Picture of George Borrow

George Borrow

places mentioned

The Plynlimmon Range

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The Old Ostler - Directions - Church of England Man - The Deep Dingle - The Two Women - The Cutty Pipe - Waen y Bwlch - The Deaf and Dumb - The Glazed Hat.

I ROSE on the morning of the 2nd of November intending to proceed to the Devil's Bridge, where I proposed halting a day or two, in order that I might have an opportunity of surveying the far-famed scenery of that locality. After paying my bill I went into the yard to my friend the old ostler, to make inquiries with respect to the road.

"What kind of road," said I, "is it to the Devil's Bridge?"

"There are two roads, sir, to the Pont y Gwr Drwg; which do you mean to take?"

"Why do you call the Devil's Bridge the Pont y Gwr Drwg, or the bridge of the evil man?"

"That we may not bring a certain gentleman upon us, sir, who doesn't like to have his name taken in vain."

"Is their much difference between the roads?"

"A great deal, sir; one is over the hills, and the other round by the valleys."

"Which is the shortest?"

"Oh, that over the hills, sir; it is about twenty miles from here to the Pont y Gwr Drwg over the hills, but more than twice that by the valleys."

"Well, I suppose you would advise me to go by the hills?"

"Certainly, sir - that is, if you wish to break your neck, or to sink in a bog, or to lose your way, or perhaps, if night comes on, to meet the Gwr Drwg himself taking a stroll. But to talk soberly. The way over the hills is an awful road, and, indeed, for the greater part is no road at all."

"Well, I shall go by it. Can't you give me some directions?"

"I'll do my best, sir, but I tell you again that the road is a horrible one, and very hard to find."

He then went with me to the gate of the inn, where he began to give me directions, pointing to the south, and mentioning some names of places through which I must pass, amongst which were Waen y Bwlch and Long Bones. At length he mentioned Pont Erwyd, and said: "If you can but get there, you are all right, for from thence there is a very fair road to the bridge of the evil man; though I dare say if you get to Pont Erwyd - and I wish you may get there - you will have had enough of it and will stay there for the night, more especially as there is a good inn."

Leaving Machynlleth, I ascended a steep hill which rises to the south of it. From the top of this hill there is a fine view of the town, the river, and the whole valley of the Dyfi. After stopping for a few minutes to enjoy the prospect I went on. The road at first was exceedingly good, though up and down, and making frequent turnings. The scenery was beautiful to a degree: lofty hills were on either side, clothed most luxuriantly with trees of various kinds, but principally oaks. "This is really very pleasant," said I, "but I suppose it is too good to last long." However, I went on for a considerable way, the road neither deteriorating nor the scenery decreasing in beauty. "Surely I can't be in the right road," said I; "I wish I had an opportunity of asking." Presently seeing an old man working with a spade in a field near a gate, I stopped and said in Welsh: "Am I in the road to the Pont y Gwr Drwg?" The old man looked at me for a moment, then shouldering his spade he came up to the gate, and said in English: "In truth, sir, you are."

"I was told that the road thither was a very bad one," said I, "but this is quite the contrary."

"This road does not go much farther, sir," said he; "it was made to accommodate grand folks who live about here."

"You speak very good English," said I; "where did you get it?"

He looked pleased, and said that in his youth he had lived some years in England.

"Can you read?" said I.

"Oh yes," said he, "both Welsh and English."

"What have you read in Welsh?" said I.

"The Bible and Twm O'r Nant."

"What pieces of Twm O'r Nant have you read?"

"I have read two of his interludes and his life."

"And which do you like best - his life or his interludes?"

"Oh, I like his life best."

"And what part of his life do you like best?"

"Oh, I like that part best where he gets the ship into the water at Abermarlais."

"You have a good judgment," said I; "his life is better than his interludes, and the best part of his life is where he describes his getting the ship into the water. But do the Methodists about here in general read Twm O'r Nant?"

"I don't know," said be; "I am no Methodist."

"Do you belong to the Church?"

"I do."

"And why do you belong to the Church?"

"Because I believe it is the best religion to get to heaven by."

"I am much of your opinion," said I. "Are there many Church people about here?"

"Not many," said he, "but more than when I was young."

