Picture of George Borrow

George Borrow

places mentioned

Around Anglesey (4)

Next Selection Previous Selection


Oats and Methodism - The Little Girl - Ty Gwyn - Bird of the Roof - Purest English - Railroads - Inconsistency - The Boots.

IT might be about four in the afternoon when I left L- bound for Pen Caer Gybi, or Holyhead, seventeen miles distant. I reached the top of the hill on the west of the little town, and then walked briskly forward. The country looked poor and mean - on my right was a field of oats, on my left a Methodist chapel - oats and Methodism! what better symbols of poverty and meanness?

I went onward a long way, the weather was broiling hot, and I felt thirsty. On the top of a long ascent stood a house by the roadside. I went to the door and knocked - no answer - "Oes neb yn y ty?" said I.

"Oes!" said an infantine voice.

I opened the door and saw a little girl. "Have you any water?" said I.

"No," said the child, "but I have this," and she brought me some butter-milk in a basin. I just tasted it, gave the child a penny and blessed her.

"Oes genoch tad?"

"No," said she; "but I have a mam." Tad in mam; blessed sounds; in all languages expressing the same blessed things.

After walking for some hours I saw a tall blue hill in the far distance before me. "What is the name of that hill?" said I to a woman whom I met.

"Pen Caer Gybi," she replied.

Soon after I came to a village near to a rocky gully. On inquiring the name of the village, I was told it was Llan yr Afon, or the church of the river. I passed on; the country was neither grand nor pretty - it exhibited a kind of wildness, however, which did not fail to interest me - there were stones, rocks and furze in abundance. Turning round the corner of a hill, I observed through the mists of evening, which began to gather about me, what seemed to be rather a genteel house on the roadside; on my left, and a little way behind it a strange kind of monticle, on which I thought I observed tall upright stones. Quickening my pace, I soon came parallel with the house, which as I drew nigh, ceased to look like a genteel house, and exhibited an appearance of great desolation. It was a white, or rather grey structure of some antiquity. It was evidently used as a farm-house, for there was a yard adjoining to it, in which were stacks and agricultural implements. Observing two men in the yard, I went in. They were respectable, farm- looking men, between forty and fifty; one had on a coat and hat, the other a cap and jacket. "Good evening," I said in Welsh.

"Good evening," they replied in the same language, looking inquiringly at me.

"What is the name of this place?" said I.

"It is called Ty gwyn," said the man of the hat.

"On account of its colour, I suppose?" said I.

"Just so," said the man of the hat.

"It looks old," said I.

"And it is old," he replied. "In the time of the Papists it was one of their chapels."

"Does it belong to you?" I demanded.

"Oh no, it belongs to one Mr Sparrow from Liverpool. I am his bailiff, and this man is a carpenter who is here doing a job for him."

Here ensued a pause, which was broken by the man of the hat saying in English, to the man of the cap:

"Who can this strange fellow be? he has not a word of English, and though he speaks Welsh his Welsh sounds very different from ours. Who can he be?"

"I am sure I don't know," said the other.

"I know who he is," said the first, "he comes from Llydaw, or Armorica, which was peopled from Britain estalom, and where I am told the real old Welsh language is still spoken."

"I think I heard you mention the word Llydaw?" said I, to the man of the hat.

"Ah," said the man of the hat, speaking Welsh, "I was right after all; oh, I could have sworn you were Llydaweg. Well, how are the descendants of the ancient Britons getting on in Llydaw?"

"They are getting on tolerably well," said I, "when I last saw them, though all things do not go exactly as they could wish."

"Of course not," said he of the hat. "We too have much to complain of here; the lands are almost entirely taken possession of by Saxons, wherever you go you will find them settled, and a Saxon bird of the roof must build its nest in Gwyn dy."

"You call a sparrow in your Welsh a bird of the roof, do you not?" said I.

"We do," said he of the hat. "You speak Welsh very well considering you were not born in Wales. It is really surprising that the men of Llydaw should speak the iaith so pure as they do."

"The Welsh when they went over there," said I, "took effectual means that their descendants should speak good Welsh, if all tales be true."

"What means?" said he of the hat.

"Why," said I; "after conquering the country they put all the men to death, and married the women, but before a child was born they cut out all the women's tongues, so that the only language the children heard when they were born was pure Cumraeg. What do you think of that?"

"Why, that it was a cute trick," said he of the hat.

