Joel Cook.

England, picturesque and descriptive; reminiscences of foreign travel (Volume 1) online

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of many a poet, and after expanding near its source into the beautiful
Bala Lake, whose bewitching surroundings are nearly all described in
polysyllabic and unpronounceable Welsh names, and are popular among
artists and anglers, it flows through Edeirnim Vale, past Corwen. Here a
pathway ascends to the eminence known as Glendower's Seat, with which
tradition has closely knit the name of the Welsh hero, the close of
whose marvellous career marked the termination of Welsh independence.
Then the romantic Dee enters the far-famed Valley of Llangollen, where
tourists love to roam, and where lived the "Ladies of Llangollen." We
are told that these two high-born dames had many lovers, but, rejecting
all and enamored only of each other, Lady Butler and Miss Ponsonby, the
latter sixteen years the junior of the former, determined on a life of
celibacy. They eloped together from Ireland, were overtaken and brought
back, and then a second time decamped - on this occasion in masquerade,
the elder dressed as a peasant and the younger as a smart groom in
top-boots. Escaping pursuit, they settled in Llangollen in 1778 at the
quaint little house called Plas Newydd, and lived there together for a
half century. Their costume was extraordinary, for they appeared in
public in blue riding-habits, men's neckcloths, and high hats, with
their hair cropped short. They had antiquarian tastes, which led to the
accumulation of a vast lot of old wood-carvings and stained glass,
gathered from all parts of the world and worked into the fittings and
adornment of their home. They were on excellent terms with all the
neighbors, and the elder died in 1829, aged ninety, and the younger two
years afterward, aged seventy-six. Their remains lie in Llangollen
churchyard.

[Illustration: RUINS OF VALLE-CRUCIS ABBEY.]

Within this famous valley are the ruins of Valle-Crucis Abbey, the most
picturesque abbey ruin in North Wales. An adjacent stone cross gave it
the name six hundred years ago, when it was built by the great Madoc for
the Cistercian monks. The ruins in some parts are now availed of for
farm-houses. Fine ash trees bend over the ruined arches, ivy climbs the
clustered columns, and the lancet windows with their delicate tracery
are much admired. The remains consist of the church, abbot's lodgings,
refectory, and dormitory. The church was cruciform, and is now nearly
roofless, though the east and west ends and the southern transept are
tolerably perfect, so that much of the abbey remains. It was occupied by
the Cistercians, and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The ancient
cross, of which the remains are still standing near by, is Eliseg's
Pillar, erected in the seventh century as a memorial of that Welsh
prince. It was one of the earliest lettered stones in Britain, standing
originally about twelve feet high. From this cross came the name of
Valle Crucis, which in the thirteenth century was given to the famous
abbey. The great Madoc, who lived in the neighboring castle of Dinas
Bran, built this abbey to atone for a life of violence. The ruins of his
castle stand on a hill elevated about one thousand feet above the Dee.
Bran in Welsh means _crow_, so that the English know it as Crow Castle.
From its ruins there is a beautiful view over the Valley of Llangollen.
Farther down the valley is the mansion of Wynnstay, in the midst of a
large and richly wooded park, a circle of eight miles enclosing the
superb domain, within which are herds of fallow-deer and many noble
trees. The old mansion was burnt in 1858, and an imposing structure in
Renaissance now occupies the site. Fine paintings adorn the walls by
renowned artists, and the Dee foams over its rocky bed in a sequestered
dell near the mansion. Memorial columns and tablets in the park mark
notable men and events in the Wynn family, the chief being the Waterloo
Tower, ninety feet high. Far away down the valley a noble aqueduct by
Telford carries the Ellesmere Canal over the Dee - the Pont
Cysylltau - supported on eighteen piers of masonry at an elevation of one
hundred and twenty-one feet, while a mile below is the still more
imposing viaduct carrying the Great Western Railway across.

[Illustration: WYNNSTAY.]

[Illustration: PONT CYSYLLTAU.]

[Illustration: WREXHAM TOWER.]

