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Help and advice for Wild Wales by George Borrow

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Wild Wales, Its People, Language and Scenery by George Borrow 1862

Some Brynamman related snippets from the book;

The north/south divide as seen through a conversation on George Borrow's journey from Llangadog to Brynamman


This piece comes from a section of the book where the author describes his journey from Llangadog to Gutter Vawr[Brynamman]. After he's been walking 3/4 hours he relates ;

".........on my left to the east upon a bank was a small house on one side of which was a wheel turned round by a flush of water running in a little artificial canal; close by it were two small cascades, the waters of which and also those of the canal passed under the bridge in the direction of the west. Seeing a decent looking man engaged in sawing a piece of wood by the roadside I asked him in Welsh whether the house with  the wheel was a flour-mill.

"Nage" he said, " it is a pandy, fulling mill".

"Can you tell me the name of the river", said I, " which I have left about a mile behind me ? Is it the Sawdde ?"

"Nage", he said, "It is the Lleidach"

Then looking  at me with great curiosity he asked if I came from the north country.

"Yes, " said I, " I certainly come from there".

"I am glad to hear it", said he, " for I have long wished to see a man from the north country".

"Did you never see one before?" said I.

"Never in my life," he replied, "men from the north country seldom show themselves  in these parts."

"Well," said I, " I am not ashamed to say that I come from the north".

"Aint you? Well, I don't know that you have any particular reason to be ashamed, for it is rather your misfortune than your fault; but the idea of anyone coming from the north---ho, ho !"

"Perhaps in the north," said I," they laugh at a man from the south ".

" Laugh at a man from the south ! No, no, they can't do that ".

"Why not?" said I, "why shouldn't the north laugh at the south as well as the south at the north?"

"Why shouldn't it? why, you talk like a fool. How could the north laugh at the south as long as the south remains the south and the north the north ? Laugh at the south ! you talk like a fool David, and, if you go on in that way I shall be angry with you. However, I'll excuse you; you are from the north, and what can one expect from the north but nonsense ? Now tell me, do you of the north eat and drink like other people ? What do you live upon?"

................and so it went on a bit finally ending with;

"Where are you going tonight ?"

"To Gutter Vawr"

"Well, then, you had better not loiter, Gutter Vawr is a long way off over the mountain. It will be dark, I am afraid, long before you get to Gutter Fawr. Good evening David ! I am glad to have seen you, for I have long wished to see a man from the north country. Good evening ! you will find plenty of good ale at Gutter Vawr."


Borrow arrives in Gutter Vawr to a warm welcome

.................................It was here pouring with rain...............crossing a bridge over a kind of torrent I found myself among some houses, I entered one of them from which a blaze of light and a roar of voices proceeded, and on enquiring of an old woman who confronted me in the passage I found that I had reached my much needed haven of rest, the tavern of Gutter Vawr in the county of Glamorgan.

The old woman.......turned out to be the landlady......she conducted me into a small room ......which proved to be the parlour. It was cold and comfortless, there was no fire in the grate...............she returned with a couple of buxom wenches * who I soon found were her daughters. The good lady had little or no English; the girls however had plenty................ they soon lighted a fire.........

  • A photograph of Margaret Jones, presumably one of the above 'buxom wenches' , is entry 65 in The Amman Valley Long Ago [Dyffryn Aman 'Slawer Dydd] Compiled by David A Evans & Huw Walters ; Gomer 1987. Bilingual.  Here is the book's introduction  by Huw Walters and a list of the photographs appearing in the book.

[He asked] " Pray tell me what prodigious noise is that which I hear on the other side of the passage?"

" It is only the miners and the carters in the kitchen, making merry."

"Well then, I shall go in there till supper is ready."

" You will find them a rough set in the kitchen."

It [the kitchen] was nearly filled with rough unkept fellows smoking, drinking, whistling, singing, shouting or jabbering, some in a standing, some in a sitting posture. My entrance seemed at once to bring everything to a dead stop: the smokers ceased to smoke, the hand that was conveying the glass or mug to the mouth was arrested in air, the hurly-burly ceased and every eye was turned upon me with a strange enquiring stare.

