Picture of George Borrow

George Borrow

places mentioned

To Wrexham

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Set out for Wrexham - Craig y Forwyn - Uncertainty - The Collier - Cadogan Hall - Methodistical Volume.

HAVING learnt from a newspaper that a Welsh book on Welsh Methodism had been just published at Wrexham, I determined to walk to that place and purchase it. I could easily have procured the work through a bookseller at Llangollen, but I wished to explore the hill-road which led to Wrexham, what the farmer under the Eglwysig rocks had said of its wildness having excited my curiosity, which the procuring of the book afforded me a plausible excuse for gratifying. If one wants to take any particular walk it is always well to have some business, however trifling, to transact at the end of it; so having determined to go to Wrexham by the mountain road, I set out on the Saturday next after the one on which I had met the farmer who had told me of it.

The day was gloomy, with some tendency to rain. I passed under the hill of Dinas Bran. About a furlong from its western base I turned round and surveyed it - and perhaps the best view of the noble mountain is to be obtained from the place where I turned round. How grand though sad from there it looked, that grey morning, with its fine ruin on its brow above which a little cloud hovered! It put me in mind of some old king, unfortunate and melancholy but a king still, with the look of a king, and the ancestral crown still on his furrowed forehead. I proceeded on my way, all was wild and solitary, and the yellow leaves were falling from the trees of the groves. I passed by the farmyard, where I had held discourse with the farmer on the preceding Saturday, and soon entered the glen, the appearance of which had so much attracted my curiosity. A torrent, rushing down from the north, was on my right. It soon began to drizzle, and mist so filled the glen that I could only distinguish objects a short way before me, and on either side. I wandered on a considerable way, crossing the torrent several times by rustic bridges. I passed two lone farm-houses and at last saw another on my left hand. The mist had now cleared up, but it still slightly rained - the scenery was wild to a degree - a little way before me was a tremendous pass, near it an enormous crag of a strange form rising to the very heavens, the upper part of it of a dull white colour. Seeing a respectable-looking man near the house I went up to him.

"Am I in the right way to Wrexham?" said I, addressing him in English.

"You can get to Wrexham this way, sir," he replied.

"Can you tell me the name of that crag?" said I, pointing to the large one.

"That crag, sir, is called Craig y Forwyn."

"The maiden's crag," said I; "why is it called so?"

"I do not know sir; some people say that it is called so because its head is like that of a woman, others because a young girl in love leaped from the top of it and was killed."

"And what is the name of this house?" said I.

"This house, sir, is called Plas Uchaf."

"Is it called Plas Uchaf," said I, "because it is the highest house in the valley?"

"It is, sir; it is the highest of three homesteads; the next below it is Plas Canol - and the one below that Plas Isaf."

"Middle place and lower place," said I. "It is very odd that I know in England three people who derive their names from places so situated. One is Houghton, another Middleton, and the third Lowdon; in modern English, Hightown, Middletown, and Lowtown."

"You appear to be a person of great intelligence, sir."

"No, I am not - but I am rather fond of analysing words, particularly the names of persons and places. Is the road to Wrexham hard to find?"

"Not very, sir; that is, in the day-time. Do you live at Wrexham?"

"No," I replied, "I am stopping at Llangollen."

"But you won't return there to-night?"

"Oh yes, I shall!"

"By this road?"

"No, by the common road. This is not a road to travel by night."

"Nor is the common road, sir, for a respectable person on foot; that is, on a Saturday night. You will perhaps meet drunken colliers who may knock you down."

"I will take my chance for that," said I, and bade him farewell. I entered the pass, passing under the strange-looking crag. After I had walked about half a mile the pass widened considerably and a little way further on debauched on some wild moory ground. Here the road became very indistinct. At length I stopped in a state of uncertainty. A well-defined path presented itself, leading to the east, whilst northward before me there seemed scarcely any path at all. After some hesitation I turned to the east by the well- defined path, and by so doing went wrong, as I soon found.