Not far distant is Chirk Castle, now the home of Mr. R. Myddelton
Biddulph, a combination of a feudal fortress and a modern mansion. The
ancient portion, still preserved, was built by Roger Mortimer, to whom
Edward I. granted the lordship of Chirk. It was a bone of contention
during the Civil Wars, and when they were over, $150,000 were spent in
repairing the great quadrangular fortress. It stands in a noble
situation, and on a clear day portions of seventeen counties can be seen
from the summit. Still following down the picturesque river, we come to
Bangor-ys-Coed, or "Bangor-in-the-Wood," in Flintshire, once the seat of
a famous monastery that disappeared twelve hundred years ago. Here a
pretty bridge crosses the river, and a modern church is the most
prominent structure in the village. The old monastery is said to have
been the home of twenty-four hundred monks, one half of whom were slain
in a battle near Chester by the heathen king Ethelfrith, who afterwards
sacked the monastery, but the Welsh soon gathered their forces again and
took terrible vengeance. Many ancient coffins and Roman remains have
been found here. The Dee now runs with swift current past Overton to the
ancient town of Holt, whose charter is nearly five hundred years old,
but whose importance is now much less than of yore. Holt belongs to the
debatable Powisland, the strip of territory over which the English and
Welsh fought for centuries. Holt was formerly known as Lyons, and was a
Roman outpost of Chester. Edward I. granted it to Earl Warren, who
built Holt Castle, of which only a few quaint pictures now exist, though
it was a renowned stronghold in its day. It was a five-sided structure
with a tower on each corner, enclosing an ample courtyard. After
standing several sieges in the Civil Wars of Cromwell's time, the
battered castle was dismantled.

[Illustration: THE ROODEE, FROM THE RAILWAY-BRIDGE.]

The famous Wrexham Church, whose tower is regarded as one of the "seven
wonders of Wales," is three miles from Holt, and is four hundred years
old. Few churches built as early as the reign of Henry VIII. can compare
with this. It is dedicated to St. Giles, and statues of him and of
twenty-nine other saints embellish niches in the tower. Alongside of St.
Giles is the hind that nourished him in the desert. The bells of Wrexham
peal melodiously over the valley, and in the vicarage the good Bishop
Heber wrote the favorite hymn, "From Greenland's Icy Mountains." Then
the Dee flows on past the ducal palace of Eaton Hall, and encircles
Chester, which has its race-course, "The Roodee" - where they hold an
annual contest in May for the "Chester Cup" - enclosed by a beautiful
semicircle of the river. Then the Dee flows on through a straight
channel for six miles to its estuary, which broadens among treacherous
sands and flats between Flintshire and Cheshire, till it falls into the
Irish Sea. Many are the tales of woe that are told of the "Sands o'
Dee," along which the railway from Chester to Holyhead skirts the edge
in Flintshire. Many a poor girl, sent for the cattle wandering on these
sands, has been lost in the mist that rises from the sea, and drowned by
the quickly rushing waters. Kingsley has plaintively told the story in
his mournful poem:

"They rowed her in across the rolling foam -
The cruel, crawling foam,
The cruel, hungry foam -
To her grave beside the sea;
But still the boatmen hear her call her cattle home
Across the Sands o' Dee."

[Illustration: THE "SANDS O' DEE."]


FLINT AND DENBIGH.

Let us now journey westward from the Dee into Wales, coming first into
Flintshire. The town of Flint, it is conjectured, was originally a Roman
camp, from the design and the antiquities found there. Edward I., six
hundred years ago, built Flint Castle upon an isolated rock in a marsh
near the river, and after a checquered history it was dismantled in the
seventeenth century. From the railway between Chester and Holyhead the
ruins of this castle are visible on its low freestone rock; it is a
square, with round towers at three of the corners, and a massive keep at
the other, formed like a double tower and detached from the main castle.
This was the "dolorous castle" into which Richard II. was inveigled at
the beginning of his imprisonment, which ended with abdication, and
finally his death at Pomfret. The story is told that Richard had a fine
greyhound at Flint Castle that often caressed him, but when the Duke of
Lancaster came there the greyhound suddenly left Richard and caressed
the duke, who, not knowing the dog, asked Richard what it meant.
"Cousin," replied the king, "it means a great deal for you and very
little for me. I understand by it that this greyhound pays his court to
you as King of England, which you will surely be, and I shall be
deposed, for the natural instinct of the dog shows it to him; keep him,
therefore, by your side." Lancaster treasured this, and paid attention
to the dog, which would nevermore follow Richard, but kept by the side
of the Duke of Lancaster, "as was witnessed," says the chronicler
Froissart, "by thirty thousand men."