"A more clever trick I never heard," said the man of the cap.

"Have you any memorials in the neighbourhood of the old Welsh?" said I.

"What do you mean?" said the man of the hat.

"Any altars of the Druids?" said I; "any stone tables?"

"None," said the man of the hat.

"What may those stones be?" said I, pointing to the stones which had struck my attention.

"Mere common rocks," said the man.

"May I go and examine them?" said I.

"Oh yes!" said he of the hat, "and we will go with you."

We went to the stones, which were indeed common rocks, and which when I reached them presented quite a different appearance from that which they presented to my eye when I viewed them from afar.

"Are there many altars of the Druids in Llydaw?" said the man of the hat.

"Plenty," said I, "but those altars are older than the time of the Welsh colonists, and were erected by the old Gauls."

"Well," said the man of the cap, "I am glad I have seen the man of Llydaw."

"Whom do you call a man of Llydaw?" said I.

"Whom but yourself?" said he of the hat.

"I am not a man of Llydaw," said I in English, "but Norfolk, where the people eat the best dumplings in the world, and speak the purest English. Now a thousand thanks for your civility. I would have some more chat with you, but night is coming on, and I am bound to Holyhead."

Then leaving the men staring after me, I bent my steps towards Holyhead.

I passed by a place called Llan something, standing lonely on its hill. The country round looked sad and desolate. It is true night had come on when I saw it.

On I hurried. The voices of children sounded sweetly at a distance across the wild champaign on my left.

It grew darker and darker. On I hurried along the road; at last I came to lone, lordly groves. On my right was an open gate and a lodge. I went up to the lodge. The door was open, and in a little room I beheld a nice-looking old lady sitting by a table, on which stood a lighted candle, with her eyes fixed on a large book.

"Excuse me," said I; "but who owns this property?"

The old lady looked up from her book, which appeared to be a Bible, without the slightest surprise, though I certainly came upon her unawares, and answered:

"Mr John Wynn."

I shortly passed through a large village, or rather town, the name of which I did not learn. I then went on for a mile or two, and saw a red light at some distance. The road led nearly up to it, and then diverged towards the north. Leaving the road I made towards the light by a lane, and soon came to a railroad station.

"You won't have long to wait, sir," said a man, "the train to Holyhead will be here presently."

"How far is it to Holyhead?" said I.

"Two miles, sir, and the fare is only sixpence."

"I despise railroads," said I, "and those who travel by them," and without waiting for an answer returned to the road. Presently I heard the train - it stopped for a minute at the station, and then continuing its course passed me on my left hand, voiding fierce sparks, and making a terrible noise - the road was a melancholy one; my footsteps sounded hollow upon it. I seemed to be its only traveller - a wall extended for a long, long way on my left. At length I came to a turnpike. I felt desolate and wished to speak to somebody. I tapped at the window, at which there was a light; a woman opened it. "How far to Holyhead?" said I in English.

"Dim Saesneg," said the woman.

I repeated my question in Welsh.

"Two miles," said she.

"Still two miles to Holyhead by the road," thought I. "Nos da," said I to the woman and sped along. At length I saw water on my right, seemingly a kind of bay, and presently a melancholy ship. I doubled my pace, which was before tolerably quick, and soon saw a noble-looking edifice on my left, brilliantly lighted up. "What a capital inn that would make," said I, looking at it wistfully, as I passed it. Presently I found myself in the midst of a poor, dull, ill-lighted town.

"Where is the inn?" said I to a man.

"The inn, sir; you have passed it. The inn is yonder," he continued, pointing towards the noble-looking edifice.

"What, is that the inn?" said I.

"Yes, sir, the railroad hotel - and a first-rate hotel it is."

"And are there no other inns?"

"Yes, but they are all poor places. No gent puts up at them - all the gents by the railroad put up at the railroad hotel."

What was I to do? after turning up my nose at the railroad, was I to put up at its hotel? Surely to do so would be hardly acting with consistency. "Ought I not rather to go to some public-house, frequented by captains of fishing smacks, and be put in a bed a foot too short for me," said I, as I reflected on my last night's couch at Mr Pritchard's. "No, that won't do - I shall go to the hotel, I have money in my pocket, and a person with money in his pocket has surely a right to be inconsistent if he pleases."

