Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
THE DEVILS BRIDGE
CENTRAL WALES is a land of hills and breezy uplands, enclosed by low mountain-ranges full of romantic gorges and hidden valleys.
It includes the north of Cardiganshire and part of the shire of Montgomery, and is famous in history as the battle-ground upon which many a struggle between the Men of the South and the Men of the North was fought out.
The first place of interest on its coast-line is Aberystwith. Here you will find the moated mound, which is all that is left of a castle, built by Gilbert de Clare, one of the barons of Henry I., to guard his newly acquired province of Cardigan or Ceredigion; the southern part being guarded by the castle we have already seen at Cardigan itself, on the mouth of the Teify.
The much more important ruins of a castle that stand near the College, and overlook the sea, are the remains of a later building in the days of Edward I.
Close by, the fine grey building of the University College brings us back to the present day, and reminds one of the fashion in which Wales, so long supposed to be behind-hand in the march of progress, led the way by founding her own University, with noble colleges at Bangor, Aberystwith, and Cardiff, where her sons and daughters might complete the education begun in the intermediate and primary schools throughout the Principality. Not only may Wales pride herself on her University, but also on her boldness in first making the experiment of teaching boys and girls, young men and women together on precisely equal terms—an experiment in co-education which England herself has hesitated to make.
There are many interesting expeditions to be made round this pretty seaside town. Near by is Llanbadarn, the Church of St. Paternus, a Breton monk, who, in the sixth century, brought the Christian faith to this region. This church developed into a monastery in later days, and became a refuge in the twelfth century for an unusually studious Bishop of those days, who was driven from St. David's by the rough Norman barons and their favourite priests, and who found at Llanbadarn leisure and peace to write his record of the Welsh saints in older times, and to keep a valuable "chronicle," or history, of his own day.
Along the coast is Borth, and on the beach there, "between the Dovey and Aberystwith," may have been that Weir of Gwyddno, of which we read in the first chapter. There, you will remember, the unfortunate youth Elphin found a leathern bag with a child inside, who told him that he would be to him "in the days of his distress better than any three hundred salmon." And you shall hear now how, on one occasion alone, Taliesin, the child-bard, was as good as his word.
Elphin had been made prisoner by the cruel King Maelgwn, who cast him into a dungeon, barred by thirteen locked doors. After some attempts had been made in vain to win his freedom, Taliesin bade Elphin wager the King that he had a horse both better and swifter than the King's horses. The King accepted the challenge, promised him his freedom if he should win the race, and fixed day, and time, and place for the trial of the steeds.
When all was ready, the King went thither with all his Court and four and twenty of his swiftest horses; while Elphin could only muster a sorry nag ridden by a barefoot boy.
The course was marked out and the horses placed ready, when Taliesin came running with twenty-four sprigs of holly, burnt black, in his hand, and he bade the barefoot boy place the twigs in his belt. Then, as he did so, he whispered and bade him let all the King's horses get before him, and as each overtook him, to strike the horse with a holly-twig over the crupper, and then let that twig fall, and then to take another twig and do the same to every one of the horses as he was overtaken by each.
OLD ROMAN BRIDGE NEAR SWANSEA
He also told the boy to watch carefully when his own horse should stumble, and to throw down his cap on the spot.
All this was done, and every one of the King's horses, when he was struck by the holly-twig, began to lag behind, so that the horse of Elphin, ridden by the barelegged boy, won the race with ease.
So the King was forced to release Elphin, and when this was done, Taliesin took his master to the spot where his horse had stumbled, and bade workmen dig a hole there, and when they had dug deep enough they found a cauldron full of gold. Then said Taliesin:
"Elphin, take thou this as a reward for having taken me out of the weir, and reared me from that time until now." So Elphin went home a rich man to his father.
Borth is not the only place in the neighbourhood which is connected with this wonderful bard of the sixth century. His grave is said to lie among the hills above the village of Taliesin, and anyone who lies in that hollow for a night alone is said to awake next morning either a poet or a madman.
Exactly the same thing is said of the man who is bold enough to spend the night on the top of Cader Idris, the home of a giant bard who is said to have invented the harp, and which is also known to us as the second highest mountain in Wales.
If we want to take a long excursion from Aberystwith, we can visit the famous Devil's Bridge in the Plynlimmon district, which is called one of the wonders of Wales. This, of course, was visited by the indefatigable Borrow, who thus describes the spot:
"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 "Monk's 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 window of the inn. Those of the Mynach, or Rhyddfant, 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 are beautifully clad with wood.
"Penetrate now into the hollow. You descend by successive flights of steps, some of which are very slippery and insecure. On your right is the Monk's 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, 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....
"Of all the falls, the fifth or last is the finest. 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 in two, is thundering beside you; foam, foam, foam is flying all about you; the basin or cauldron is boiling frightfully below you; grim 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 One?
"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 Monk's River. 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. It is now quite inaccessible except to birds and the climbing, wicked boys of the neighbourhood....
"To view it properly and the wonders connected with it you must pass over the bridge above it and descend a dingle till you come to a small platform on a crag. Below you now is a frightful cavity, at the bottom of which the waters of the Monk's River, which comes tumbling from a glen to the east, whirl, boil, and hiss in a horrid pot or cauldron in a manner truly tremendous.
"On your right is a slit, through which the waters, after whirling in the cauldron, escape. The slit is wonderfully narrow, considering its height, which is considerably over a hundred feet. Nearly above you, crossing the slit, which is partially wrapped in darkness, is the far-famed bridge, the Bridge of the Evil One—a work which, though crumbling and darkly grey, does much honour to the hand that 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 to the one above it.
"Gaze on these objects—the horrid seething pot or cauldron, the gloomy slit, and the spectral, shadowy Devil's Bridge for about three minutes, allowing a minute to each, then scramble up the bank, 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 monk's 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!" 1