Rhuddlan Castle, also in Flintshire, is a red sandstone ruin of striking
appearance, standing on the Clwyd River. When it was founded no one
knows accurately, but it was rebuilt seven hundred years ago, and was
dismantled, like many other Welsh castles, in 1646. It was at Rhuddlan
that Edward I. promised the Welsh "a native prince who never spoke a
word of English, and whose life and conversation no man could impugn;"
and this promise he fulfilled to the letter by naming as the first
English Prince of Wales his infant son, then just born at Caernarvon
Castle. Six massive towers flank the walls of this famous castle, and
are in tolerably fair preservation. Not far to the southward is the
eminence known by the Welsh as "Yr-Wyddgrug," or "a lofty hill," and
which the English call Mold. On this hill was a castle of which little
remains now but tracings of the ditches, larches and other trees
peacefully growing on the site of the ancient stronghold. Off toward
Wrexham are the ruins of another castle, known as Caergwrle, or "the
camp of the giant legion." This was of Welsh origin, and commanded the
entrance to the Vale of Alen; the English called it Hope Castle.

Adjoining Flintshire is Denbigh, with the quiet watering-place of
Abergele out on the Irish Sea. About two miles away is St. Asaph, with
its famous cathedral, having portions dating from the thirteenth
century. The great castle of Denbigh, when in its full glory, had
fortifications one and a half miles in circumference. It stood on a
steep hill at the county-town, where scanty ruins now remain, consisting
chiefly of an immense gateway with remains of flanking towers. Above the
entrance is a statue of the Earl of Lincoln, its founder in the
thirteenth century. His only son was drowned in the castle-well, which
so affected the father that he did not finish the castle. Edward II.
gave Denbigh to Despenser; Leicester owned it in Elizabeth's time;
Charles II. dismantled it. The ruins impress the visitor with the
stupendous strength of the immense walls of this stronghold, while
extensive passages and dungeons have been explored beneath the surface
for long distances. In one chamber near the entrance-tower, which had
been walled up, a large amount of gunpowder was found. At Holywell, now
the second town in North Wales, is the shrine to which pilgrims have
been going for many centuries. At the foot of a steep hill, from an
aperture in the rock, there rushes forth a torrent of water at the rate
of eighty-four hogsheads a minute; whether the season be wet or be dry,
the sacred stream gushing forth from St. Winifrede's Well varies but
little, and around it grows the fragrant moss known as St. Winifrede's
Hair. The spring has valuable medicinal virtues, and an elegant dome
covering it supports a chapel. The little building is an exquisite
Gothic structure built by Henry VII. A second basin is provided, into
which bathers may descend. The pilgrims to this holy well have of late
years decreased in numbers; James II., who, we are told, "lost three
kingdoms for a mass," visited this well in 1686, and "received as a
reward the undergarment worn by his great-grandmother, Mary Queen of
Scots, on the day of her execution." This miraculous spring gets its
name from the pious virgin Winifrede. She having been seen by the Prince
of Wales, Caradoc, he was struck by her great beauty and attempted to
carry her off; she fled to the church, the prince pursuing, and,
overtaking her, he in rage drew his sword and struck off her head; the
severed head bounded through the church-door and rolled to the foot of
the altar. On the spot where it rested a spring of uncommon size burst
forth. The pious priest took up the head, and at his prayer it was
united to the body, and the virgin, restored to life, lived in sanctity
for fifteen years afterwards: miracles were wrought at her tomb; the
spring proved another Pool of Bethesda, and to this day we are told that
the votive crutches and chairs left by the cured remain hanging over St.
Winifrede's Well.

South of Denbigh, in Montgomeryshire, are the ruins of Montgomery
Castle, long a frontier fortress of Wales, around which many hot
contests have raged: a fragment of a tower and portions of the walls are
all that remain. Powys Castle is at Welsh Pool, and is still
preserved - a red sandstone structure on a rocky elevation in a spacious
and well-wooded park; Sir Robert Smirke has restored it.


THE MENAI STRAIT.