So I turned back and entered the railroad hotel with lofty port and with sounding step, for I had twelve sovereigns in my pocket, besides a half one, and some loose silver, and feared not to encounter the gaze of any waiter or landlord in the land. "Send boots!" I roared to the waiter, as I flung myself down in an arm- chair in a magnificent coffee-room. "What the deuce are you staring at? send boots can't you, and ask what I can have for dinner."

"Yes, sir," said the waiter, and with a low bow departed.

"These boots are rather dusty," said the boots, a grey-haired, venerable-looking man, after he had taken off my thick, solid, square-toed boots. "I suppose you came walking from the railroad?"

"Confound the railroad!" said I. "I came walking from Bangor. I would have you know that I have money in my pocket, and can afford to walk. I am fond of the beauties of nature; now it is impossible to see much of the beauties of nature unless you walk. I am likewise fond of poetry, and take especial delight in inspecting the birth-places and haunts of poets. It is because I am fond of poetry, poets and their haunts, that I am come to Anglesey. Anglesey does not abound in the beauties of nature, but there never was such a place for poets; you meet a poet, or the birth-place of a poet, everywhere."

"Did your honour ever hear of Gronwy Owen?" said the old man.

"I have," I replied, "and yesterday I visited his birth-place; so you have heard of Gronwy Owen?"

"Heard of him, your honour; yes, and read his works. That 'Cowydd y Farn' of his is a wonderful poem."

"You say right," said I; "the 'Cowydd of Judgment' contains some of the finest things ever written - that description of the toppling down of the top crag of Snowdon, at the day of Judgment, beats anything in Homer."

"Then there was Lewis Morris, your honour," said the old man, "who gave Gronwy his education and wrote 'The Lasses of Meirion' - and - "

"And 'The Cowydd to the Snail,'" said I, interrupting him - "a wonderful man he was."

"I am rejoiced to see your honour in our house," said boots; "I never saw an English gentleman before who knew so much about Welsh poetry, nor a Welsh one either. Ah, if your honour is fond of poets and their places you did right to come to Anglesey - and your honour was right in saying that you can't stir a step without meeting one; you have an example of the truth of that in me - for to tell your honour the truth, I am a poet myself, and no bad one either."

Then tucking the dusty boots under his arm, the old man with a low congee, and a "Good-night, your honour!" shuffled out of the room.


Caer Gyby - Lewis Morris - Noble Character.

I DINED or rather supped well at the Railroad Inn - I beg its pardon, Hotel, for the word Inn at the present day is decidedly vulgar. I likewise slept well; how could I do otherwise, passing the night, as I did, in an excellent bed in a large, cool, quiet room? I arose rather late, went down to the coffee-room and took my breakfast leisurely, after which I paid my bill and strolled forth to observe the wonders of the place.

Caer Gybi or Cybi's town is situated on the southern side of a bay on the north-western side of Anglesey. Close to it on the south- west is a very high headland called in Welsh Pen Caer Gybi, or the head of Cybi's city, and in English Holy Head. On the north, across the bay, is another mountain of equal altitude, which if I am not mistaken bears in Welsh the name of Mynydd Llanfair, or Saint Mary's Mount. It is called Cybi's town from one Cybi, who about the year 500 built a college here to which youths noble and ignoble resorted from far and near. He was a native of Dyfed or Pembrokeshire, and was a friend and for a long time a fellow- labourer of Saint David. Besides being learned, according to the standard of the time, he was a great walker, and from bronzing his countenance by frequent walking in the sun was generally called Cybi Velin, which means tawny or yellow Cybi.

So much for Cybi, and his town! And now something about one whose memory haunted me much more than that of Cybi during my stay at Holyhead.

