Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 95

Lampeter — The Monk Austin — The Three Publicans — The Tombstone — Sudden Change — Trampers — A Catholic — The Bridge of Twrch.

THE country between Llan Ddewi and Lampeter presented nothing remarkable, and I met on the road nothing worthy of being recorded. On arriving at Lampeter I took a slight refreshment at the inn, and then went to see the college which stands a little way to the north of the town. It was founded by Bishop Burgess in the year 1820, for the education of youths intended for the ministry of the Church of England. It is a neat quadrate edifice with a courtyard in which stands a large stone basin. From the courtyard you enter a spacious dining-hall, over the door of which hangs a well-executed portrait of the good bishop. From the hall you ascend by a handsome staircase to the library, a large and lightsome room, well stored with books in various languages. The grand curiosity is a manuscript Codex containing a Latin synopsis of Scripture which once belonged to the monks of Bangor Is Coed. It bears marks of blood with which it was sprinkled when the monks were massacred by the heathen Saxons, at the instigation of Austin the Pope’s missionary in Britain. The number of students seldom exceeds forty.

It might be about half-past two in the afternoon when I left Lampeter. I passed over a bridge, taking the road to Llandovery which, however, I had no intention of attempting to reach that night, as it was considerably upwards of twenty miles distant. The road lay, seemingly, due east. After walking very briskly for about an hour I came to a very small hamlet consisting of not more than six or seven houses; of these three seemed to be public-houses, as they bore large flaming signs. Seeing three rather shabby-looking fellows standing chatting with their hands in their pockets, I stopped and inquired in English the name of the place.

“Pen — something,” said one of them, who had a red face and a large carbuncle on his nose, which served to distinguish him from his companions, who though they had both very rubicund faces had no carbuncles.

“It seems rather a small place to maintain three public-houses,” said I; “how do the publicans manage to live?”

“Oh, tolerably well, sir; we get bread and cheese and have a groat in our pockets. No great reason to complain; have we, neighbours?”

“No! no great reason to complain,” said the other two.

“Dear me!” said I; “are you the publicans?”

“We are, sir,” said the man with the carbuncle on his nose, “and shall be each of us glad to treat you to a pint in his own house in order to welcome you to Shire Car — shan’t we, neighbours?”

“Yes, in truth we shall,” said the other two.

“By Shire Car,” said I, “I suppose you mean Shire Cardigan?”

“Shire Cardigan!” said the man; “no indeed; by Shire Car is meant Carmarthenshire. Your honour has left beggarly Cardigan some way behind you. Come, your honour, come and have a pint; this is my house,” said he, pointing to one of the buildings.

“But,” said I, “I suppose if I drink at your expense you expect to drink at mine?”

“Why, we can’t say that we shall have any objection, your honour; I think we will arrange the matter in this way; we will go into my house, where we will each of us treat your honour with a pint, and for each pint we treat your honour with your honour shall treat us with one.”

“Do you mean each?” said I.

“Why, yes! your honour, for a pint amongst three would be rather a short allowance.”

“Then it would come to this,” said I, “I should receive three pints from you three, and you three would receive nine from me.”

“Just so, your honour, I see your honour is a ready reckoner.”

“I know how much three times three make,” said I. “Well, thank you, kindly, but I must decline your offer; I am bound on a journey.”

“Where are you bound to, master?”

“To Llandovery, but if I can find an inn a few miles farther on I shall stop there for the night.”

“Then you will put up at the ‘Pump Saint,’ master; well, you can have your three pints here and your three pipes too, and yet get easily there by seven. Come in, master, come in! If you take my advice you will think of your pint and your pipe and let all the rest go to the devil.”

“Thank you,” said I, “but I can’t accept your invitation, I must be off;” and in spite of yet more pressing solicitations I went on.