.............I advanced to the fire, spread out my hands before it for a minute, gave two or three deep ahs of comfort, then turning round said

"Rather a damp night gentlemen----fire cheering to one who has come the whole way from Llandovery---Taking a bit of a walk in Wales, to see the scenery and to observe the manners and customs of the inhabitants---Fine country , gentlemen, noble prospects, hill and dale---Fine  people too---open hearted and generous; no wonder !  descendants of the Ancient Britons---Hope I don't intrude ---other room rather cold and smoking---If I do I will retire at once---don't wish to interrupt any gentlemen in their avocations or deliberations---scorn to do anything ungenteel or calculated to give offence---hope I know how to behave myself---ought to do so---learnt grammar at the High school in Edinburgh."

"Offence, intrusion !" cried twenty voices.

"God bless your honour! no intrusion and no offence at all---sit down--sit here---won't you drink ?"

" Please do sit here sir", said an old grimy looking man, getting up from a seat in the chimney-corner---" this is no seat for me whilst you are here, it belongs to you, sit down in it," and laying hold of me he compelled me to sit down in the chair of dignity, whilst half a dozen hands pushed mugs of beer towards my face.....................................

........" Have you any news to tell of the war, sir?" said a large rough fellow who was smoking a pipe.

"The last news that I heard of the war", said I," was that the snow was two feet deep at Sebastopol.".......................

"Can you speak Welsh?" said  a darkish man with black bristly hair and a small inquisitive eye.

"Oh , I know two words in Welsh", said I," bara y caws".

........the man turning to a neighbour of his, said in Welsh

" He knows nothing of Cumraeg, only two words; we may say anything we please; he can't understand us. What a long nose he has!"

"Mind that he an't nosing us", said his neighbour,"I should be loth to wager that he doesn't understand Welsh; and after all he didn't say that he did not, but got off by saying that he understood those two words."

" No, he doesn't understand Welsh," said the other, "no Sais understands Welsh, and this is a Sais.........."

The company soon got into its old train, drinking and smoking and making a most terrific hullabaloo. Nobody took any farther notice of me. I sat snug in the chimney corner ...................................

[ To avoid confusion, Borrow went out for his supper and when he returned to the kitchen the atmosphere had considerably changed. The upshot was that they suspected he did understand everything they said, and this he admitted. There then follows several more pages of dialogue in similar vein].


From Brynamman to Pontardawe

After paying the reckoning, which only amounted to three and sixpence, I departed for Swansea, distant about thirteen miles. Gutter Vawr consists of one street, extending for some little way along the Swansea Road, the foundry, and a number of huts and houses scattered here and there. The population is composed almost entirely of miners , the workers at the foundry, and their families. For the first two or three miles, the country through which I passed did not at all prepossess me in favour of Glamorganshire: it consisted of low, sullen, peaty hills. Subsequently, however, it improved  rapidly, becoming bold, wild and pleasantly wooded. The aspect of the day improved also, with the appearance of the country. When I first started the morning was wretched and drizzly, but in less than an hour it cleared up wonderfully, and the sun began to flash out. As I looked on the bright luminary I thought of Ab Gwilym's ode to the sun and Glamorgan, and with breast heaving and with eyes full of tears, I began to repeat parts of it, or rather of a translation made in my happy boyish years.

.................came to Llanquick, a hamlet situated near a tremendous gorge, the sides of which were covered with wood. Thence to the village of Tawy Bridge, at the bottom of a beautiful valley, through which runs the Tawy, which after the Taf, is the most considerable river in Glamorganshire.

Continuing my course I passed by an enormous edifice which stood on my right hand. It had huge chimneys, which were casting forth smoke and from within I heard the noise of a steam engine and the roar of furnaces.

"What place is this ?" said I to a boy.

"Gwaith haiarn, sir; ym perthyn i Mr Pearson. Mr Pearson's iron works, sir".