Lewis Morris was born at a place called Tref y Beirdd, in Anglesey, in the year 1700. Anglesey, or Mona, has given birth to many illustrious men, but few, upon the whole, entitled to more honourable mention than himself. From a humble situation in life, for he served an apprenticeship to a cooper at Holyhead, he raised himself by his industry and talents to affluence and distinction, became a landed proprietor in the county of Cardigan, and inspector of the royal domains and mines in Wales. Perhaps a man more generally accomplished never existed; he was a first-rate mechanic, an expert navigator, a great musician, both in theory and practice, and a poet of singular excellence. Of him it was said, and with truth, that he could build a ship and sail it, frame a harp and make it speak, write an ode and set it to music. Yet that saying, eulogistic as it is, is far from expressing all the vast powers and acquirements of Lewis Morris. Though self-taught, he was confessedly the best Welsh scholar of his age, and was well-versed in those cognate dialects of the Welsh - the Cornish, Armoric, Highland Gaelic and Irish. He was likewise well acquainted with Hebrew, Greek and Latin, had studied Anglo-Saxon with some success, and was a writer of bold and vigorous English. He was besides a good general antiquary, and for knowledge of ancient Welsh customs, traditions, and superstitions, had no equal. Yet all has not been said which can be uttered in his praise; he had qualities of mind which entitled him to higher esteem than any accomplishment connected with intellect or skill. Amongst these were his noble generosity and sacrifice of self for the benefit of others. Weeks and months he was in the habit of devoting to the superintendence of the affairs of the widow and fatherless: one of his principal delights was to assist merit, to bring it before the world and to procure for it its proper estimation: it was he who first discovered the tuneful genius of blind Parry; it was he who first put the harp into his hand; it was he who first gave him scientific instruction; it was he who cheered him with encouragement and assisted him with gold. It was he who instructed the celebrated Evan Evans in the ancient language of Wales, enabling that talented but eccentric individual to read the pages of the Red Book of Hergest as easily as those of the Welsh Bible; it was he who corrected his verses with matchless skill, refining and polishing them till they became well worthy of being read by posterity; it was he who gave him advice, which, had it been followed, would have made the Prydydd Hir, as he called himself, one of the most illustrious Welshmen of the last century; and it was he who first told his countrymen that there was a youth of Anglesey whose genius, if properly encouraged, promised fair to rival that of Milton: one of the most eloquent letters ever written is one by him, in which he descants upon the beauties of certain poems of Gronwy Owen, the latent genius of whose early boyhood he had observed, whom he had clothed, educated and assisted up to the period when he was ordained a minister of the Church, and whom he finally rescued from a state bordering on starvation in London, procuring for him an honourable appointment in the New World. Immortality to Lewis Morris! But immortality he has won, even as his illustrious pupil has said, who in his elegy upon his benefactor, written in America, in the four-and-twenty measures, at a time when Gronwy had not heard the Welsh language spoken for more than twenty years, has words to the following effect:-

"As long as Bardic lore shall last, science and learning be cherished, the language and blood of the Britons undefiled, song be heard on Parnassus, heaven and earth be in existence, foam be on the surge, and water in the river, the name of Lewis of Mon shall be held in grateful remembrance."


The Pier - Irish Reapers - Wild Irish Face - Father Toban - The Herd of Swine - Latin Blessing.

THE day was as hot as the preceding one. I walked slowly towards the west, and presently found myself upon a pier, or breakwater, at the mouth of the harbour. A large steamer lay at a little distance within the pier. There were fishing-boats on both sides, the greater number on the outer side, which lies towards the hill of Holy Head. On the shady side of the breakwater under the wall were two or three dozen of Irish reapers; some were lying asleep, others in parties of two or three were seated with their backs against the wall, and were talking Irish; these last all appeared to be well- made middle-sized young fellows, with rather a ruffianly look; they stared at me as I passed. The whole party had shillealahs either in their hands or by their sides. I went to the extremity of the pier, where was a little lighthouse, and then turned back. As I again drew near the Irish, I heard a hubbub and observed a great commotion amongst them. All, whether those whom I had seen sitting, or those whom I had seen reclining, had got, or were getting on their legs. As I passed them they were all standing up, and their eyes were fixed upon me with a strange kind of expression, partly of wonder, methought, partly of respect. "Yes, 'tis he, sure enough," I heard one whisper. On I went, and at about thirty yards from the last I stopped, turned round and leaned against the wall. All the Irish were looking at me - presently they formed into knots and began to discourse very eagerly in Irish, though in an undertone. At length I observed a fellow going from one knot to the other, exchanging a few words with each. After he had held communication with all he nodded his head, and came towards me with a quick step; the rest stood silent and motionless with their eyes turned in the direction in which I was, and in which he was advancing. He stopped within a yard of me and took off his hat. He was an athletic fellow of about twenty-eight, dressed in brown frieze. His features were swarthy, and his eyes black; in every lineament of his countenance was a jumble of savagery and roguishness. I never saw a more genuine wild Irish face - there he stood looking at me full in the face, his hat in one hand and his shillealah in the other.

