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 one. 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.
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.
“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”
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 sinisterly appearing from nowhere. “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 loaf of bread 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!
So we bought our tickets and went into the gorge and followed the steep slate paths as they dropped into the gorge below following the steepest of them ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ to the very bottom. Molly refused to be carried and insisted on walking which made progress slow but it was too dangerous and too difficult to let her walk back up the other side and as I didn’t want a Sisyphus experience, despite her protests I had to scoop her up and piggy-back her all the way back to the top. Swollen by all the recent rain the waterfalls were certainly dramatic as they thundered through the gorge and 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!
It took about forty-five minutes to complete the energy sapping walk and when we emerged back on the road the sun was shining and it was time to drive back to the cottage.
When we arrived there (via a shop at Tesco to buy this evening’s food and drink supplies) the weather was in complete contrast to when we had left in the morning and we were able to sit outside and enjoy a beer and read the newspapers while Molly played skittles and swing-ball tennis in between making us play hide and seek all around the exciting farm yard with lots of interesting places to explore and hide.
It was a bit windy still and probably not absolutely perfect for al fresco dining but now that the weather had improved I was determined to eat outside so we sat on the patio and ate pizza and salad, french fries and chicken nuggets and the previous day of rain and cold and damp seemed a hundred years ago or so as we enjoyed the early evening sun before it blazed into orange oblivion and dipped over the horizon and disappeared without trace into the sea to the west.
As the temperature dropped we retreated inside to watch more Disney movies before Molly finally dropped off to sleep and we were able to watch some proper TV, and that was a shame because one of the best things about going abroad is the absence of English speaking TV channels but here it was just too easy to watch the BBC ten o’clock news and the channel 4 late movie just as though we were still at home.
Finally we called it a day and with the weather forecast promising that the next day would be the best of the week we went to bed in cheerful mood.