I had not gone far when I came to a point where the road parted into two; just at the point were a house and premises belonging apparently to a stonemason, as a great many pieces of half-cut granite were standing about, and not a few tombstones. I stopped and looked at one of the latter. It was to the memory of somebody who died at the age of sixty-six, and at the bottom bore the following bit of poetry:-

“Ti ddaear o ddaear ystyria mewn braw, Mai daear i ddaear yn fuan a ddaw; A ddaear mewn ddaear raid aros bob darn Nes daear o ddaear gyfrodir i farn.”

“Thou earth from earth reflect with anxious mind That earth to earth must quickly be consigned, And earth in earth must lie entranced enthralled Till earth from earth to judgment shall be called.”

“What conflicting opinions there are in this world,” said I, after I had copied the quatrain and translated it. “The publican yonder tells me to think of my pint and pipe and let everything else go to the devil, and the tombstone here tells me to reflect with dread — a much finer expression by-the-bye than reflect with anxious mind, as I have got it — that in a very little time I must die, and lie in the ground till I am called to judgment. Now, which is most right, the tombstone or the publican? Why, I should say the tombstone decidedly. The publican is too sweeping when he tells you to think of your pint and pipe and nothing else. A pint and pipe are good things. I don’t smoke myself, but I daresay a pipe is a good thing for them who like it, but there are certainly things worth being thought of in this world besides a pint and pipe — hills and dales, woods and rivers, for example — death and judgment too are worthy now and then of very serious thought. So it won’t do to go with the publican the whole hog. But with respect to the tombstone, it is quite safe and right to go with it its whole length. It tells you to think of death and judgment — and assuredly we ought to of them. It does not, however, tell you to think of nothing but death and judgment and to eschew every innocent pleasure within your reach. If it did it would be a tombstone quite as sweeping in what it says as the publican, who tells you to think of your pint and pipe and let everything else go to the devil. The wisest course evidently is to blend the whole of the philosophy of the tombstone with a portion of the philosophy of the publican and something more, to enjoy one’s pint and pipe and other innocent pleasures, and to think every now and then of death and judgment — that is what I intend to do, and indeed is what I have done for the last thirty years.”

I went on — desolate hills rose in the east, the way I was going, but on the south were beautiful hillocks adorned with trees and hedge-rows. I was soon amongst the desolate hills, which then looked more desolate than they did at a distance. They were of a wretched russet colour, and exhibited no other signs of life and cultivation than here and there a miserable field and vile-looking hovel; and if there was here nothing to cheer the eye there was also nothing to cheer the ear. There were no songs of birds, no voices of rills; the only sound I heard was the lowing of a wretched bullock from a far-off slope.

I went on slowly and heavily; at length I got to the top of this wretched range — then what a sudden change! Beautiful hills in the far east, a fair valley below me, and groves and woods on each side of the road which led down to it. The sight filled my veins with fresh life, and I descended this side of the hill as merrily as I had come up the other side despondingly. About half-way down the hill I came to a small village. Seeing a public-house I went up to it, and inquired in English of some people within the name of the village.

“Dolwen,” said a dark-faced young fellow of about four-and-twenty.

“And what is the name of the valley?” said I.

“Dolwen,” was the answer, “the valley is named after the village.”

“You mean that the village is named after the valley,” said I, “for Dolwen means fair valley.”

“It may be so,” said the young fellow, “we don’t know much here.”

Then after a moment’s pause he said:

“Are you going much farther?”

“Only as far as the ‘Pump Saint.’”

“Have you any business there?” said he.

“No,” I replied, “I am travelling the country, and shall only put up there for the night”

“You had better stay here,” said the young fellow. “You will be better accommodated here than at the ‘Pump Saint.’”

“Very likely,” said I; “but I have resolved to go there, and when I once make a resolution I never alter it.”

Then bidding him good evening I departed. Had I formed no resolution at all about stopping at the ‘Pump Saint,’ I certainly should not have stayed in this house, which had all the appearance of a trampers’ hostelry, and though I am very fond of the conversation of trampers, who are the only people from whom you can learn anything, I would much rather have the benefit of it abroad than in their own lairs. A little farther down I met a woman coming up the ascent. She was tolerably respectably dressed, seemed about five-and-thirty, and was rather good-looking. She walked somewhat slowly, which was probably more owing to a large bundle which she bore in her hand than to her path being up-hill.

