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THE GREAT PLYNLIMMON
"CARDIGAN is a country to itself," says one who knows Wales well. Except, indeed, for the towns on the coast, Lampeter, with its college, and a famous abbey in the south, the whole country has been described as a "mountain wilderness." But since some of us prefer such untrodden wastes to those parts that have become merely playgrounds for the English tourist, we will pay it a visit to-day.
At the north-eastern corner of the county stands Plynlimmon, the home of the Severn, the Wye, and many a smaller river which ploughs its way through the wild region we are traversing. And let us note, by the way, that, since railways and even good roads are unknown except on the very fringe of this district, our best method of travelling will be on foot.
THE WYE NEAR RHAYADER
Many years ago, when that delightful person, George Borrow, a native of Norfolk, made a long tour all over Wales on "Shanks's mare," seeing thereby far more of the country and its people than the motor-car or railroad travellers of more modern times, he explored this part of the country very thoroughly, and this description of his visit to Plynlimmon is too good not to quote at length:
"The mountain of Plynlimmon, to which I was bound, is the third in Wales for height, being only inferior to Snowdon and Cader Idris. Its proper name is Pum or Pump Lumon, signifying the 'five points,' because towards the upper part it is divided into five hills or points.
"Plynlimmon... has been the scene of many remarkable events. In the tenth century a dreadful battle was fought on one of its spurs between the Danes and the Welsh, in which the former sustained a bloody overthrow. In 1401 a conflict took place in one of its valleys between the Welsh under Glendower and the 'Flemings' of Pembrokeshire, who, angry at having their homesteads plundered and burnt by the chieftain, the mortal enemy of their race, assembled in great numbers and drove Glendower and his forces before them to Plynlimmon, where the Welshmen stood at bay, and with difficulty won a victory....
"...I started about ten o'clock on my expedition, after making, of course, a very hearty breakfast ... and went duly north till I came to a place among hills where the road was crossed by an angry looking rivulet. I was just going to pull off my boots and stockings in order to wade through, when I perceived a pole and a rail laid over the stream at a little distance above where I was. This rustic bridge enabled me to cross without running the danger of getting a regular sousing, for these mountain streams, even when not reaching so high as the knee, occasionally sweep the wader off his legs, as I know by my own experience. From a lad I learnt that the place where I crossed the water was called the 'Foot of the Red Slope.'
"About twenty minutes' walk brought me . . . near a spur of the Plynlimmon range. Here I engaged a man to show me the sources of the rivers and the other wonders of the mountain. He was a tall, athletic fellow, and had much more the appearance of an Irishman than the Welshman that he was....
"After ascending a steep hill and passing over its top, we went down its western side, and soon came to a black, frightful bog between two hills. Beyond the bog, and at some distance to the west of the two hills, rose a brown mountain, not abruptly, but gradually, and looking more like what the Welsh call a slope than a mountain.
" 'That, sir,' said my guide, 'is the Great Plynlimmon.'
" 'It does not look much of a hill,' said I.
" 'We are on very high ground, sir, or it would look much higher. I question, upon the whole, whether there is a higher hill in the world. God bless Plynlimmon Mawr!' said he, looking with reverence towards the hill. 'I am sure I have a right to say so, for many is the good crown I have got by showing gentlefolks, like yourself, to the top of him.'
" 'You talk of Plynlimmon Mawr, or the Great Plynlimmon,' said I; 'where are the smaller ones?'
" 'Yonder they are,' said the guide, pointing to two hills towards the north—'the Middle and the Small Plynlimmon.... Those two hills we have just passed make up the five. That small hill connected with the big Plynlimmon on the right is called the Hill of the Calf, or Calf Plynlimmon, which makes the sixth summit.'
" 'Very good,' said I, 'and perfectly satisfactory. Now let us ascend the big Plynlimmon.'
"In about a quarter of an hour we reached the summit of the hill, where stood a large cairn, or heap of stones. I got up on the top and looked around me.
"A mountainous wilderness extended on every side, a waste of russet-coloured hills, with here and there a black, craggy summit. No signs of life or cultivation were to be discovered, and the eye might search in vain for a grove, or even a single tree. The scene would have been cheerless in the extreme had not a bright sun lighted up the landscape.
" 'This does not seem to be a country of much society,' I said to my guide.
" 'It is not, sir. The nearest house is the inn we came from, which is now three miles behind us. Straight before you there is not one for at least ten, and on either side it is a wilderness to a vast distance. Plynlimmon is not a sociable country, sir; nothing to be found in it, but here and there a few sheep or a shepherd.'
" 'Now,' said I, descending from the cairn, 'we will proceed to the sources of the rivers ' (the Severn, the Wye, and the Rheidol). The source of the Rheidol is a small, beautiful lake, about a quarter of a mile in length. It is overhung on the east and north by frightful crags, from which it is fed by a number of small rills. The water is of the deepest blue, and of very considerable depth. The banks, except to the north and east, slope gently down, and are clad with soft and beautiful moss. The river, of which it is the head, emerges at the south-eastern side, and brawls away in the shape of a considerable brook amidst moss and rushes down a wild glen to the south. If few rivers have a more wild and wondrous channel than the Rheidol, fewer still have a more beautiful and romantic source.
"After kneeling down and drinking freely of the lake, I followed my guide over a hill into a valley, at the farther end of which I saw a brook streaming to the south.
" 'That brook,' said the guide, 'is the young Severn.'
"The brook came from round the side of a very lofty rock, singularly variegated, black and white, the northern summit presenting somewhat the appearance of the head of a horse. Passing round this crag, we came to a fountain, surrounded with rushes, out of which the brook, now exceedingly small, came murmuring.
" 'The crag above,' said my guide, 'is called the Rock of the Horse, and this spring at its foot is generally called the Source of the Severn. However, drink not of it, master, for the source is higher up. Follow me.'
"I followed him up a steep and very narrow dingle. Presently we came to some beautiful little pools of water in the turf, which is here remarkably green.
" 'These are very pretty pools, aren't they, master?' said my companion. ` Now, if I was a false guide I should bid you stoop and drink, saying that these were the sources of the Severn; but the true source is higher up. Don't fret, however, but follow me, and we shall be there in a minute.'
"So I did as he bade me, following him, without fretting, higher up.
"Just at the top he halted, and said: 'Now, master, I have conducted you to the source of the Severn. I have considered the matter deeply, and have come to the conclusion that here, and here only, is the true source. Therefore stoop down and drink, in full confidence that you are taking possession of the Holy Severn.'
"The source of the Severn is a little pool of water some 20 inches long, 6 wide, and about 3 deep. It is covered at the bottom with small stones, from between which the water gushes up. Turf-heaps, both large and small, are in abundance near by.
"After taking possession of the Severn by drinking at its source, I said: 'Now let us go to the fountain of the Wye.'
"The source of the Wye, which is a little pool, not much larger than the source of the Severn, stands near the top of a grassy hill which forms part of the Great Plynlimmon.
"The stream, after leaving its source, runs down the hill towards the east, and then takes a line to the south.
"The fountains of the Severn and the Wye are in close proximity to one another. That of the Rheidol stands somewhat apart from both, as if, proud of its own beauty, it disdained the other two for its homeliness."