I mounted the side of a brown hill covered with moss-like grass, and here and there heather. By the time I arrived at the top of the hill the sun shone out, and I saw Rhiwabon and Cefn Mawr before me in the distance. "I am going wrong," said I; "I should have kept on due north. However, I will not go back, but will steeple-chase it across the country to Wrexham, which must be towards the north-east." So turning aside from the path, I dashed across the hills in that direction; sometimes the heather was up to my knees, and sometimes I was up to the knees in quags. At length I came to a deep ravine which I descended; at the bottom was a quagmire, which, however, I contrived to cross by means of certain stepping- stones, and came to a cart path up a heathery hill which I followed. I soon reached the top of the hill, and the path still continuing, I followed it till I saw some small grimy-looking huts, which I supposed were those of colliers. At the door of the first I saw a girl. I spoke to her in Welsh, and found she had little or none. I passed on, and seeing the door of a cabin open I looked in - and saw no adult person, but several grimy but chubby children. I spoke to them in English, and found they could only speak Welsh. Presently I observed a robust woman advancing towards me; she was barefooted and bore on her head an immense lump of coal. I spoke to her in Welsh, and found she could only speak English. "Truly," said I to myself, "I am on the borders. What a mixture of races and languages!" The next person I met was a man in a collier's dress; he was a stout-built fellow of the middle age, with a coal- dusty surly countenance. I asked him in Welsh if I was in the right direction for Wrexham, he answered in a surly manner in English, that I was. I again spoke to him in Welsh, making some indifferent observation on the weather, and he answered in English yet more gruffly than before. For the third time I spoke to him in Welsh, whereupon looking at me with a grin of savage contempt, and showing a set of teeth like those of a mastiff, he said, "How's this? why you haven't a word of English? A pretty fellow you, with a long coat on your back and no English on your tongue, an't you ashamed of yourself? Why, here am I in a short coat, yet I'd have you to know that I can speak English as well as Welsh, aye and a good deal better." "All people are not equally clebber," said I, still speaking Welsh. "Clebber," said he, "clebber! what is clebber? why can't you say clever! Why, I never saw such a low, illiterate fellow in my life;" and with these words he turned away with every mark of disdain, and entered a cottage near at hand.

"Here I have had," said I to myself, as I proceeded on my way, "to pay for the over-praise which I lately received. The farmer on the other side of the mountain called me a person of great intelligence, which I never pretended to be, and now this collier calls me a low, illiterate fellow, which I really don't think I am. There is certainly a Nemesis mixed up with the affairs of this world; every good thing which you get, beyond what is strictly your due, is sure to be required from you with a vengeance. A little over-praise by a great deal of underrating - a gleam of good fortune by a night of misery."

I now saw Wrexham Church at about the distance of three miles, and presently entered a lane which led gently down from the hills, which were the same heights I had seen on my right hand, some months previously, on my way from Wrexham to Rhiwabon. The scenery now became very pretty - hedge-rows were on either side, a luxuriance of trees and plenty of green fields. I reached the bottom of the lane, beyond which I saw a strange-looking house upon a slope on the right hand. It was very large, ruinous, and seemingly deserted. A little beyond it was a farm-house, connected with which was a long row of farming buildings along the road-side. Seeing a woman seated knitting at the door of a little cottage, I asked her in English the name of the old, ruinous house?

"Cadogan Hall, sir," she replied.

"And whom does it belong to?" said I.

"I don't know exactly," replied the woman, "but Mr Morris at the farm holds it, and stows his things in it."

"Can you tell me anything about it?" said I.

"Nothing farther," said the woman, "than that it is said to be haunted, and to have been a barrack many years ago."

"Can you speak Welsh?" said I.

"No," said the woman, "I are Welsh but have no Welsh language."

Leaving the woman I put on my best speed and in about half an hour reached Wrexham.

The first thing I did on my arrival was to go to the bookshop and purchase the Welsh Methodistic book. It cost me seven shillings, and was a thick, bulky octavo with a cut-and-come-again expression about it, which was anything but disagreeable to me, for I hate your flimsy publications. The evening was now beginning to set in, and feeling somewhat hungry I hurried off to the Wynstay Arms through streets crowded with market people. On arriving at the inn I entered the grand room and ordered dinner. The waiters, observing me splashed with mud from head to foot, looked at me dubiously; seeing, however, the respectable-looking volume which I bore in my hand - none of your railroad stuff - they became more assured, and I presently heard one say to the other, "It's all right - that's Mr So-and-So, the great Baptist preacher. He has been preaching amongst the hills - don't you see his Bible?"

Seating myself at a table I inspected the volume. And here perhaps the reader expects that I shall regale him with an analysis of the Methodistical volume at least as long as that of the life of Tom O' the Dingle. In that case, however, he will be disappointed; all that I shall at present say of it is, that it contained a history of Methodism in Wales, with the lives of the principal Welsh Methodists. That it was fraught with curious and original matter, was written in a straightforward, Methodical style, and that I have no doubt it will some day or other be extensively known and highly prized.

