Tag Archives: Myths and Legends

Wales – The Devil’s Bridge

Aberystwyth Postcard

The morning weather was wonderful, blue sky decorated with billowing clouds like white linen sheets, fresh from the laundry drying in the breeze so we hurried our breakfast and then set off in the direction once more of nearby Aberystwyth.

I drove carefully because last time I was here five years ago I was landed with a grossly unfair speeding ticket and today I found the sneaky camera that got me and I at last understood how I missed it!

We didn’t stop at Aberystwyth but drove straight through along the Vale of Rheidol alongside the narrow gauge railway line until we reached the station at the top at Devil’s Bridge.

Railways in Britain are a national obsession.  When the Victorians weren’t building piers they were building railways.  And by the time that they were nationalised in 1948 there were simply too many of them to be economical.  So in the 1960’s, based on a document called the Beeching Report’, the Government set about a reform programme which resulted in thousands of miles of track being dismantled and hundreds of stations being closed.

Railway enthusiasts everywhere went into collective shock but quickly rallied and almost immediately started organising themselves into preservation societies and very soon they were relaying railway  lines almost as quickly as British Rail contractors were tearing them up.  Now, every weekend these devotees of track and steam gather together to stoke boilers, grease points and polish name plates and to run engines on restored lines or on narrow gauge railways all over the country.  It is almost like an act of shared defiance against the policies of the national government.

Welsh Island Railway

The Devil’s Bridge is at a dramatic point in the landscape where the River Mynach tumbles ninety boiling metres in five steps down a steep and narrow ravine before it meets the River Rheidol and is unusual in that there are three separate bridges each one built over the previous as though one by one they have slipped into the gorge.

The most recent is an iron bridge (1901), which was built over a stone bridge (1753), which was built when the original bridge was declared to be unstable.

Devil's Bridge Ceredigion

According to the legend the original bridge was built by the Devil, as it was too difficult for mere mortals to achieve this feat of engineering.  Probably because of the weather the Devil had never been to Wales before but sometime around the eleventh century he dropped by.  As he wandered about admiring the scenery (no one has satisfactorily explained why he didn’t go somewhere even more scenic, such as Snowdonia for example) he came across an old lady who seemed rather upset.

 ”What’s the matter?” he asked (or possibly roared).

“Oh, I’m in such a terrible muddle and I don’t know what to do! My cow has wandered across the river and I can’t get her back”.

“Ah!” said the Devil “What you need my dear, is a bridge, and I am just the man to build you one. Why don’t you go home, and in the morning there will be a bridge waiting for you. All I ask in return is to keep the first living thing to cross the bridge!”

“Very Well then” she said “It’s a bargain. I’ll see you in the morning. Nos da, Goodnight”

That night she wondered about this stranger who would build her a bridge. ‘What a strange request!  Why should I cross the bridge to get my cow back if he gets to keep me in exchange? Mind you it is very tempting offer”

Devil's Bridge Wales

The next day she got up and called for her faithful dog. Together they went down to the river. “Well well” she couldn’t believe her eyes. In front of her was the best bridge that she had ever seen!

“I told you that I would build you a bridge” said the Devil. “Now it’s your turn to keep your side of the bargain”.

“I know, you get to keep the first living thing to cross the bridge” and she started to walk towards the bridge. But just when she got to the entrance, she stopped, took out a bone from her apron pocket and hurled it across the bridge. As quick as a flash and before the Devil could stop it, the dog chased after it.

“Aaaaaaagh!!!!!” screeched the Devil. “You stupid old woman, I don’t believe it! Your smelly, hairy farm dog has become the first living thing to cross my bridge. It’s no good to me”  he screamed and then he vanished and I can understand that because I am not what you call a dog lover myself.   After this the Devil was never seen in Wales again – some say it was because he was so embarrassed at being outwitted by the old lady but I suspect that it more likely had something to do with the weather!

Actually, it turns out that Satan is quite a prolific bridge builder and Wikipedia lists at least a hundred Devil’s Bridges, mostly in Europe.

Read here about how the Devil walked in Devon

Vale of Rheidol Light Railway

The gorge and the waterfalls are probably best described by a previous visitor, the poet, William Wordsworth:

How, art thou named? In search of what strange land
From what huge height, descending? Can such force
Of waters issue from a British source,
Or hath not Pindus fed thee, where the band
Of Patriots scoop their freedom out, with hand
Desperate as thine? Or come the incessant shocks
From that young Stream, that smites the throbbing rocks
Of Viamala? There I seem to stand,
As in life’s morn; permitted to behold,
From the dread chasm, woods climbing above woods,
In pomp that fades not; everlasting snows;
And skies that ne’er relinquish their repose;
Such power possess the fitmily of floods
Over the minds of Poets, young or old!

We stayed a while at the station and watched the stream train arrive and then we returned to Aberystwyth for lunch and had seaside fish and chips and sat in the sun on the promenade to eat them.

Borth Fisherman

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monochromatic

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant” –  William Shakespeare, ‘Measure for Measure’

Sometimes it is is not necessary to travel huge distances to visit something special.