"How old are you?"


"You are not very old," said I.

"An't I? I only want one year of fulfilling my proper time on earth."

"You take things very easily," said I.

"Not so very easily, sir; I have often my quakings and fears, but then I read my Bible, say my prayers, and find hope and comfort."

"I really am very glad to have seen you," said I; "and now can you tell me the way to the bridge?"

"Not exactly, sir, for I have never been there; but you must follow this road some way farther, and then bear away to the right along yon hill" - and he pointed to a distant mountain.

I thanked him, and proceeded on my way. I passed through a deep dingle, and shortly afterwards came to the termination of the road; remembering, however, the directions of the old man,, I bore away to the right, making for the distant mountain. My course lay now over very broken ground where there was no path, at least that I could perceive. I wandered on for some time; at length on turning round a bluff I saw a lad tending a small herd of bullocks. "Am I in the road," said I, "to the Pont y Gwr Drwg?"

"Nis gwn! I don't know," said he sullenly. "I am a hired servant, and have only been here a little time."

"Where's the house," said I, "where you serve?"

But as he made no answer I left him. Some way farther on I saw a house on my left, a little way down the side of a deep dingle which was partly overhung with trees, and at the bottom of which a brook murmured. Descending a steep path, I knocked at the door. After a little time it was opened, and two women appeared, one behind the other. The first was about sixty; she was very powerfully made, had stern grey eyes and harsh features, and was dressed in the ancient Welsh female fashion, having a kind of riding-habit of blue and a high conical hat like that of the Tyrol. The other seemed about twenty years younger; she had dark features, was dressed like the other, but had no hat. I saluted the first in English, and asked her the way to the Bridge, whereupon she uttered a deep guttural "augh" and turned away her head, seemingly in abhorrence. I then spoke to her in Welsh, saying I was a foreign man - I did not say a Saxon - was bound to the Devil's Bridge, and wanted to know the way. The old woman surveyed me sternly for some time, then turned to the other and said something, and the two began to talk to each other, but in a low, buzzing tone, so that I could not distinguish a word. In about half a minute the eldest turned to me, and extending her arm and spreading out her five fingers wide, motioned to the side of the hill in the direction which I had been following.

"If I go that way shall I get to the bridge of the evil man?" said I, but got no other answer than a furious grimace and violent agitations of the arm and fingers in the same direction. I turned away, and scarcely had I done so when the door was slammed to behind me with great force, and I heard two "aughs," one not quite so deep and abhorrent as the other, probably proceeding from the throat of the younger female.

"Two regular Saxon-hating Welsh women," said I, philosophically; "just of the same sort no doubt as those who played such pranks on the slain bodies of the English soldiers, after the victory achieved by Glendower over Mortimer on the Severn's side."

I proceeded in the direction indicated, winding round the side of the hill, the same mountain which the old man had pointed out to me some time before. At length, on making a turn I saw a very lofty mountain in the far distance to the south-west, a hill right before me to the south, and, on my left, a meadow overhung by the southern hill, in the middle of which stood a house from which proceeded a violent barking of dogs. I would fain have made immediately up to it for the purpose of inquiring my way, but saw no means of doing so, a high precipitous bank lying between it and me. I went forward and ascended the side of the hill before me, and presently came to a path running east and west. I followed it a little way towards the east. I was now just above the house, and saw some children and some dogs standing beside it. Suddenly I found myself close to a man who stood in a hollow part of the road, from which a narrow path led down to the house; a donkey with panniers stood beside him. He was about fifty years of age, with a carbuncled countenance, high but narrow forehead, grey eyebrows, and small, malignant grey eyes. He had a white hat, with narrow eaves and the crown partly knocked out, a torn blue coat, corduroy breeches, long stockings and highlows. He was sucking a cutty pipe, but seemed unable to extract any smoke from it. He had all the appearance of a vagabond, and of a rather dangerous vagabond. I nodded to him, and asked him in Welsh the name of the place. He glared at me malignantly, then, taking the pipe out of his mouth, said that he did not know, that he had been down below to inquire and light his pipe, but could get neither light nor answer from the children. I asked him where he came from, but he evaded the question by asking where I was going to.

"To the Pont y Gwr Drwg," said I.

