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A BURIED VILLAGE
To-DAY we are going to take a glimpse at two Welsh lakes, to one of which a most romantic story is attached.
We start from Lake Bala, or Llyn Tegid, as it was called in the days of Taliesin. Borrow, that whimsical traveller, who walked throughout Wales, and knew the country as few Welshmen do themselves, thus describes it:
"I wandered to the northern shore of Llyn Tegid ... the wind was blowing from the south, and tiny waves were beating against the shore, which consisted of small brown pebbles. The lake has not its name, which signifies Lake of Beauty, for nothing. It is a beautiful sheet of water, and beautifully situated. It is oblong, and about six mires in length. On all sides except to the north it is bounded by hills. Those at the southern end are very lofty, the tallest of which is Aran, which lifts its head to the clouds like a huge loaf." Then he recalls how a hut by the edge of this lake was in former days the refuge of Llewarch the Aged, who lived to the age of 140, and had twenty-four sons, all of whom were slain by the Saxon invader in the grim days of old.
In more recent times the town of Bala was noted for the knitting industry; and a hundred years ago one might have seen the Tomen of Bala, a great mound overlooking the valley, covered with a crowd of knitters—men, women, and children—all plying their needles with busy fingers.
And now we turn our backs on the old lake and its prosperous little market-town, and set off to find a new lake, which only came into existence in the year 1881, which yet, in many ways, has a stranger and more romantic story than any that Llyn Tegid can boast.
Up and up climbs the steep, rough road to the top of the wild pass on the ridge of the Berwyns; or, if we want a yet wilder walk, we may strike off it to the left across the moorlands, steering our way through pathless bogs and treacherous swamps, till we reach a steep precipice guarding a valley through which rushes a torrent of waterfalls. Along the side of this sheer rock runs a narrow sheep-path—so narrow that we creep along on hands and feet across chasms, where it disappears altogether, and finally drop down a headlong descent into the valley of Lake Vyrnwy.
Five miles of peaceful grey water lie below us, fed by mountain torrents such as that we have skirted in our perilous descent.
Scarcely a house is to be seen, for the new hotel and its surroundings lie hidden by the bend of the shore; it seems a valley of the dead. Yet before the year 1880, in the Valley of Llanwddyn, as it was called, a village of 500 inhabitants existed; and a church and chapels, inn, and village street, farms and cornfields flourished where now stands that great expanse of water.
A quiet, secluded folk they were, knowing little English and even less of the ambitions and needs of the great industrial cities with one of which they were to be brought into such close touch. Quietly they lived and quietly they went to rest under the shadow of their grey church tower among the hills.
But meantime that great busy monster, the city of Liverpool, was crying out for more water. A huge reservoir must be secured, and since no other was available, some mountain valley, shut in on all sides, must be turned into a lake for the purpose. The news fell like a thunderbolt on the peaceful valley-dwellers. In vain they were told of compensation, of new and more comfortable houses to be built for them on the wooded ridge above the lake. To the old people the whole thing came upon them as nothing less than a devastation like that which overtook Pompeii of old. One old dame, indeed, is said to have chosen death by drowning rather than leave the roof of her ancestors, and a scene of actual violence occurred before she could be removed.
They tell us that a sailor, a native of Llanwddyn, returned after a lengthy absence to visit his home. You can imagine his feelings when, as he climbed the pass and began the steep descent, he saw his native valley transformed into an immense lake. We, too, as we pass along its shores and gaze into the watery depths, may see, with fancy's eye, the smiling cottage, the cheerful little farm, the sunny gardens, lying buried amid the slimy water-weeds. There stood the old church, founded in the sixth century, and rebuilt by the famous Knights of Jerusalem in the twelfth, whose bell "jangled for loyalty with such strange noise and good affection," when Beaufort made his progress through Wales in the days of James II. Now that little belfry lies silent far below the surface.
These are thoughts that tend to sadness, however, and we may cheer ourselves with a funny tale told of the workmen who were building the huge dam by which the water is pent in. Mr. Baring-Gould tells it as follows:
"Now, it fell out that when the dam was in course of construction, there was a stone in the river called Carreg yr Ysbryd, or the Ghost Rock, and it had to be removed. This was supposed to cover an evil spirit that had been laid and banned beneath it. The Welsh labourers engaged on the work would have nothing to do with shifting the block, but the English navvies had no scruples, and they blasted the rock, and with crowbars heaved out of place the fragments that remained.
"Then was revealed a cavity with water in it, and lo! the surface was agitated, and something rose out of it. The Taffies took to their heels. Then an old toad emerged, hopped on to a stone, yawned, and passed its paws over its eyes, as though rousing itself after a long sleep.
" 'It's nobbut a frog,' said the Yorkshire navvies.
" 'It's Cynon himself,' retorted the Welshmen. (Cynon was a wizard of the ancient days.) 'Look how he gapes and rubs his face. You may see by that he has been in prison.'
"After that, whenever a Taffy was observed to yawn, 'Ah ha!' said his mates; 'clearly you have but recently come out of prison.' "