The Giant’s Causeway is a geological wonder of the World close to home in the UK consisting of about forty thousand interlocking basalt columns resulting from a volcanic eruption about sixty million years ago.  Most of the columns are hexagonal in shape, but there are some with four, five, seven and eight sides.

Read the full story…

Northern Ireland, The Giant’s Causeway

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant” –  William Shakespeare, ‘Measure for Measure’

Sometimes it is is not necessary to travel huge distances to visit something special.

The Giant’s Causeway is a geological wonder of the World close to home in the UK consisting of about forty thousand interlocking basalt columns resulting from a volcanic eruption about sixty million years ago.  Most of the columns are hexagonal in shape, but there are some with four, five, seven and eight sides.

The tallest are about twelve metres high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is nearly thirty metres thick in places.  The fascinating patterns in the causeway stones formed as a result of rock crystallization under conditions of accelerated cooling, which usually occurs when molten lava comes into immediate contact with water and the resulting fast accelerated cooling process causes cracking and patterns.

I am not a geologist or a scientist but I can relate to that because I imagine it would be rather similar to my childhood experiences of being prodded into the North Sea by my parents on family holidays when I was a boy and the phsical consequences of being suddenly immersed in freezing cold water.

It was declared the only World Heritage Site in Northern Island by UNESCO in 1986, and a National Nature Reserve in 1987.  In a 2005 Radio Times poll, the Giant’s Causeway was named as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom.

The top three were the Dan Yr Ogof National Showcaves Centre in South Wales, The Cheddar Gorge in Somerset and the White Cliffs of Dover.  These competitions are always subjective of course and open to challenge.  I have never visited the Dan Yr Ogof National Showcaves Centre, Cheddar Gorge is worth a visit but I’m not at all sure about the White Cliffs of Dover!  These polls are always a bit subjective and making up the rest of the top ten were the Jurassic Coast, Loch Lomond, Cwm Idal, Staffa, St Kilda and Lundy Island.

Subjective?  So how did Lundy Island slip in there?  Over a million people a year go to Giant’s Causeway compared to about two thousand to Lundy Island, I wonder how it got so many votes?   How many people even know where Lundy Island is?  I never trust a survey or a poll!

Northern Ireland Giant's Causeway

After an excellent lunch at the Smuggler’s Inn we made our way to the causeway.  I had read some conflicting advice about this, a lot of visitors had left reviews saying that the National Trust visitor centre is overpriced and disappointing so I was looking for a way to avoid the £9 per person entry fee.  It seems that this is just a giant rip-off because there is no charge to visit the rocks themselves so we parked the car using Richard’s National Trust membership card, turned a blind eye to the ticket office and walked straight through.  Why would any sane person pay £9 to go and see something that is free?

There is a uniformity to the patterns that confused people for a long time and before the geological process that formed the causeway was fully understood some were convinced that it was the result of the labours of an earlier civilization that had built a sort of paved highway across the sea to Scotland.  What made this a credible explanation for them was that the same rock formations occur at Flingal’s Cave across the water.  We know now that this was completely daft but it is a nice story nevertheless.

An even better story of course is the legend that the Irish giant Finn McCool built the causeway to walk to Scotland to fight his Scottish counterpart Benandonner.  When he arrived in Scotland he was alarmed to find that his opponent was much much bigger than him so he immediately returned home in a panic pursued by Benandonner who crossed the bridge looking for him.  To protect Finn his wife Oonagh laid a blanket over him and pretended he was actually Finn’s baby son.  When Benandonner saw the size of the baby, he assumed the father must be gigantic and he fled home in terror, ripping up the Causeway as he went in case he was followed by Finn.

It is an interesting fact that in Irish Finn McCool becomes Fionn mac Cumhaill the hunter-warrior of Irish mythology and the nineteenth century Irish revolutionary organisation known as the Fenian Brotherhood took its name from the inspiration of these legends.

The causeway was predictably busy this afternoon and we shared the site with several coach loads of visitors from Belfast and a car park full of tourists but this didn’t detract from the wonder of the place and we clambered over the rocks and admired the shifting colours and the changing patterns and shadows.

When we had tired of mountaineering we returned to the car park and Richard and Pauline went into the visitor centre while we went to nearby Bushmills for beer and wine at a mini-market and a stop off for a Guiness in a local hotel garden.  When we met again later Richard confirmed what we had feared, the centre was very disappointing and we were glad that we had avoided it and I recommend anyone visiting the causeway to do just the same.

We had a wonderful evening at the Smuggler’s Inn and next morning Richard and I rose early and returned to the causeway to get there before the crowds.  What an excellent decision this turned out to be.  We defiantly parked in the National Trust car park again and then enjoyed an hour on the rocks which at seven o’clock in the morning we had completely to ourselves.

I liked the Giant’s Causeway, it certainly goes into my personal top ten (which is getting rather overcrowded now) and I have to say that I think it deserved to come a bit higher in the Radio Times poll of top ten UK natural wonders.

Giants Causeway County Antrim