He then asked me if I was an Englishman.

"Oh yes," said I, "I am Carn Sais;" whereupon, with a strange mixture in his face of malignity and contempt, he answered in English that he didn't understand me.

"You understood me very well," said I, without changing my language, "till I told you I was an Englishman. Harkee, man with the broken hat, you are one of the bad Welsh who don't like the English to know the language, lest they should discover your lies and rogueries." He evidently understood what I said, for he gnashed his teeth, though he said nothing. "Well," said I, "I shall go down to those children and inquire the name of the house;" and I forthwith began to descend the path, the fellow uttering a contemptuous "humph" behind me, as much as to say, "Much you'll make out down there." I soon reached the bottom and advanced towards the house. The dogs had all along been barking violently; as I drew near to them, however, they ceased, and two of the largest came forward wagging their tails. "The dogs were not barking at me," said I, "but at that vagabond above." I went up to the children; they were four in number, two boys and two girls, all red-haired, but tolerably good-looking. They had neither shoes nor stockings. "What is the name of this house?" said I to the eldest, a boy about seven years old. He looked at me, but made no answer. I repeated my question; still there was no answer, but methought I heard a humph of triumph from the hill. "Don't crow quite yet, old chap," thought I to myself, and putting my hand into my pocket, I took out a penny, and offering it to the child said: "Now, small man, Peth yw y enw y lle hwn?" Instantly the boy's face became intelligent, and putting out a fat little hand, he took the ceiniog and said in an audible whisper, "Waen y Bwlch." "I am all right," said I to myself; "that is one of the names of the places which the old ostler said I must go through." Then addressing myself to the child I said: "Where's your father and mother?"

"Out on the hill," whispered the child.

"What's your father?"

"A shepherd."

"Good," said I. "Now can you tell me the way to the bridge of the evil man?" But the features became blank, the finger was put to the mouth, and the head was hung down. That question was evidently beyond the child's capacity. "Thank you!" said I, and turning round I regained the path on the top of the bank. The fellow and his donkey were still there. "I had no difficulty," said I, "in obtaining information; the place's name is Waen y Bwlch. But oes genoch dim Cumraeg - you have no Welsh." Thereupon I proceeded along the path in the direction of the east. Forthwith the fellow said something to his animal, and both came following fast behind. I quickened my pace, but the fellow and his beast were close in my rear. Presently I came to a place where another path branched off to the south. I stopped, looked at it, and then went on, but scarcely had done so when I heard another exulting "humph" behind. "I am going wrong," said I to myself; "that other path is the way to the Devil's Bridge, and the scamp knows it or he would not have grunted." Forthwith I faced round, and brushing past the fellow without a word turned into the other path and hurried along it. By a side glance which I cast I could see him staring after me; presently, however, he uttered a sound very much like a Welsh curse, and, kicking his beast, proceeded on his way, and I saw no more of him. In a little time I came to a slough which crossed the path. I did not like the look of it at all, and to avoid it ventured upon some green mossy-looking ground to the left, and had scarcely done so when I found myself immersed to the knees in a bog. I, however, pushed forward, and with some difficulty got to the path on the other side of the slough. I followed the path, and in about half-an-hour saw what appeared to be houses at a distance. "God grant that I maybe drawing near some inhabited place!" said I. The path now grew very miry, and there were pools of water on either side. I moved along slowly. At length I came to a place where some men were busy in erecting a kind of building. I went up to the nearest and asked him the name of the place. He had a crowbar in his hand, was half naked, had a wry mouth and only one eye. He made me no answer, but mowed and gibbered at me.

"For God's sake," said I, "don't do so, but tell me where I am!" He still uttered no word, but mowed and gibbered yet more frightfully than before. As I stood staring at him another man came to me and said in broken English: "It is of no use speaking to him, sir, he is deaf and dumb."

"I am glad he is no worse," said I, "for I really thought he was possessed with the evil one. My good person, can you tell me the name of this place?"

"Esgyrn Hirion, sir," said he.

