as the timorous peasants of the locality call it, the Pont y Gwr Drwg. It is now merely preserved as an object of curiosity, the bridge above being alone used for transit, and is quite inaccessible except to birds and the climbing wicked boys of the neighbourhood, who sometimes at the risk of their lives contrive to get upon it from the frightfully steep northern bank, and snatch a fearful joy, as, whilst lying on their bellies, they poke their heads over its sides worn by age, without parapet to prevent them from falling into the horrid gulf below. But from the steps in the hollow the view of the Devil’s Bridge, and likewise of the cleft, is very slight and unsatisfactory. To view it properly, and the wonders connected with it, you must pass over the bridge above it, and descend a precipitous dingle on the eastern side till you come to a small platform in a crag. Below you now is a frightful cavity, at the bottom of which the waters of the Monks’ River, which comes tumbling from a glen to the east, whirl, boil, and hiss in a horrid pot or cauldron, called in the language of the country Twll yn y graig, or the hole in the rock, in a manner truly tremendous. On your right is a slit, probably caused by volcanic force, through which the waters after whirling in the cauldron eventually escape. The slit is wonderfully narrow, considering its altitude which is very great — considerably upwards of a hundred feet. Nearly above you, crossing the slit, which is partially wrapt in darkness, is the far-famed bridge, the Bridge of the Evil Man, a work which, though crumbling and darkly grey, does much honour to the hand which built it, whether it was the hand of Satan or of a monkish architect; for the arch is chaste and beautiful, far superior in every respect, except in safety and utility, to the one above it, which from this place you have not the mortification of seeing. Gaze on these objects, namely, the horrid seething pot or cauldron, the gloomy volcanic slit, and the spectral, shadowy Devil’s Bridge for about three minutes, allowing a minute to each, then scramble up the bank and repair to your inn, and have no more sight-seeing that day, for you have seen enough. And if pleasant recollections do not haunt you through life of the noble falls and the beautiful wooded dingles to the west of the bridge of the Evil One, and awful and mysterious ones of the monks’ boiling cauldron, the long, savage, shadowy cleft, and the grey, crumbling, spectral bridge, I say boldly that you must be a very unpoetical person indeed.


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