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Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book 1, Ch. 5: Of the two mountains

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Of the two mountains from which the noble rivers which divide Wales spring

Wales is divided and distinguished by noble rivers, which derive their source from two ranges of mountains, the Ellennith, in South Wales, which the English call Moruge, as being the heads of moors, or bogs; and Eryri, in North Wales, which they call Snowdon, or mountains of snow; the latter of which are said to be of so great an extent, that if all the herds in Wales were collected together, they would supply them with pasture for a considerable time. Upon them are two lakes, one of which has a floating island; and the other contains fish having only one eye, as we have related in our Itinerary.

We must also here remark, that at two places in Scotland, one on the eastern, and the other on the western ocean, the sea-fish called mulvelli (mullets) have only the right eye.

The noble river Severn takes its rise from the Ellennith mountains, and flowing by the castles of Shrewsbury and Bridgenorth, through the city of Worcester, and that of Gloucester, celebrated for its iron manufactories, falls into the sea a few miles from the latter place, and gives its name to the Severn Sea. This river was for many years the boundary between Cambria and Loegria, or Wales and England; it was called in British Hafren, from the daughter of Locrinus, who was drowned in it by her step-mother; the aspirate being changed, according to the Latin idiom, into S, as is usual in words derived from the Greek, it was termed Sarina, as hal becomes SAL; hemi, SEMI; hepta, SEPTEM.

The river Wye rises in the same mountains of Ellennith, and flows by the castles of Hay and Clifford, through the city of Hereford, by the castles of Wilton and Goodrich, through the forest of Dean, abounding with iron and deer, and proceeds to Strigul castle, below which it empties itself into the sea, and forms in modern times the boundary between England and Wales. The Usk does not derive its origin from these mountains, but from those of Cantref Bachan; it flows by the castle of Brecheinoc, or Aberhodni, that is, the fall of the river Hodni into the Usk (for Aber, in the British language, signifies every place where two rivers unite their streams); by the castles of Abergevenni and Usk, through the ancient city of Legions, and discharges itself into the Severn Sea, not far from Newport.

The river Remni flows towards the sea from the mountains of Brecheinoc, having passed the castle and bridge of Remni. From the same range of mountains springs the Taf, which pursues its course to the episcopal see of Landaf (to which it gives its name), and falls into the sea below the castle of Caerdyf. The river Avon rushes impetuously from the mountains of Glamorgan, between the celebrated Cistercian monasteries of Margan and Neth; and the river Neth, descending from the mountains of Brecheinoc, unites itself with the sea, at no great distance from the castle of Neth; each of these rivers forming a long tract of dangerous quicksands. From the same mountains of Brecheinoc the river Tawe flows down to Abertawe, called in English Swainsey. The Lochor joins the sea near the castle of the same name; and the Wendraeth has its confluence near Cydweli. The Tywy, another noble river, rises in the Ellennith mountains, and separating the Cantref Mawr from the Cantref Bachan, passes by the castle of Llanymddyfri, and the royal palace and castle of Dinevor, strongly situated in the deep recesses of its woods, by the noble castle of Caermarddin, where Merlin was found, and from whom the city received its name, and runs into the sea near the castle of Lhanstephan. The river Taf rises in the Presseleu mountains, not far from the monastery of Whitland, and passing by the castle of St. Clare, falls into the sea near Abercorran and Talacharn. From the same mountains flow the rivers Cleddeu, encompassing the province of Daugleddeu, and giving it their name one passes by the castle of Lahaden, and the other by Haverford, to the sea; and in the British language they bear the name of Daugleddeu, or two swords.

The noble river Teivi springs from the Ellennith mountains, in the upper part of the Cantref Mawr and Caerdigan, not far from the pastures and excellent monastery of Stratflur, forming a boundary between Demetia and Caerdigan down to the Irish channel; this is the only river in Wales that produces beavers, an account of which is given in our Itinerary; and also exceeds every other river in the abundance and delicacy of its salmon. But as this book may fall into the hands of many persons who will not meet with the other, I have thought it right here to insert many curious and particular qualities relating to the nature of these animals, how they convey their materials from the woods to the river, with what skill they employ these materials in constructing places of safety in the middle of the stream, how artfully they defend themselves against the attack of the hunters on the eastern and how on the western side; the singularity of their tails, which partake more of the nature of fish than flesh. For further particulars see the Itinerary. (12)

From the same mountains issues the Ystuyth, and flowing through the upper parts of Penwedic, in Cardiganshire, falls into the sea near the castle of Aberystuyth. From the snowy mountains of Eryri flows the noble river Devi, (13) dividing for a great distance North and South Wales; and from the same mountains also the large river Maw, (14) forming by its course the greater and smaller tract of sands called the Traeth Mawr and the Traeth Bachan. The Dissennith also, and the Arthro, flow through Merionethshire and the land of Conan. The Conwy, springing from the northern side of the Eryri mountains, unites its waters with the sea under the noble castle of Deganwy. The Cloyd rises from another side of the same mountain, and passes by the castle of Ruthlan to the sea. The Doverdwy, called by the English Dee, draws its source from the lake of Penmelesmere, and runs through Chester, leaving the wood of Coleshulle, Basinwerk, and a rich vein of silver in its neighbourhood, far to the right, and by the influx of the sea forming a very dangerous quicksand; thus the Dee makes the northern, and the river Wye the southern boundary of Wales.

Gerald of Wales, The Description of Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997)

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