After dinner I called for half a pint of wine. Whilst I was trifling over it, a commercial traveller entered into conversation with me. After some time he asked me if I was going further that night.

"To Llangollen," said I.

"By the ten o'clock train?" said he.

"No," I replied, "I'm going on foot."

"On foot!" said he; "I would not go on foot there this night for fifty pounds."

"Why not?" said I.

"For fear of being knocked down by the colliers, who will be all out and drunk."

"If not more than two attack me," said I, "I shan't much mind. With this book I am sure I can knock down one, and I think I can find play for the other with my fists."

The commercial traveller looked at me. "A strange kind of Baptist minister," I thought I heard him say.


Rhiwabon Road - The Public-house Keeper - No Welsh - The Wrong Road - The Good Wife.

I PAID my reckoning and started. The night was now rapidly closing in. I passed the toll-gate and hurried along the Rhiwabon road, overtaking companies of Welsh going home, amongst whom were many individuals, whom, from their thick and confused speech, as well as from their staggering gait, I judged to be intoxicated. As I passed a red public-house on my right hand, at the door of which stood several carts, a scream of Welsh issued from it.

"Let any Saxon," said I, "who is fond of fighting and wishes for a bloody nose go in there."

Coming to the small village about a mile from Rhiwabon, I felt thirsty, and seeing a public-house, in which all seemed to be quiet, I went in. A thick-set man with a pipe in his mouth sat in the tap-room, and also a woman.

"Where is the landlord?" said I.

"I am the landlord," said the man, huskily. "What do you want?"

"A pint of ale," said I.

The man got up and with his pipe in his mouth went staggering out of the room. In about a minute he returned holding a mug in his hand, which he put down on a table before me, spilling no slight quantity of the liquor as he did so. I put down three-pence on the table. He took the money up slowly piece by piece, looked at it and appeared to consider, then taking the pipe out of his mouth he dashed it to seven pieces against the table, then staggered out of the room into the passage, and from thence apparently out of the house. I tasted the ale which was very good, then turning to the woman who seemed about three-and-twenty and was rather good- looking, I spoke to her in Welsh.

"I have no Welsh, sir," said she.

"How is that?" said I; "this village is I think in the Welshery."

"It is," said she, "but I am from Shropshire."

"Are you the mistress of the house?" said I.

"No," said she, "I am married to a collier;" then getting up she said, "I must go and see after my husband."

"Won't you take a glass of ale first?" said I, offering to fill a glass which stood on the table.

"No," said she; "I am the worst in the world for a glass of ale;" and without saying anything more she departed.

"I wonder whether your husband is anything like you with respect to a glass of ale," said I to myself; then finishing my ale I got up and left the house, which when I departed appeared to be entirely deserted.

It was now quite night, and it would have been pitchy-dark but for the glare of forges. There was an immense glare to the south-west, which I conceived proceeded from those of Cefn Mawr. It lighted up the south-western sky; then there were two other glares nearer to me, seemingly divided by a lump of something, perhaps a grove of trees.

Walking very fast I soon overtook a man. I knew him at once by his staggering gait.

"Ah, landlord!" said I; "whither bound?"

"To Rhiwabon," said he, huskily, "for a pint."

"Is the ale so good at Rhiwabon," said I, "that you leave home for it?"

"No," said he, rather shortly, "there's not a glass of good ale in Rhiwabon."

"Then why do you go thither?" said I.

"Because a pint of bad liquor abroad is better than a quart of good at home," said the landlord, reeling against the hedge.

"There are many in a higher station than you who act upon that principle," thought I to myself as I passed on.

I soon reached Rhiwabon. There was a prodigious noise in the public-houses as I passed through it. "Colliers carousing," said I. "Well, I shall not go amongst them to preach temperance, though perhaps in strict duty I ought." At the end of the town, instead of taking the road on the left side of the church, I took that on the right. It was not till I had proceeded nearly a mile that I began to be apprehensive that I had mistaken the way. Hearing some people coming towards me on the road I waited till they came up; they proved to be a man and a woman. On my inquiring whether I was right for Llangollen, the former told me that I was not, and in order to get there it was necessary that I should return to Rhiwabon. I instantly turned round. About half-way back I met a man who asked me in English where I was hurrying to. I said to Rhiwabon, in order to get to Llangollen. "Well, then," said he, "you need not return to Rhiwabon - yonder is a short cut across the fields," and he pointed to a gate. I thanked him, and said I would go by it; before leaving him I asked to what place the road led which I had been following.

