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Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book II, Ch. 3: Lampeter

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Of the river Teivi, Cardigan, and Emelyn

The noble river Teivi flows here, and abounds with the finest salmon, more than any other river of Wales; it has a productive fishery near Cilgerran, which is situated on the summit of a rock, at a place called Canarch Mawr,124 the ancient residence of St. Ludoc, where the river, falling from a great height, forms a cataract, which the salmon ascend, by leaping from the bottom to the top of a rock, which is about the height of the longest spear, and would appear wonderful, were it not the nature of that species of fish to leap: hence they have received the name of salmon, from salio. Their particular manner of leaping (as I have specified in my Topography of Ireland ) is thus: fish of this kind, naturally swimming against the course of the river (for as birds fly against the wind, so do fish swim against the stream), on meeting with any sudden obstacle, bend their tail towards their mouth, and sometimes, in order to give a greater power to their leap, they press it with their mouth, and suddenly freeing themselves from this circular form, they spring with great force (like a bow let loose) from the bottom to the top of the leap, to the great astonishment of the beholders. The church dedicated to St. Ludoc,125 the mill, bridge, salmon leap, an orchard with a delightful garden, all stand together on a small plot of ground. The Teivi has another singular particularity, being the only river in Wales, or even in England, which has beavers;126 in Scotland they are said to be found in one river, but are very scarce. I think it not a useless labour, to insert a few remarks respecting the nature of these animals - the manner in which they bring their materials from the woods to the water, and with what skill they connect them in the construction of their dwellings in the midst of rivers; their means of defence on the eastern and western sides against hunters; and also concerning their fish-like tails.

The beavers, in order to construct their castles in the middle of rivers, make use of the animals of their own species instead of carts, who, by a wonderful mode of carnage, convey the timber from the woods to the rivers. Some of them, obeying the dictates of nature, receive on their bellies the logs of wood cut off by their associates, which they hold tight with their feet, and thus with transverse pieces placed in their mouths, are drawn along backwards, with their cargo, by other beavers, who fasten themselves with their teeth to the raft. The moles use a similar artifice in clearing out the dirt from the cavities they form by scraping. In some deep and still corner of the river, the beavers use such skill in the construction of their habitations, that not a drop of water can penetrate, or the force of storms shake them; nor do they fear any violence but that of mankind, nor even that, unless well armed. They entwine the branches of willows with other wood, and different kinds of leaves, to the usual height of the water, and having made within-side a communication from floor to floor, they elevate a kind of stage, or scaffold, from which they may observe and watch the rising of the waters. In the course of time, their habitations bear the appearance of a grove of willow trees, rude and natural without, but artfully constructed within. This animal can remain in or under water at its pleasure, like the frog or seal, who shew, by the smoothness or roughness of their skins, the flux and reflux of the sea. These three animals, therefore, live indifferently under the water, or in the air, and have short legs, broad bodies, stubbed tails, and resemble the mole in their corporal shape. It is worthy of remark, that the beaver has but four teeth, two above, and two below, which being broad and sharp, cut like a carpenter's axe, and as such he uses them. They make excavations and dry hiding places in the banks near their dwellings, and when they hear the stroke of the hunter, who with sharp poles endeavours to penetrate them, they fly as soon as possible to the defence of their castle, having first blown out the water from the entrance of the hole, and rendered it foul and muddy by scraping the earth, in order thus artfully to elude the stratagems of the well-armed hunter, who is watching them from the opposite banks of the river. When the beaver finds he cannot save himself from the pursuit of the dogs who follow him, that he may ransom his body by the sacrifice of a part, he throws away that, which by natural instinct he knows to be the object sought for, and in the sight of the hunter castrates himself, from which circumstance he has gained the name of Castor; and if by chance the dogs should chase an animal which had been previously castrated, he has the sagacity to run to an elevated spot, and there lifting up his leg, shews the hunter that the object of his pursuit is gone. Cicero speaking of them says, "They ransom themselves by that part of the body, for which they are chiefly sought." And Juvenal says,

" - Qui se
Eunuchum ipse facit, cupiens evadere damno

And St. Bernard,

"Prodit enim castor proprio de corpore velox
Reddere quas sequitur hostis avarus opes."

Thus, therefore, in order to preserve his skin, which is sought after in the west, and the medicinal part of his body, which is coveted in the east, although he cannot save himself entirely, yet, by a wonderful instinct and sagacity, he endeavours to avoid the stratagems of his pursuers. The beavers have broad, short tails, thick, like the palm of a hand, which they use as a rudder in swimming; and although the rest of their body is hairy, this part, like that of seals, is without hair, and smooth; upon which account, in Germany and the arctic regions, where beavers abound, great and religious persons, in times of fasting, eat the tails of this fish- like animal, as having both the taste and colour of fish.

We proceeded on our journey from Cilgerran towards Pont-Stephen,127 leaving Cruc Mawr, i.e. the great hill, near Aberteivi, on our left hand. On this spot Gruffydd, son of Rhys ap Tewdwr, soon after the death of king Henry I., by a furious onset gained a signal victory against the English army, which, by the murder of the illustrious Richard de Clare, near Abergevenny (before related), had lost its leader and chief.128 A tumulus is to be seen on the summit of the aforesaid hill, and the inhabitants affirm that it will adapt itself to persons of all stature and that if any armour is left there entire in the evening, it will be found, according to vulgar tradition, broken to pieces in the morning.


124 Now known by the name of Kenarth, which may be derived from Cefn y garth - the back of the wear, a ridge of land behind the wear.

125 The name of St. Ludoc is not found in the lives of the saints. Leland mentions a St. Clitauc, who had a church dedicated to him in South Wales, and who was killed by some of his companions whilst hunting. "Clitaucus Southe-Walliae regulus inter venandum a suis sodalibus occisus est. Ecciesia S. Clitauci in Southe Wallia." - Leland, Itin., tom. viii. p. 95.

126 The Teivy is still very justly distinguished for the quantity and quality of its salmon, but the beaver no longer disturbs its streams. That this animal did exist in the days of Howel Dha (though even then a rarity), the mention made of it in his laws, and the high price set upon its skin, most clearly evince; but if the castor of Giraldus, and the avanc of Humphrey Llwyd and of the Welsh dictionaries, be really the same animal, it certainly was not peculiar to the Teivi, but was equally known in North Wales, as the names of places testify. A small lake in Montgomeryshire is called Llyn yr Afangc; a pool in the river Conwy, not far from Bettws, bears the same name, and the vale called Nant Ffrancon, upon the river Ogwen, in Caernarvonshire, is supposed by the natives to be a corruption from Nant yr Afan cwm, or the Vale of the Beavers. Mr. Owen, in his dictionary, says, "That it has been seen in this vale within the memory of man." Giraldus has previously spoken of the beaver in his Topography of Ireland, Distinc. i. c. 21.

127 Our author having made a long digression, in order to introduce the history of the beaver, now continues his Itinerary. From Cardigan, the archbishop proceeded towards Pont-Stephen, leaving a hill, called Cruc Mawr, on the left hand, which still retains its ancient name, and agrees exactly with the position given to it by Giraldus. On its summit is a tumulus, and some appearance of an intrenchment.

128 In 1135.

Gerald of Wales, The Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997)

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