Still journeying westward, we come to Caernarvonshire, and reach the
remarkable estuary dividing the mainland from the island of Anglesea,
and known as the Menai Strait. This narrow stream, with its
steeply-sloping banks and winding shores, looks more like a river than a
strait, and it everywhere discloses evidence of the residence of an
almost pre-historic people in relics of nations that inhabited its banks
before the invasion of the Romans. There are hill-forts, sepulchral
mounds, pillars of stone, rude pottery, weapons of stone and bronze; and
in that early day Mona itself, as Anglesea was called, was a sacred
island. Here were fierce struggles between Roman and Briton, and Tacitus
tells of the invasion of Mona by the Romans and the desperate conflicts
that ensued as early as A.D. 60. The history of the strait is a story of
almost unending war for centuries, and renowned castles bearing the
scars of these conflicts keep watch and ward to this day. Beaumaris,
Bangor, Caernarvon, and Conway castles still remain in partial ruin to
remind us of the Welsh wars of centuries ago. On the Anglesea shore, at
the northern entrance to the strait, is the picturesque ruin of
Beaumaris Castle, built by Edward I. at a point where vessels could
conveniently land. It stands on the lowlands, and a canal connects its
ditch with the sea. It consists of a hexagonal line of outer defences
surrounding an inner square. Round towers flanked the outer walls, and
the chapel within is quite well preserved. It has not had much place in
history, and the neighboring town is now a peaceful watering-place.

[Illustration: THE MENAI STRAIT.]

[Illustration: BEAUMARIS CASTLE.]

[Illustration: BANGOR CATHEDRAL.]

Across the strait is Bangor, a rather straggling town, with a cathedral
that is not very old. We are told that its bishop once sold its peal of
bells, and, going down to the shore to see them shipped away, was
stricken blind as a punishment for the sacrilege. Of Bangor Castle, as
it originally stood, but insignificant traces remain, but Lord Penrhyn
has recently erected in the neighborhood the imposing castle of Penryhn,
a massive pile of dark limestone, in which the endeavor is made to
combine a Norman feudal castle with a modern dwelling, though with only
indifferent success, excepting in the expenditure involved. The roads
from the great suspension-bridge across the strait lead on either hand
to Bangor and Beaumaris, although the route is rather circuitous. This
bridge, crossing at the narrowest and most beautiful part of the strait,
was long regarded as the greatest triumph of bridge-engineering. It
carried the Holyhead high-road across the strait, and was built by
Telford. The bridge is five hundred and seventy-nine feet long, and
stands one hundred feet above high-water mark; it cost $600,000. Above
the bridge the strait widens, and here, amid the swift-flowing currents,
the famous whitebait are caught for the London epicures. Three-quarters
of a mile below, at another narrow place, the railway crosses the strait
through Stephenson's Britannia tubular bridge, which is more useful than
ornamental, the railway passing through two long rectangular iron tubes,
supported on plain massive pillars. From a rock in the strait the
central tower rises to a height of two hundred and thirty feet, and
other towers are built on each shore at a distance of four hundred and
sixty feet from the central one. Couchant lions carved in stone guard
the bridge-portals at each end, and this famous viaduct cost over
$2,500,000. A short distance below the Anglesea Column towers above a
dark rock on the northern shore of the strait. It was erected in honor
of the first Marquis of Anglesea, the gallant commander of the British
light cavalry at Waterloo, where his leg was carried away by one of the
last French cannon-shots. For many years after the great victory he
lived here, literally with "one foot in the grave." Plas Newydd, one and
a half miles below, the Anglesea family residence, where the marquis
lived, is a large and unattractive mansion, beautifully situated on the
sloping shore. It has in the park two ancient sepulchral monuments of
great interest to the antiquarian.


CAERNARVON AND CONWAY.

[Illustration: CAERNARVON CASTLE.]

As the famous strait widens below the bridges the shores are tamer, and
we come to the famous Caernarvon Castle, the scene of many stirring
military events, as it held the key to the valleys of Snowdon, and
behind it towers that famous peak, the highest mountain in Britain,
whose summit rises to a height of 3590 feet. This great castle also
commanded the south-western entrance to the strait, and near it the
rapid little Sciont River flows into the sea. The ancient Britons had a
fort here, and afterwards it was a Roman fortified camp, which gradually
developed into the city of Segontium. The British name, from which the
present one comes, was Caer-yn-Arvon - "the castle opposite to Mona."
Segontium had the honor of being the birthplace of the Emperor
Constantine, and many Roman remains still exist there. It was in 1284,
however, that Edward I. began building the present castle, and it took
thirty-nine years to complete. The castle plan is an irregular oval,
with one side overlooking the strait. At the end nearest the sea, where
the works come to a blunt point, is the famous Eagle Tower, which has
eagles sculptured on the battlements. There are twelve towers
altogether, and these, with the light-and dark-hued stone in the walls,
give the castle a massive yet graceful aspect as it stands on the low
ground at the mouth of the Sciont. Externally, the castle is in good
preservation, but the inner buildings are partly destroyed, as is also
the Queen's Gate, where Queen Eleanor is said to have entered before the
first English Prince of Wales was born. A corridor, with loopholes
contrived in the thickness of the walls, runs entirely around the
castle, and from this archers could fight an approaching enemy. This
great fortress has been called the "boast of North Wales" from its size
and excellent position. It was last used for defence during the Civil
Wars, having been a military stronghold for nearly four centuries.
Although Charles II. issued a warrant for its demolition, this was to a
great extent disregarded. Prynne, the sturdy Puritan, was confined here
in Charles I.'s time, and the first English Prince of Wales, afterwards
the unfortunate Edward II., is said to have been born in a little dark
room, only twelve by eight feet, in the Eagle Tower: when seventeen
years of age the prince received the homage of the Welsh barons at
Chester. The town of Caernarvon, notwithstanding its famous history and
the possession of the greatest ruin in Wales, now derives its chief
satisfaction from the lucrative but prosaic occupation of trading in
slates.