"To Pentre Castren," he replied. I struck across the fields and should probably have tumbled half-a-dozen times over pales and the like, but for the light of the Cefn furnaces before me which cast their red glow upon my path. I debauched upon the Llangollen road near to the tramway leading to the collieries. Two enormous sheets of flame shot up high into the air from ovens, illumining two spectral chimneys as high as steeples, also smoky buildings, and grimy figures moving about. There was a clanging of engines, a noise of shovels and a falling of coals truly horrible. The glare was so great that I could distinctly see the minutest lines upon my hand. Advancing along the tramway I obtained a nearer view of the hellish buildings, the chimneys, and the demoniac figures. It was just such a scene as one of those described by Ellis Wynn in his Vision of Hell. Feeling my eyes scorching I turned away, and proceeded towards Llangollen, sometimes on the muddy road, sometimes on the dangerous causeway. For three miles at least I met nobody. Near Llangollen, as I was walking on the causeway, three men came swiftly towards me. I kept the hedge, which was my right; the two first brushed roughly past me, the third came full upon me and was tumbled into the road. There was a laugh from the two first and a loud curse from the last as he sprawled in the mire. I merely said "Nos Da'ki," and passed on, and in about a quarter of an hour reached home, where I found my wife awaiting me alone, Henrietta having gone to bed being slightly indisposed. My wife received me with a cheerful smile. I looked at her and the good wife of the Triad came to my mind.

"She is modest, void of deceit, and obedient.

"Pure of conscience, gracious of tongue, and true to her husband.

"Her heart not proud, her manners affable, and her bosom full of compassion for the poor.

"Labouring to be tidy, skilful of hand, and fond of praying to God.

"Her conversation amiable, her dress decent, and her house orderly.

"Quick of hand, quick of eye, and quick of understanding.

"Her person shapely, her manners agreeable, and her heart innocent.

"Her face benignant, her head intelligent, and provident.

"Neighbourly, gentle, and of a liberal way of thinking.

"Able in directing, providing what is wanting, and a good mother to her children.

"Loving her husband, loving peace, and loving God.

"Happy the man," adds the Triad, "who possesses such a wife." Very true, O Triad, always provided he is in some degree worthy of her; but many a man leaves an innocent wife at home for an impure Jezebel abroad, even as many a one prefers a pint of hog's wash abroad to a tankard of generous liquor at home.


Preparations for Departure - Cat provided for - A Pleasant Party - Last Night at Llangollen.

I WAS awakened early on the Sunday morning by the howling of wind. There was a considerable storm throughout the day, but unaccompanied by rain. I went to church both in the morning and the evening. The next day there was a great deal of rain. It was now the latter end of October; winter was coming on, and my wife and daughter were anxious to return home. After some consultation it was agreed that they should depart for London, and that I should join them there after making a pedestrian tour in South Wales.

I should have been loth to quit Wales without visiting the Deheubarth or Southern Region, a land differing widely, as I had heard, both in language and customs from Gwynedd or the Northern, a land which had given birth to the illustrious Ab Gwilym, and where the great Ryce family had flourished, which very much distinguished itself in the Wars of the Roses - a member of which Ryce ap Thomas placed Henry the Seventh on the throne of Britain - a family of royal extraction, and which after the death of Roderic the Great for a long time enjoyed the sovereignty of the south.

We set about making the necessary preparations for our respective journeys. Those for mine were soon made. I bought a small leather satchel with a lock and key, in which I placed a white linen shirt, a pair of worsted stockings, a razor and a prayer-book. Along with it I bought a leather strap with which to sling it over my shoulder: I got my boots new soled, my umbrella, which was rather dilapidated, mended; put twenty sovereigns into my purse, and then said I am all right for the Deheubarth.

As my wife and daughter required much more time in making preparations for their journey than I for mine, and as I should only be in their way whilst they were employed, it was determined that I should depart on my expedition on Thursday, and that they should remain at Llangollen till the Saturday.