"Well, what do you want?" said I, after we had stared at each other about half a minute.

"Sure, I'm just come on the part of the boys and myself to beg a bit of a favour of your reverence."

"Reverence," said I, "what do you mean by styling me reverence?"

"Och sure, because to be styled your reverence is the right of your reverence."

"Pray what do you take me for?"

"Och sure, we knows your reverence very well."

"Well, who am I?"

"Och, why Father Toban to be sure."

"And who knows me to be Father Toban?"

"Och, a boy here knows your reverence to be Father Toban."

"Where is that boy?"

"Here he stands, your reverence."

"Are you that boy?"

"I am, your reverence."

"And you told the rest that I was Father Toban?"

"I did, your reverence."

"And you know me to be Father Toban?"

"I do, your reverence."

"How do you know me to be Father Toban?"

"Och, why because many's the good time that I have heard your reverence, Father Toban, say mass."

"And what is it you want me to do?"

"Why, see here, your reverence, we are going to embark in the dirty steamer yonder for ould Ireland, which starts as soon as the tide serves, and we want your reverence to bless us before we goes."

"You want me to bless you?"

"We do, your reverence, we want you to spit out a little bit of a blessing upon us before we goes on board."

"And what good would my blessing do you?"

"All kinds of good, your reverence; it would prevent the dirty steamer from catching fire, your reverence, or from going down, your reverence, or from running against the blackguard Hill of Howth in the mist, provided there should be one."

"And suppose I were to tell you that I am not Father Toban?"

"Och, your reverence, will never think of doing that."

"Would you believe me if I did?"

"We would not, your reverence."

"If I were to swear that I am not Father Toban?"

"We would not, your reverence."

"On the evangiles?"

"We would not, your reverence."

"On the Cross?"

"We would not, your reverence."

"And suppose I were to refuse to give you a blessing?"

"Och, your reverence will never refuse to bless the poor boys."

"But suppose I were to refuse?"

"Why, in such a case, which by-the-bye is altogether impossible, we should just make bould to give your reverence a good big bating."

"You would break my head?"

"We would, your reverence."

"Kill me?"

"We would, your reverence."

"You would really put me to death?"

"We would not, your reverence."

"And what's the difference between killing and putting to death?"

"Och, sure there's all the difference in the world. Killing manes only a good big bating, such as every Irishman is used to, and which your reverence would get over long before matins, whereas putting your reverence to death would prevent your reverence from saying mass for ever and a day."

"And you are determined on having a blessing?"

"We are, your reverence."

"By hook or by crook?"

"By crook or by hook, your reverence."

"Before I bless you, will you answer me a question or two?"

"I will, your reverence."

"Are you not a set of great big blackguards?"

"We are, your reverence."

"Without one good quality?"

"We are, your reverence."

"Would it not be quite right to saddle and bridle you all, and ride you violently down Holyhead or the Giant's Causeway into the waters, causing you to perish there, like the herd of swine of old?"

"It would, your reverence."

"And knowing and confessing all this, you have the cheek to come and ask me for a blessing?"

"We have, your reverence."

"Well, how shall I give the blessing?"

"Och, sure your reverence knows very well how to give it."

"Shall I give it in Irish?"

"Och, no, your reverence - a blessing in Irish is no blessing at all."

"In English?"

"Och, murder, no, your reverence, God preserve us all from an English blessing!"

"In Latin?"

"Yes, sure, your reverence; in what else should you bless us but in holy Latin?"

"Well then prepare yourselves."

"We will, your reverence - stay one moment whilst I whisper to the boys that your reverence is about to bestow your blessing upon us."

Then turning to the rest who all this time had kept their eyes fixed intently upon us, he bellowed with the voice of a bull:

"Down on your marrow bones, ye sinners, for his reverence Toban is about to bless us all in holy Latin."

He then flung himself on his knees on the pier, and all his countrymen, baring their heads, followed his example - yes, there knelt thirty bare-headed Eirionaich on the pier of Caer Gybi beneath the broiling sun. I gave them the best Latin blessing I could remember, out of two or three which I had got by memory out of an old Popish book of devotion, which I bought in my boyhood at a stall. Then turning to the deputy I said, "Well, now are you satisfied?"

"Sure, I have a right to be satisfied, your reverence; and so have we all - sure we can now all go on board the dirty steamer, without fear of fire or water, or the blackguard Hill of Howth either."

