SHALL long remember the evening
I spent at Blaenau Farm, near the Usk Valley. When the sun had gone down I
sat with the family around the fire, and I learned what deep roots culture
had in the Welsh countryside.
bookshelves were full of tomes on philosophy, on theology, on science, and
on literature. Several generations ago the farmer who was then head of the
family used to assemble and teach the children of the valley. His
influence had been carried down to the present.
this generation three of the children have had brilliant academic careers,
one of them a double first in classics. Another won a first in Hebrew and
became a scholar at Oxford.
in Scotland there may be many farming families with a high level of
culture, I am sure that such a record of learning on a farm buried in a
valley far away from any railway or large town would in England be an
almost unheard of thing.
evening, however, was not spent in heavy talk on theology or on the
classics. There was laughter in the humour of the pulpit.
form of humour—perhaps in the nineteenth century the main form in
Wales—contributed to that memorable evening a special flavour of
old-fashioned days. My hosts told with zest of the renowned preachers of
the Usk Valley.
laughed at the stories of Dafydd Evans Ffynnon Henry, whose imagination
ran away with him in his sermons and who wove into the Bible many a
fantasy of his own! One of his sermons described how “Mrs. Pharaoh”
(Dafydd would never forget the “Mr.” or the “Mrs.” when Pharaoh
and his wife were mentioned) was terrified when toads rushed up the stairs
to her bedroom.
was a human, old Dafydd Evans Ffynnon Henry, and one anecdote told that
night tickled me. He was praying in a little chapel in the countryside
when a black dog and a white dog entered and starting fighting.
Unfortunately, the reverend gentleman could not pronounce his “s’s”
properly and could not utter that sound without hissing violently. This
sent the dogs into renewed and more savage fighting, which made the
congregation watch with excitement the progress of the battle.
last Dafydd Evans Ffynnon Henry himself was carried away and shouted:
“Pobl, I came to preach the Gospel to you, but if there is to be a
battle, I’ll put a sovereign on the black ‘un!”
stories gave place soon to the legends of the mountains, and I realised
that what I was listening to had been handed down in that valley for many
centuries. I heard of the legend of the Crognant, a stream I had passed as
I came down from the mountains. And this is the tale I heard in Welsh from
a farm just near called Meitisaf a very long time ago there was a large
coffer in which the money was kept. One day, when the farmer was far away
in Llanwrtyd, the wife beheld to her alarm the legs of a man dangling out
of the coffer. It was a thief busy collecting the golden coins. So she
pushed him in and locked him there."
hail her husband she took a horn and blew it. Many miles away at Llanwrtyd
her husband heard the call and rode his hunter as swiftly as he could to
the farm. Indeed, so swiftly did the hunter fly home that on arriving, it
fell dead in the courtyard. The wife sounded the horn again for the
neighbours to gather. They came, unlocked the coffer, dragged the thief up
the mountain and hanged him near the stream, which from that day has been
called Crognant (the stream of the hanging).”
asked my hostess to tell me the tale of Llyn-y-Fan, and she told me that
it is Llyn-y-Fan Fach which is renowned in legend and not Llyn-y-Fan Fawr
which I had seen in rain and mist. Llan-y-Fan Fach is on the western side
of the Black Mountains, and it is here that the Lady of the Lake appears
at two o’clock on the first Sunday in August. Who was she? A rich fairy
from the lake who married a mortal and lived at the farm of Esgair
Llaethdy, which I was to see near Myddfai next day. Fate willed it that if
her husband struck her three times without cause she should return to
Llyn-y-Fan and bring all her cattle with her.
many years they lived happily, but one day at a christening the husband
jocularly tapped her on the shoulder. She reminded him that it was the
first time for him to strike her without cause. Later, at a wedding she
burst into tears and for the second time the husband playfully touched her
on the shoulder. After many years the pair went to a funeral, where she
laughed. Whereupon the husband tapped her and said “Hush!” This was
the last blow and the fairy lady called her cattle and returned to the
legends soon gave way to song, and Welsh hymns, sung with fervour and
feeling, resounded through the farmstead. Even the sturdy hams hanging up
in the kitchen seemed to shake with emotion. “Wele’n sefyll rhwng y
myrtwydd” was followed by “Beth sydd imi yn y byd.” “Llef,”
which is one of the most beautiful hymns ever composed, was sung (before
the kitchen fire) that night with as much depth of feeling and effect as
ever a hymn was chanted in one of the world’s most magnificent
the hymns came the folk songs, and they had a gaiety and a lightness of
touch which I believe are quite as Welsh as the somberness of minor
chords. Anecdote and legend, humour and fantasy, hymn and folk-song, the
heritage of Wales’s past in story and music, all these made my evening
on the Welsh farm one of those which stand out in my experiences. And all
who have known Wales will recognise in such an evening the culture and the
charm which have been the possession of the best type of Welsh farmer for
was, therefore, with regret that next morning I left Blaenau Farm in the
Hydfer Valley, tramped past some remarkable ancient stone circles, crossed
a tiny rivulet called the Usk, and climbed to the top of the Myddfai
Mountain, whence I admired the grandeur of the mountains to the east and
the richness of the Towy Valley to the west.
scrambled down a steep, rocky gorge, past the skeleton of a sheep and the
skull and bones of a horse which had probably crashed down the cliff to
death, and at last came to Myddfai. Here, in the home of the physicians of
Myddfai, renowned in the eighteenth century, I met a charming singer with
the name Llinos y Glyn (the Linnet of the Valley).
last I came to the Towy, and my journey for the day was over when I
stepped into Llangadock; but the stories and the songs of the evening
before on a Welsh farm were still ringing in my ears.