We were at first in some perplexity with respect to the disposal of the ecclesiastical cat; it would of course not do to leave it in the garden to the tender mercies of the Calvinistic Methodists of the neighbourhood, more especially those of the flannel manufactory, and my wife and daughter could hardly carry it with them. At length we thought of applying to a young woman of sound church principles, who was lately married and lived over the water on the way to the railroad station, with whom we were slightly acquainted, to take charge of the animal, and she on the first intimation of our wish, willingly acceded to it. So with her poor puss was left along with a trifle for its milk-money, and with her, as we subsequently learned, it continued in peace and comfort till one morning it sprang suddenly from the hearth into the air, gave a mew, and died. So much for the ecclesiastical cat!

The morning of Tuesday was rather fine, and Mr Ebenezer E-, who had heard of our intended departure, came to invite us to spend the evening at the Vicarage. His father had left Llangollen the day before for Chester, where he expected to be detained some days. I told him we should be most happy to come. He then asked me to take a walk. I agreed with pleasure, and we set out, intending to go to Llansilio at the western end of the valley and look at the church. The church was an ancient building. It had no spire, but had the little erection on its roof, so usual to Welsh churches, for holding a bell.

In the churchyard is a tomb in which an old squire of the name of Jones was buried about the middle of the last century. There is a tradition about this squire and tomb to the following effect. After the squire's death there was a lawsuit about his property, in consequence of no will having been found. It was said that his will had been buried with him in the tomb, which after some time was opened, but with what success the tradition sayeth not.

In the evening we went to the Vicarage. Besides the family and ourselves there was Mr R- and one or two more. We had a very pleasant party; and as most of those present wished to hear something connected with Spain, I talked much about that country, sang songs of Germania, and related in an abridged form Lope de Vega's ghost story, which is decidedly the best ghost story in the world.

In the afternoon of Wednesday I went and took leave of certain friends in the town; amongst others of old Mr Jones. On my telling him that I was about to leave Llangollen, he expressed considerable regret, but said that it was natural for me to wish to return to my native country. I told him that before returning to England I intended to make a pedestrian tour in South Wales. He said that he should die without seeing the south; that he had had several opportunities of visiting it when he was young, which he had neglected, and that he was now too old to wander far from home. He then asked me which road I intended to take. I told him that I intended to strike across the Berwyn to Llan Rhyadr, then visit Sycharth, once the seat of Owain Glendower, lying to the east of Llan Rhyadr, then return to that place, and after seeing the celebrated cataract across the mountains to Bala - whence I should proceed due south. I then asked him whether he had ever seen Sycharth and the Rhyadr; he told me that he had never visited Sycharth, but had seen the Rhyadr more than once. He then smiled and said that there was a ludicrous anecdote connected with the Rhyadr, which he would relate to me. "A traveller once went to see the Rhyadr, and whilst gazing at it a calf which had fallen into the stream above, whilst grazing upon the rocks, came tumbling down the cataract. 'Wonderful!' said the traveller, and going away reported that it was not only a fall of water, but of calves, and was very much disappointed, on visiting the waterfall on another occasion, to see no calf come tumbling down." I took leave of the kind old gentleman with regret, never expecting to see him again, as he was in his eighty-fourth year - he was a truly excellent character, and might be ranked amongst the venerable ornaments of his native place.

About half-past eight o'clock at night John Jones came to bid me farewell. I bade him sit down, and sent for a pint of ale to regale him with. Notwithstanding the ale, he was very melancholy at the thought that I was about to leave Llangollen, probably never to return. To enliven him I gave him an account of my late expedition to Wrexham, which made him smile more than once. When I had concluded he asked me whether I knew the meaning of the word Wrexham: I told him I believed I did, and gave him the derivation which the reader will find in an early chapter of this work. He told me that with all due submission, he thought he could give me a better, which he had heard from a very clever man, gwr deallus iawn, who lived about two miles from Llangollen on the Corwen road. In the old time a man of the name of Sam kept a gwestfa, or inn, at the place where Wrexham flow stands; when he died he left it to his wife, who kept it after him, on which account the house was first called Ty wraig Sam, the house of Sam's wife, and then for shortness Wraig Sam, and a town arising about it by degrees, the town too was called Wraig Sam, which the Saxons corrupted into Wrexham.

I was much diverted with this Welsh derivation of Wrexham, which I did not attempt to controvert. After we had had some further discourse John Jones got up, shook me by the hand, gave a sigh, wished me a "taith hyfryd," and departed. Thus terminated my last day at Llangollen.

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

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