"Then get up, and tell the rest to get up, and please to know and let the rest know, that I do not choose to receive farther trouble, either by word or look, from any of ye, as long as I remain here."

"Your reverence shall be obeyed in all things," said the fellow, getting up. Then walking away to his companions he cried, "Get up, boys, and plase to know that his reverence Toban is not to be farther troubled by being looked at or spoken to by any one of us as long as he remains upon this dirty pier."

"Divil a bit farther trouble shall he have from us!" exclaimed many a voice, as the rest of the party arose from their knees.

In half a minute they disposed themselves in much the same manner as that in which they were when I first saw them - some flung themselves again to sleep under the wall, some seated themselves with their backs against it, and laughed and chatted, but without taking any notice of me; those who sat and chatted took, or appeared to take, as little notice as those who lay and slept of his reverence Father Toban.


Gage of Suffolk - Fellow in a Turban - Town of Holyhead - Father Boots - An Expedition - Holy Head and Finisterrae - Gryffith ab Cynan - The Fairies' Well.

LEAVING the pier I turned up a street to the south, and was not long before I arrived at a kind of market-place, where were carts and stalls, and on the ground, on cloths, apples and plums, and abundance of greengages, - the latter, when good, decidedly the finest fruit in the world, a fruit, for the introduction of which into England, the English have to thank one Gage of an ancient Suffolk family, at present extinct, after whose name the fruit derives the latter part of its appellation. Strolling about the market-place I came in contact with a fellow dressed in a turban and dirty blue linen robes and trowsers. He bore a bundle of papers in his hand, one of which he offered to me. I asked him who he was.

"Arap," he replied.

He had a dark, cunning, roguish countenance, with small eyes, and had all the appearance of a Jew. I spoke to him in what Arabic I could command on a sudden, and he jabbered to me in a corrupt dialect, giving me a confused account of a captivity which he had undergone amidst savage Mahometans. At last I asked him what religion he was of.

"The Christian," he replied.

"Have you ever been of the Jewish?" said I.

He returned no answer save by a grin.

I took the paper, gave him a penny, and then walked away. The paper contained an account in English of how the bearer, the son of Christian parents, had been carried into captivity by two Mahometan merchants, a father and son, from whom he had escaped with the greatest difficulty.

"Pretty fools," said I, "must any people have been who ever stole you; but oh what fools if they wished to keep you after they had got you!"

The paper was stuffed with religious and anti-slavery cant, and merely wanted a little of the teetotal nonsense to be a perfect specimen of humbug.

I strolled forward, encountering more carts and more heaps of greengages; presently I turned to the right by a street, which led some way up the hill. The houses were tolerably large and all white. The town, with its white houses placed by the seaside, on the skirt of a mountain, beneath a blue sky and a broiling sun, put me something in mind of a Moorish piratical town, in which I had once been. Becoming soon tired of walking about, without any particular aim, in so great a heat, I determined to return to the inn, call for ale, and deliberate on what I had best next do. So I returned and called for ale. The ale which was brought was not ale which I am particularly fond of. The ale which I am fond of is ale about nine or ten months old, somewhat hard, tasting well of malt and little of the hop - ale such as farmers, and noblemen too, of the good old time, when farmers' daughters did not play on pianos and noblemen did not sell their game, were in the habit of offering to both high and low, and drinking themselves. The ale which was brought me was thin washy stuff, which though it did not taste much of hop, tasted still less of malt, made and sold by one Allsopp, who I am told calls himself a squire and a gentleman - as he certainly may with quite as much right as many a lord calls himself a nobleman and a gentleman; for surely it is not a fraction more trumpery to make and sell ale than to fatten and sell game. The ale of the Saxon squire, for Allsopp is decidedly an old Saxon name, however unakin to the practice of old Saxon squires the selling of ale may be, was drinkable for it was fresh, and the day, as I have said before, exceedingly hot; so I took frequent draughts out of the shining metal tankard in which it was brought, deliberating both whilst drinking, and in the intervals of drinking, on what I had next best do. I had some thoughts of crossing to the northern side of the bay, then, bearing the north- east, wend my way to Amlwch, follow the windings of the sea-shore to Mathafarn eithaf and Pentraeth Coch, and then return to Bangor, after which I could boast that I had walked round the whole of Anglesey, and indeed trodden no inconsiderable part of the way twice. Before coming, however, to any resolution, I determined to ask the advice of my friend the boots on the subject. So I finished my ale, and sent word by the waiter that I wished to speak to him; he came forthwith, and after communicating my deliberations to him in a few words I craved his counsel. The old man, after rubbing his right forefinger behind his right ear for about a quarter of a minute, inquired if I meant to return to Bangor, and on my telling him that it would be necessary for me to do so, as I intended to walk back to Llangollen by Caernarvon and Beth Gelert, strongly advised me to return to Bangor by the railroad train, which would start at seven in the evening, and would convey me thither in an hour and a half. I told him that I hated railroads, and received for answer that he had no particular liking for them himself, but that he occasionally made use of them on a pinch, and supposed that I likewise did the same. I then observed, that if I followed his advice I should not see the north side of the island nor its principal town Amlwch, and received for answer that if I never did, the loss would not be great - that as for Amlwch it was a poor poverty-stricken place - the inn a shabby affair - the master a very so-so individual, and the boots a fellow without either wit or literature. That upon the whole he thought I might be satisfied with what I had seen for after having visited Owen Tudor's tomb, Caer Gybi and his hotel, I had in fact seen the cream of Mona. I then said that I had one objection to make, which was that I really did not know how to employ the time till seven o'clock, for that I had seen all about the town.

