OVER THE EDGE OF THE BLACK MOUNTAINS
By Gareth Jones
Western Mail, September 14th, 1933
WHEN I woke up in Dorwen Farm and looked out of the window I saw thick mist hiding even the nearest field.
I remembered the tales, told the night before by my host, of men lost upon the mountains, of searches for days through the glens, of bodies found at the foot of sharp crags, and I almost gave up my resolution to cross the Black Mountains. At last, however, I overcame the temptation, but realised that if I followed a path I should drift rapidly and find myself slipping down some gully or merely wandering lost in wet heather.
On a day when no mountain could be seen, and when only a few yards of a mountain side was visible, the only course to take was to follow the Afon Twrch and climb along the valley to the highest point.
The farmer and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Moses, agreed that that was the oniy way to struggle across to the Usk Valley on the other side of the ridge. They pressed a loaf, a large cupful of butter, cheese, fruit, and hazel nuts into my rucksack, emphatically refused any payment whatever, and in wishing me “Good-bye” they repeated the Welsh proverb:
“Cynt cwrdd dau ddyn na dau fynydd” (“ Two men will meet sooner than two mountains “).
As I disappeared into the mist I thought of the naturalness and warmth of their hospitality and recalled the verse: Mae’n bwrw yng Nghwm Berwyn, mae’r cysgod yn estyn [It is raining in Berwyn Valley, the shadows reach out ]
Gwna heno fy mwthyn yn derfyn dy daith; [We go to my cottage at journey's end]
Cei fara a chawl erfyn iachusol a chosyn, A ‘menyn o’r enwyn ar unwaith. [You shall have bread and healthy turnip broth with a chunk of cheese, and fresh butter drawn from the buttermilk (immediately).]
Stumbling down through patches of long grasses, through entanglements of heather roots, down jagged rocks, I heard the sound of water below, and soon I came to the River Twrch, to which I was to be faithful for several hours.
It is a river with a personality, a real human river. It has the energy of a Welshman, clatters down, loses its temper as it leaps over a cliff, has a rest in a deep pool, awakens to a fit of fury and rushes through rocks, calms itself, and flows even-tempered for some dozen yards, makes a spurt, reposes again, but never for long, for it is rushing to be wedded to the Tawe near Ystalyfera.
Whether towering mountains look down upon it I cannot say, because all I could see was a thick doud which grew thicker as I went on over rocks, waded through the stream because I could find no path, hung on to the steep bank where the valley became too narrow, slipped into the river across to the other side, and back again. Never have I crossed from one county to another so often as I crossed from Breconshire to Carmarthenshire that day by the easy means of wading through the Twrch or of stepping across it from stone to stone. Ffridiau Twrch I left behind me, and the gorge became narrower, ac far as I could judge, when the mist turned into heavy rain.
The tramp was hard because a sudden climb was followed by a scramble across a slanting rock as slippery as a mahogany table and this was followed by a trudge through a marsh which oozed and squeaked with wetness.
Everything dripped. The long grasses, with their misty globules, dripped. The red berries of the mountain ashes dripped. The winberry leaves dripped.
I thought of the Aberystwyth College saying:
“Millions now dripping will never die.” And I myself was dripping.
The gorge disappeared and the valley became wider. A few rivulets join the Twrch here, and there is, as far as I know, a fine view of the Black Mountains ahead. All I could see through the mist was that the river was a little subdued and smaller and was flowing through peat-beds. It then decided to enter a gorge. Here the mist cleared enough for me to catch a glimpse of half a dozen wild ponies, which looked up suddenly and ran off in terror.
But still I could not see the mountains, although my map told me that to the east there were the Carnau Gwys, to the west Brest Twrch and to the north Banau Sir Gaer and Banau Brycheiiog, where there were precipices down which one could fall quite a long way.
I decided to turn to the east and find a gap, Bwlch y Giedd, through which I could come to Elyn y Fan Fawr. Fortunately, the mist rose and there was the first human being I had seen during the three hours’ hard climb.
He was a farmer on a grey mountain horse, and with his dogs he was driving the sheep. He showed me the way to the gap and I tramped towards it. Suddenly, below me, a large lake of blue appeared, with wisps of mist dangling above it. It was Llyn y Fan Fawr. Then a rainstorm came on —I stumbled down hill, my knees rather shaky after the climb, to the only rock on the side of the hill.
I brought out the bread and cheese and butter which Mr. and Mrs. Moses had given me, and never had such food tasted so good, although the rain was drenching the bread and pattering upon the butter. I had crossed the ridge of the Black Mountains and all that remained now before coming to a warm fire in a farm was to descend for about two hours past Llyn y Fan Fawr until I came to the Afon Hydfer. The lake was clear, and the view of this large patch of water beneath the cliffs was striking. Nearby the Tawe rises and begins its race down the Swansea Valley to the coast.
I descended until I came to the Afon Hydfer, the deep pools of which tempted me to dive in and swim and hold myself beneath the splash of the waterfalls. The heather disappeared. There were big trees and soon the farm of Blaenau-Isaf, surrounded by magnificent larch and firs, came into sight. I knocked at the door. I was not disappointed. There was warmth and kindness in the welcome and the kettle was soon purring over the fire. Again Welsh hospitality was as alive as it ever has been.
From the farm I looked up into the hills. Like giants the Black Mountains dominated the view. It was not until that moment, when I was safe and sound in a farm in the valley, that I saw the mountains I had crossed in the mist.