"Esgyrn Hirion," said I to myself; "Esgyrn means 'bones,' and Hirion means 'long.' I am doubtless at the place which the old ostler called Long Bones. I shouldn't wonder if I get to the Devil's Bridge to-night after all." I then asked the man if he could tell me the way to the bridge of the evil man, but he shook his head and said that he had never heard of such a place, adding, however, that he would go with me to one of the overseers, who could perhaps direct me. He then proceeded towards a row of buildings, which were, in fact, those objects which I had guessed to be houses in the distance. He led me to a corner house, at the door of which stood a middle-aged man, dressed in a grey coat, and saying to me, "This person is an overseer," returned to his labour. I went up to the man, and, saluting him in English, asked whether he could direct me to the Devil's Bridge, or rather to Pont Erwyd.

"It would be of no use directing you, sir," said he, "for with all the directions in the world it would be impossible for you to find the way. You would not have left these premises five minutes before you would be in a maze without knowing which way to turn. Where do you come from?"

"From Machynlleth," I replied.

"From Machynlleth!" said he. "Well, I only wonder you ever got here, but it would be madness to go farther alone."

"Well," said I, "can I obtain a guide?"

"I really don't know," said he; "I am afraid all the men are engaged."

As we were speaking a young man made his appearance at the door from the interior of the house. He was dressed in a brown short coat, had a glazed hat on his head, and had a pale but very intelligent countenance.

"What is the matter?" said he to the other man.

"This gentleman," replied the latter, "is going to Pont Erwyd, and wants a guide."

"Well," said the young man, "we must find him one. It will never do to let him go by himself."

"If you can find me a guide," said I, "I shall be happy to pay him for his trouble."

"Oh, you can do as you please about that," said the young man; "but, pay or not, we would never suffer you to leave this place without a guide, and as much for our own sake as yours; for the directors of the Company would never forgive us if they heard we had suffered a gentleman to leave these premises without a guide, more especially if he were lost, as it is a hundred to one you would be if you went by yourself."

"Pray," said I, "what Company is this, the directors of which are so solicitous about the safety of strangers?"

"The Potosi Mining Company," said he, "the richest in all Wales. But pray walk in and sit down, for you must be tired."


The Mining Compting Room - Native of Aberystwyth - Story of a Bloodhound - The Young Girls - The Miner's Tale - Gwen Frwd - The Terfyn.

I FOLLOWED the young man with the glazed hat into a room, the other man following behind me. He of the glazed hat made me sit down before a turf fire, apologising for its smoking very much. The room seemed half compting-room, half apartment. There was a wooden desk with a ledger upon it by the window, which looked to the west, and a camp bedstead extended from the southern wall nearly up to the desk. After I had sat for about a minute, the young man asked me if I would take any refreshment. I thanked him for his kind offer, which I declined, saying, however, that if he would obtain me a guide I should feel much obliged. He turned to the other man and told him to go and inquire whether there was any one who would be willing to go. The other nodded, and forthwith went out.

"You think, then," said I, "that I could not find the way by myself?"

"I am sure of it," said he, "for even the people best acquainted with the country frequently lose their way. But I must tell you, that if we do find you a guide, it will probably be one who has no English."

"Never mind," said I, "I have enough Welsh to hold a common discourse."

A fine girl about fourteen now came in, and began bustling about.

"Who is this young lady?" said I.

"The daughter of a captain of a neighbouring mine," said he; "she frequently comes here with messages, and is always ready to do a turn about the house, for she is very handy."

"Has she any English?" said I.

"Not a word," he replied. "The young people of these hills have no English, except they go abroad to learn it."

"What hills are these?" said I.

"Part of the Plynlimmon range," said he.

"Dear me," said I, "am I near Plynlimmon?"

"Not very far from it," said the young man, "and you will be nearer when you reach Pont Erwyd."

"Are you a native of these parts?" said I.

"I am not," he replied; "I am a native of Aberystwyth, a place on the sea-coast about a dozen miles from here."

"This seems to be a cold, bleak spot," said I; "is it healthy?"

"I have reason to say so," said he; "for I came here from Aberystwyth about four months ago very unwell, and am now perfectly recovered. I do not believe there is a healthier spot in all Wales."

We had some further discourse. I mentioned to him the adventure which I had on the hill with the fellow with the donkey. The young man said that he had no doubt that he was some prowling thief.