"But has your honour ascended the Head?" demanded Father Boots.

"No," said I; "I have not."

"Then," said he, "I will soon find your honour ways and means to spend the time agreeably till the starting of the train. Your honour shall ascend the Head under the guidance of my nephew, a nice intelligent lad, your honour, and always glad to earn a shilling or two. By the time your honour has seen all the wonders of the Head and returned, it will be five o'clock. Your honour can then dine, and after dinner trifle away the minutes over your wine or brandy-and-water till seven, when your honour can step into a first-class for Bangor."

I was struck with the happy manner in which he had removed the difficulty in question, and informed him that I was determined to follow his advice. He hurried away, and presently returned with his nephew, to whom I offered half-a-crown provided he would show me all about Pen Caer Gyby. He accepted my offer with evident satisfaction, and we lost no time in setting out upon our expedition.

We had to pass over a great deal of broken ground, sometimes ascending, sometimes descending, before we found ourselves upon the side of what may actually be called the headland. Shaping our course westward we came to the vicinity of a lighthouse standing on the verge of a precipice, the foot of which was washed by the sea.

Leaving the lighthouse on our right we followed a steep winding path which at last brought us to the top of the pen or summit, rising, according to the judgment which I formed, about six hundred feet from the surface of the sea. Here was a level spot some twenty yards across, in the middle of which stood a heap of stones or cairn. I asked the lad whether this cairn bore a name, and received for answer that it was generally called Bar-cluder y Cawr Glas, words which seem to signify the top heap of the Grey Giant.

"Some king, giant, or man of old renown lies buried beneath this cairn," said I. "Whoever he may be, I trust he will excuse me for mounting it, seeing that I do so with no disrespectful spirit." I then mounted the cairn, exclaiming:-

"Who lies 'neath the cairn on the headland hoar, His hand yet holding his broad claymore, Is it Beli, the son of Benlli Gawr?"

