Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
A VISIT TO ANGLESEY AND HOLYHEAD
WE took such a brief backward glimpse at Anglesey and Holy Island when we were visiting Llewelyn's country that we may as well now make a longer visit.
Crossing the Menai Straits by the suspension bridge, we pass through a treeless moorland and over a causeway into Holy Island, from whence rises up the great headland known as Holyhead.
"A divine promontory," Ruskin calls it, "looking westward—the Holy Headland—still not without awe when its red light glares first through the gloom."
The first thing we shall want to visit here is South Stack, a precipitous mass of cliff climbed by three hundred and eighty steps. From thence we look down on the lighthouse, which, though one hundred and fifty feet high, looks from this point like a child's toy. The cliff scenery is magnificent here, and a grand sea rolls in to the foot of the rocks.
On our way back we must go to see some most interesting relics of old days. They are known as the Irishmen's Huts, and were first built in those ancient times when tribes of Irish Celts crossed over to the island, and thence to the mainland, threatening, indeed, to displace altogether the original people of the land, and themselves driven out in later days by another race. These huts are grouped together so as to form tiny villages, in spots where they are guarded either by steep rocks or by roughly-constructed walls. They are round in shape, and built of stone, though the remains of the walls are now not more than two feet high. All the entrances look towards the south, as though the inhabitants knew the value of sunshine; and the doorways are formed of two upright stones, with another placed across the top. The roofs were probably thatched or turfed over poles, which stretched from one wall to the other.
From what was found under the ground on which they stand when it was examined some years ago, it seems as though some of these huts were used for living in, some for bathing, some for working metal, some for kitchens. Necklaces of jet, stone lamps, weapons of bronze, and moulds for making bronze buttons were found in some. In others there are the remains of an apparatus for working metal; in others there are tanks, in which water was boiled by throwing hot stones into the water they contained.
Retracing our way by rail, we pass the village of Llangadwaladr, the home of the last British Prince to hold the title of King of All Britain. The son of this Prince, Cadwaladr, who lived and died in the seventh century, is buried in the church of the place that bears his name, the "enclosure, or church, of Cadwaladr." But the chief interest lies in his father, Cadwallon, and his cousin, Brian, who together won one of the last great battles in the cause of British freedom against the English conquerors.
Cadwallon, son of King Cadfan, and Edwin, son of King Ethelfrid of Northumbria, were both born about the same year in the island of Anglesey, or Mona, as the Celts call it; for the Celtic mother of Edwin had been driven out of the royal palace, and had returned to her former home. The boys were brought up together in Brittany, another Celtic kingdom, and returned together to Anglesey, where they lived until, on the death of his father, Cadwallon was chosen King of All Britain. This was, however, but an empty title, for almost at that very time Edwin left the island and made his way to Northumbria, where he seized the kingdom and with it much of the land of the Britons which lay upon its borders. But Cadwallon cared not, because he had been his friend.
Now the heart of Brian, the nephew of the British King, was very sore because of the sufferings of his fellow-countrymen at the hands of the English conquerors. One day, as he hunted the otter with his uncle on the banks of a river, the King was overcome with heat and lay down to sleep, putting his head on the lap of the lad.
But Brian's heart was so heavy that his tears ran down upon the face of Cadwallon, who muttered uneasily: "It rains, it rains!"
Then, opening his eyes, he saw the blue sky above him, and said to his nephew: "Surely there has been a shower, and now the sun is shining. But where is the rainbow?"
And Brian said: "My lord, it shines upon the head of Edwin!"
Then Cadwallon saw his tearful face, and asked him what he meant; and Brian told him all his woe. Whereupon Cadwallon swore to devote the rest of his life to winning back the land of Britain for her own people.
But the strong King of Northumbria drove him back from his borders again and again, and almost in despair he set sail with Brian to seek help from Brittany. A great storm arose, however, drove the ship upon the rocks, and everyone was drowned save Cadwallon and his nephew, who were cast upon a desert island.
There, says the tale, King Cadwallon would have died of hunger and heart-break had not the devoted Brian secretly cut off a slice of his own flesh, which he roasted and gave to his uncle, saying it was venison. The King ate and took courage, and after a time they were able to pass over the stormy sea in the wrecked boat to Brittany.
The King of that land promised help, but meantime Brian heard that his sister had been taken a captive to Edwin's Court, and that Edwin himself was much under the influence of a certain clever counsellor, who was especially hostile to the Britons.
So Brian, dressed in beggar's rags, but carrying a spiked staff, crossed to Wessex, and made the long journey on foot to York to the palace of Edwin. Standing outside, among a crowd of outcasts, he presently saw his sister come forth from the Queen's household with a pitcher on her head to draw water from the well. At once he pretended to ask alms of her, and meantime told her who he was, and bade her point out to him the wily counsellor among Edwin's followers. At that moment the latter came out with a bag of money for the beggars, and Brian, rushing forward, pierced him to the heart with his pointed staff, and then vanished among the crowd.
Fleeing from thence to Penda, the strong King of the Mercians, Brian won him over to his uncle's side, and forthwith Cadwallon, Brian, and Penda marched against Edwin in a great battle, in which the King of Northumbria, Cadwallon's foster-father, was defeated and slain.
Penda took care to secure the northern kingdom for himself, but until his death Cadwallon earned his title to some extent by becoming undisputed ruler over Wales, Devon, Cornwall, and the land now known as Westmorland and Cumberland.
He married a sister of grim King Penda, and their son was the peaceful Cadwaladr, in whose reign much of the land of the Britons was again lost to them. Never again did Welsh Prince claim to be King of All Britain, even in name.