"The dogs of the shepherd's house," said I, "didn't seem to like him, and dogs generally know an evil customer. A long time ago I chanced to be in a posada, or inn, at Valladolid in Spain. One hot summer's afternoon I was seated in a corridor which ran round a large open court in the middle of the inn; a fine yellow, three- parts-grown bloodhound was lying on the ground beside me with whom I had been playing, a little time before. I was just about to fall asleep, when I heard a 'hem' at the outward door of the posada, which was a long way below at the end of a passage which communicated with the court. Instantly the hound started upon his legs, and with a loud yell, and with eyes flashing fire, ran nearly round the corridor, down a flight of steps, and through the passage to the gate. There was then a dreadful noise, in which the cries of a human being and the yells of the hound were blended. I forthwith started up and ran down, followed by several other guests, who came rushing out of their chambers round the corridor. At the gate we saw a man on the ground and the hound trying to strangle him. It was with the greatest difficulty, and chiefly through the intervention of the master of the dog, who happened to be present, that the animal could be made to quit his hold. The assailed person was a very powerful man, but had an evil countenance, was badly dressed, and had neither hat, shoes nor stockings. We raised him up and gave him wine, which he drank greedily, and presently, without saying a word, disappeared. The guests said they had no doubt that he was a murderer flying from justice, and that the dog by his instinct, even at a distance, knew him to be such. The master said that it was the first time that the dog had ever attacked any one or shown the slightest symptom of ferocity. Not the least singular part of the matter was, that the dog did not belong to the house, but to one of the guests from a distant village; the creature therefore could not consider itself the house's guardian."

I had scarcely finished my tale when the other man came in and said that he had found a guide, a young man from Pont Erwyd, who would be glad of such an opportunity to go and see his parents, that he was then dressing himself, and would shortly make his appearance. In about twenty minutes he did so. He was a stout young fellow with a coarse blue coat, and coarse white felt hat; he held a stick in his hand. The kind young book-keeper now advised us to set out without delay, as the day was drawing to a close and the way was long. I shook him by the hand, told him that I should never forget his civility, and departed with the guide.

The fine young girl, whom I have already mentioned, and another about two years younger, departed with us. They were dressed in the graceful female attire of old Wales.

We bore to the south down a descent, and came to some moory, quaggy ground intersected with water-courses. The agility of the young girls surprised me; they sprang over the water-courses, some of which were at least four feet wide, with the ease and alacrity of lawns. After a short time we came to a road, which, however, we did not long reap the benefit of, as it only led to a mine. Seeing a house on the top of a hill, I asked my guide whose it was.

"Ty powdr," said he, "a powder house," by which I supposed he meant a magazine of powder used for blasting in the mines. He had not a word of English. . If the young girls were nimble with their feet, they were not less so with their tongues, as they kept up an incessant gabble with each other and with the guide. I understood little of what they said, their volubility preventing me from catching more than a few words. After we had gone about two miles and a half, they darted away with surprising swiftness down a hill towards a distant house, where, as I learned from my guide, the father of the eldest lived. We ascended a hill, passed between two craggy elevations, and then wended to the south-east over a strange, miry place, in which I thought any one at night not acquainted with every inch of the way would run imminent risk of perishing. I entered into conversation with my guide. After a little time he asked me if I was a Welshman. I told him no.

"You could teach many a Welshman," said he.

"Why do you think so?" said I.

"Because many of your words are quite above my comprehension," said he.

"No great compliment," thought I to myself; but putting a good face upon the matter I told him that I knew a great many old Welsh words.

"Is Potosi an old Welsh word?" said he.

"No," said I; "it is the name of a mine in the Deheubarth of America."

"Is it a lead mine?"

"No!" said I, "it is a silver mine."

"Then why do they call our mine, which is a lead mine, by the name of a silver mine?"

"Because they wish to give people to understand," said I, "that it is very rich - as rich in lead as Potosi in silver. Potosi is, or was, the richest silver mine in the world, and from it has come at least one half of the silver which we use in the shape of money and other things."

"Well," said he, "I have frequently asked, but could never learn before why our mine was called Potosi."