[Illustration: CONWAY CASTLE, FROM THE ROAD TO LLANRWST.]

At the northern extremity of Caernarvon county, and projecting into the
Irish Sea, is the promontory known as Great Orme's Head, and near it is
the mouth of the Conway River. The railway to Holyhead crosses this
river on a tubular bridge four hundred feet long, and runs almost under
the ruins of Conway Castle, another Welsh stronghold erected by Edward
I. We are told that this despotic king, when he had completed the
conquest of Wales, came to Conway, the shape of the town being something
like a Welsh harp, and he ordered all the native bards to be put to
death. Gray founded upon this his ode, "The Bard," beginning -

"On a rock whose lofty brow
Frowns o'er old Conway's foaming flood,
Robed in a sable garb of woe.
With haggard eyes the poet stood."

This ode has so impressed the Conway folk that they have been at great
pains to discover the exact spot where the despairing bard plunged into
the river, and several enthusiastic persons have discovered the actual
site. The castle stands upon a high rock, and its builder soon after its
completion was besieged there by the Welsh, but before being starved
into submission was relieved by the timely arrival of a fleet with
provisions. It was in the hall of Conway Castle that Richard II. signed
his abdication. The castle was stormed and taken by Cromwell's troops in
the Civil Wars, and we are told that all the Irish found in the garrison
were tied in couples, back to back, and thrown into the river. The
castle was not dismantled, but the townsfolk in their industrious
quarrying of slates have undermined one of the towers, which, though
kept up by the solidity of the surrounding masonry, is known as the
"Broken Tower." There was none of the "bonus building" of modern times
attempted in these ponderous Welsh castles of the great King Edward. The
ruins are an oblong square, standing on the edge of a steep rock washed
on two sides by the river; the embattled walls, partly covered by ivy,
are twelve to fifteen feet thick, and are flanked by eight huge circular
towers, each forty feet in diameter; the interior is in partial ruin,
but shows traces of its former magnificence; the stately hall is one
hundred and thirty feet long. The same architect designed both
Caernarvon and Conway. A fine suspension-bridge now crosses the river
opposite the castle, its towers being built in harmony with the
architecture of the place, so that the structure looks much like a
drawbridge for the fortress. Although the Conway River was anciently a
celebrated pearl-fishery, slate-making, as at Caernarvon, is now the
chief industry of the town.

[Illustration: FALLS OF THE CONWAY.]

[Illustration: THE SWALLOW FALLS.]

There are many other historic places in Caernarvonshire, and also
splendid bits of rural and coast scenery, while the attractions for the
angler as well as the artist are almost limitless. One of the prettiest
places for sketching, as well as a spot where the fisherman's skill is
often rewarded, is Bettws-y-Coed. This pretty village, which derives its
name from a religious establishment - "Bede-house in the Wood" - that was
formerly there, but long ago disappeared, is a favorite resort for
explorations of the ravines leading down from Mount Snowdon, which
towers among the clouds to the southward. Not far away are the
attractive Falls of the Conway, and from a rock above them is a good
view of the wonderful ravine of Fors Noddyn, through which the river
flows. Around it there is a noble assemblage of hills and headlands.
Here, joining with the Conway, comes through another ravine the pretty
Machno in a succession of sparkling cascades and rapids. Not far away is
the wild and lovely valley of the Lledr, another tributary of the
Conway, which comes tumbling down a romantic fissure cut into the
frowning sides of the mountain. At Dolwyddelan a solitary tower is all



Online LibraryJoel CookEngland, picturesque and descriptive; reminiscences of foreign travel (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 44)