There stood I on the cairn of the Grey Giant, looking around me. The prospect, on every side, was noble: the blue interminable sea to the west and north; the whole stretch of Mona to the east; and far away to the south the mountainous region of Eryri, comprising some of the most romantic hills in the world. In some respects this Pen Santaidd, this holy headland, reminded me of Finisterrae, the Gallegan promontory which I had ascended some seventeen years before, whilst engaged in battling the Pope with the sword of the gospel in his favourite territory. Both are bold, bluff headlands looking to the west, both have huge rocks in their vicinity, rising from the bosom of the brine. For a time, as I stood on the cairn, I almost imagined myself on the Gallegan hill; much the same scenery presented itself as there, and a sun equally fierce struck upon my head as that which assailed it on the Gallegan hill. For a time all my thoughts were of Spain. It was not long, however, before I bethought me that my lot was now in a different region, that I had done with Spain for ever, after doing for her all that lay in the power of a lone man, who had never in this world anything to depend upon, but God and his own slight strength. Yes, I had done with Spain, and was now in Wales; and, after a slight sigh, my thoughts became all intensely Welsh. I thought on the old times when Mona was the grand seat of Druidical superstition, when adoration was paid to Dwy Fawr, and Dwy Fach, the sole survivors of the apocryphal Deluge; to Hu the Mighty and his plough; to Ceridwen and her cauldron; to Andras the Horrible; to Wyn ab Nudd, Lord of Unknown, and to Beli, Emperor of the Sun. I thought on the times when the Beal fire blazed on this height, on the neighbouring promontory, on the cope-stone of Eryri, and on every high hill throughout Britain on the eve of the first of May. I thought on the day when the bands of Suetonius crossed the Menai strait in their broad-bottomed boats, fell upon the Druids and their followers, who with wild looks and brandished torches lined the shore, slew hundreds with merciless butchery upon the plains, and pursued the remainder to the remotest fastnesses of the isle. I figured to myself long-bearded men with white vestments toiling up the rocks, followed by fierce warriors with glittering helms and short broad two-edged swords; I thought I heard groans, cries of rage, and the dull, awful sound of bodies precipitated down rocks. Then as I looked towards the sea I thought I saw the fleet of Gryffith Ab Cynan steering from Ireland to Aber Menai, Gryffith, the son of a fugitive king, born in Ireland, in the Commot of Columbcille, Gryffith the frequently baffled, the often victorious; once a manacled prisoner sweating in the sun, in the market-place of Chester, eventually king of North Wales; Gryffith, who "though he loved well the trumpet's clang loved the sound of the harp better"; who led on his warriors to twenty-four battles, and presided over the composition of the twenty-four measures of Cambrian song. Then I thought -. But I should tire the reader were I to detail all the intensely Welsh thoughts which crowded into my head as I stood on the Cairn of the Grey Giant.

Satiated with looking about and thinking, I sprang from the cairn and rejoined my guide. We now descended the eastern side of the hill till we came to a singular looking stone, which had much the appearance of a Druid's stone. I inquired of my guide whether there was any tale connected with this stone.

"None," he replied; "but I have heard people say that it was a strange stone, and on that account I brought you to look at it."

A little farther down he showed me part of a ruined wall.

"What name does this bear?" said I.

"Clawdd yr Afalon," he replied. "The dyke of the orchard."

"A strange place for an orchard," I replied. "If there was ever an orchard on this bleak hill, the apples must have been very sour."

Over rocks and stones we descended till we found ourselves on a road, not very far from the shore, on the south-east side of the hill.

"I am very thirsty," said I, as I wiped the perspiration from my face; "how I should like now to drink my fill of cool spring water."

"If your honour is inclined for water," said my guide, "I can take you to the finest spring in all Wales."

"Pray do so," said I, "for I really am dying of thirst."

"It is on our way to the town," said the lad, "and is scarcely a hundred yards off."

He then led me to the fountain. It was a little well under a stone wall, on the left side of the way. It might be about two feet deep, was fenced with rude stones, and had a bottom of sand.

"There," said the lad, "is the fountain. It is called the Fairies' Well, and contains the best water in Wales."

I lay down and drank. Oh, what water was that of the Fairies' Well! I drank and drank, and thought I could never drink enough of that delicious water; the lad all the time saying that I need not be afraid to drink, as the water of the Fairies' Well had never done harm to anybody. At length I got up, and standing by the fountain repeated the lines of a bard on a spring, not of a Welsh but a Gaelic bard, which are perhaps the finest lines ever composed on the theme. Yet MacIntyre, for such was his name, was like myself an admirer of good ale, to say nothing of whiskey, and loved to indulge in it at a proper time and place. But there is a time and place for everything, and sometimes the warmest admirer of ale would prefer the lymph of the hill-side fountain to the choicest ale that ever foamed in tankard from the cellars of Holkham. Here are the lines most faithfully rendered:-

"The wild wine of nature,
Honey-like in its taste,
The genial, fair, thin element
Filtering through the sands,
Which is sweeter than cinnamon,
And is well known to us hunters.
O, that eternal, healing draught,
Which comes from under the earth,
Which contains abundance of good
And costs no money!"

Returning to the hotel I satisfied my guide and dined. After dinner I trifled agreeably with my brandy-and-water till it was near seven o'clock, when I paid my bill, thought of the waiter and did not forget Father Boots. I then took my departure, receiving and returning bows, and walking to the station got into a first- class carriage and soon found myself at Bangor.

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

Next Selection Previous Selection