"You did not ask at the right quarter," said I; "the young man with the glazed hat could have told you as well as I." I inquired why the place where the mine was bore the name of Esgyrn Hirion or Long Bones. He told me that he did not know, but believed that the bones of a cawr or giant had been found there in ancient times. I asked him if the mine was deep.

"Very deep," he replied.

"Do you like the life of a miner?" said I.

"Very much," said he, "and should like it more, but for the noises of the hill."

"Do you mean the powder blasts?" said I.

"Oh no!" said he, "I care nothing for them; I mean the noises made by the spirits of the hill in the mine. Sometimes they make such noises as frighten the poor fellow who works underground out of his senses. Once on a time I was working by myself very deep underground, in a little chamber to which a very deep shaft led. I had just taken up my light to survey my work, when all of a sudden I heard a dreadful rushing noise, as if an immense quantity of earth had come tumbling down. 'Oh God!' said I, and fell backwards, letting the light fall, which instantly went out. I thought the whole shaft had given way, and that I was buried alive. I lay for several hours half stupefied, thinking now and then what a dreadful thing it was to be buried alive. At length I thought I would get up, go to the mouth of the shaft, feel the mould, with which it was choked up, and then come back, lie down, and die. So I got up and tottered to the mouth of the shaft, put out my hand and felt - nothing; all was clear. I went forward, and presently felt the ladder. Nothing had fallen; all was just the same as when I came down. I was dreadfully afraid that I should never be able to get up in the dark without breaking my neck; however, I tried, and at last, with a great deal of toil and danger, got to a place where other men were working. The noise was caused by the spirits of the hill in the hope of driving the miner out of his senses. They very nearly succeeded. I shall never forget how I felt when I thought I was buried alive. If it were not for those noises in the hill, the life of a miner would be quite heaven below."

We came to a cottage standing under a hillock, down the side of which tumbled a streamlet close by the northern side of the building. The door was open, and inside were two or three females and some children. "Have you any enwyn?" said the lad, peeping in.

"Oh yes!" said a voice - "digon! digon!" Presently a buxom, laughing girl brought out two dishes of buttermilk, one of which she handed to me and the other to the guide. I asked her the name of the place.

"Gwen Frwd - the 'Fair Rivulet,'" said she.

"Who lives here?"

"A shepherd."

"Have you any English?"

"Nagos!" said she, bursting into a loud laugh. "What should we do with English here?" After we had drunk the buttermilk I offered the girl some money, but she drew back her hand angrily, and said: "We don't take money from tired strangers for two drops of buttermilk; there's plenty within, and there are a thousand ewes on the hill. Farvel!"

"Dear me!" thought I to myself as I walked away; "that I should once in my days have found shepherd life something as poets have represented it!"

I saw a mighty mountain at a considerable distance on the right, the same I believe which I had noted some hours before. I inquired of my guide whether it was Plynlimmon.

"Oh no!" said he, "that is Gaverse; Pumlimmon is to the left."

"Plynlimmon is a famed hill," said I; "I suppose it is very high."

"Yes!" said he, "it is high; but it is not famed because it is high, but because the three grand rivers of the world issue from its breast, the Hafren, the Rheidol, and the Gwy."

Night was now coming rapidly on, attended with a drizzling rain. I inquired if we were far from Pont Erwyd. "About a mile," said my guide; "we shall soon be there." We quickened our pace. After a little time he asked me if I was going farther than Pont Erwyd.

"I am bound for the bridge of the evil man," said I; "but I daresay I shall stop at Pont Erwyd to-night."

"You will do right," said he; "it is only three miles from Pont Erwyd to the bridge of the evil man, but I think we shall have a stormy night."

"When I get to Pont Erwyd," said I, "how far shall I be from South Wales?"

"From South Wales!" said he; "you are in South Wales now; you passed the Terfyn of North Wales a quarter of an hour ago."

The rain now fell fast and there was so thick a mist that I could only see a few yards before me. We descended into a valley, at the bottom of which I heard a river roaring.

"That's the Rheidol," said my guide, "coming from Pumlimmon, swollen with rain."

Without descending to the river, we turned aside up a hill, and, after passing by a few huts, came to a large house, which my guide told me was the inn of Pont Erwyd.

George Borrow, Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery (Oxford, Mississippi, 1996)

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