“Good evening,” said I, stopping.

“Good evening, your honour,” said she, stopping and brightly panting.

“Do you come from far?” said I.

“Not very far, your honour, but quite far enough for a poor feeble woman.”

“Are you Welsh?” said I.

“Och no! your honour; I am Mary Bane from Dunmanway in the kingdom of Ireland.”

“And what are you doing here?” said I.

“Och sure! I am travelling the country with soft goods.”

“Are you going far?” said I.

“Merely to the village a little farther up, your honour.”

“I am going farther,” said I, “I am thinking of passing the night at the ‘Pump Saint.’”

“Well, then, I would just advise your honour to do no such thing, but to turn back with me to the village above, where there is an illigant inn where your honour will be well accommodated.”

“Oh, I saw that as I came past,” said I; “I don’t think there is much accommodation there.”

“Oh, your honour is clane mistaken; there is always an illigant fire and an illigant bed too.”

“Is there only one bed?” said I.

“Oh, yes, there are two beds, one for the accommodation of the people of the house and the other for that of the visitors.”

“And do the visitors sleep together then?” said I.

“Oh yes! unless they wish to be unsociable. Those who are not disposed to be sociable sleeps in the chimney-corners.”

“Ah,” said I, “I see it is a very agreeable inn; however, I shall go on to the ‘Pump Saint.’”

“I am sorry for it, your honour, for your honour’s sake; your honour won’t be half so illigantly served at the ‘Pump Saint’ as there above.”

“Of what religion are you?” said I.

“Oh, I’m a Catholic, just like your honour, for if I am not clane mistaken your honour is an Irishman.”

“Who is your spiritual director?” said I.

“Why, then, it is just Father Toban, your honour, whom of course your honour knows.”

“Oh yes!” said I; “when you next see him present my respects to him.”

“What name shall I mention, your honour?”

“Shorsha Borroo,” said I.

“Oh, then I was right in taking your honour for an Irishman. None but a raal Paddy bears that name. A credit to your honour is your name, for it is a famous name, 17 and a credit to your name is your honour, for it is a neat man without a bend you are. God bless your honour and good night! and may you find dacent quarters in the ‘Pump Saint.’”

Leaving Mary Bane I proceeded on my way. The evening was rather fine but twilight was coming rapidly on. I reached the bottom of the valley and soon overtook a young man dressed something like a groom. We entered into conversation. He spoke Welsh and a little English. His Welsh I had great difficulty in understanding, as it was widely different from that which I had been accustomed to. He asked me where I was going to; I replied to the “Pump Saint,” and then enquired if he was in service.

“I am,” said he.

“With whom do you live?” said I.

“With Mr Johnes of Dol Cothi,” he answered.

Struck by the word Cothi, I asked if Dol Cothi was ever called Glyn Cothi.

“Oh yes,” said he, “frequently.”

“How odd,” thought I to myself, “that I should have stumbled all of a sudden upon the country of my old friend Lewis Glyn Cothi, the greatest poet after Ab Gwilym of all Wales!”

“Is Cothi a river?” said I to my companion.

“It is,” said he.

Presently we came to a bridge over a small river.

“Is this river the Cothi?” said I.

“No,” said he, “this is the Twrch; the bridge is called Pont y Twrch.”

“The bridge of Twrch or the hog,” said I to myself; “there is a bridge of the same name in the Scottish Highlands, not far from the pass of the Trossachs. I wonder whether it has its name from the same cause as this, namely, from passing over a river called the Twrch or Torck, which word in Gaelic signifies boar or hog even as it does in Welsh.” It had now become nearly dark. After proceeding some way farther I asked the groom if we were far from the inn of the “Pump Saint.”

“Close by,” said he, and presently pointing to a large building on the right-hand side he said: “This is the inn of the ‘Pump Saint,’ sir. Nos Da’chi!”

17 The good gentlewoman was probably thinking of the celebrated king Brian Boromhe slain at the battle of Clontarf.


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