A devilishly good day-out

 

Satan, Beelzebub, Lucifer or the Devil has featured throughout creation, and has more often than not left an indelible impression across the landscape.

 

Not only has he been the arch persecutor and tormentor of souls, but also a villainous presence at certain landmarks and historical place names or structures. Throughout the British Isles, especially in the vast and empty wildernesses, he has special associations that more often than not go back centuries.

 

In Scotland for example, which he is said to prefer in winter, perhaps because it's bleaker and more desolate then, the wheel marks from his coach (thought to be horse drawn) are said to be visible across icy, frozen lochs.

 

And on mighty mountain, Cader Idris, close to Glyn-yr-Aur, he, so legend has it, left a set of footprints. The marks came about according to Welsh folklore because he danced in a euphoric frenzy on catching men playing cards there on the Sabbath.

 

      

 

The hounds of hell are also said to wander monstrously in the shadows and forbidding recesses of the mountain, in an attempt to lure the lost or unwary to their eternal doom.

 

And Satan himself is said to regularly cross over from this ethereal, netherworld, to see if he can catapult the overly-trusting into his diabolical snares and traps.

 

A staircase and kitchen bear his name across North and South Wales, but slap bang in the middle of the Principality, his infernal lowness has had a long association with a bridge. Now a series of three, the smallest and lowest of them, is said to be all his own work and sits astride a particularly steep gorge over the River Mynach.

 

The bridge allegedly came into being because of the plight of an old woman, one Megan of Llandunach (tale from the Welsh Fairy Book by W Jenkyn Thomas - 1908). 'Once upon a time' she thought she had lost her one and only milking cow to the other side of the ravine, which was practically intraversible in the 11th century.

 

Storytellers insist that a dubious looking monk appeared from near the swirling waterfalls and river, and told Megan that he could build her a bridge in a night, in exchange for the life of the first thing to cross it.

 

 

When she was called to see the bridge, she threw a loaf of bread its length, which her dog ran after. On seeing that this was the only life he could claim, and that he had been tricked, the devil was said to have screeched that the animal was of no use to him, and then vanished in a sulphurous puff of smoke.

 

(Similar stories to this feature across Britain in the Yorkshire Dales (Dibbles Bridge, Thorpe) for example and in Switzerland (St Gotthard Pass) and Germany (Bridge over the River Main) - Old Nick certainly gets around.....!).

 

It's thought that the bridge in Ceredigion was built far less interestingly by actual monks from Strata Florida Abbey, who once owned these lands until it was passed on to nobility after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in the 16th century (from 1536-1540).

 

Later bridges were built above the very small and minute prototype. The second was built in the middle of the 18th century in 1753, and its ornate remains can be seen resting underneath the more substantial structure built at the beginning of the 20th century.

 

And on crossing over the bridge today, you could be forgiven for wondering if this is all there is to see. The bridges are or course interesting in themselves, but actually they conceal the real treasures which is the Mynach Falls or Devil's Bridge Waterfall and the magnificent and enchanting trail that has been laid out to reach them.

 

    

 

Now an area of Special Scientific Interest, you could certainly liken the waterfalls' trail to modern day 'Garden of Eden', but as in days of old, there's always a price to pay for such other worldly and preternatural beauty; you need to be particularly fit and suitably dressed to negotiate the steepest parts of the path.

 

Unfortunately, you couldn't in all honesty say it's relatively easy to walk around, because the steep drop down the 100 steps of Jacob Ladder are definitely not for mere beginners, the elderly or very young.

 

The first section, after the turnstile, and a quick introductory welcome by a friendly American kiosk assistant, is certainly easy underfoot and no problem to follow.

 

Straight away, you're given the perfect viewing platform to see all of the three bridges that were built across the gorge over successive centuries.

 

 

 

The 'devil's handiwork' is amazingly small and compact in comparison to the later, far larger structures. It seems to sit snugly on the bedrock and is almost halfway down the sheer faces of the cliffs. It now acts as a support to the later works which feature a middle, more ornate 18th century creation, now in a fairly ruinous state. And it was primarily because this fell into disrepair that  another bridge was commissioned by the local authorities to overlay it in 1901.

 

Next, you can then you can turn your attention to the amazing array of trees, greenery and foliage that pack out the whole route like some tropical, botanical garden.  The thunderous falls can be heard constantly torrenting over the bedrock into the River Mynach which then joins its parent river, the Rheidol. And your quest is to catch your first proper glimpse of them. The profusion of ancient sessile oak, beech, sycamore and birch all try very hard to mask its presence. You can easily spy a skein of water, but no, as you travel on it's gone in a second, as the greenery blocks it from view.

 

It's only once you've reached a modern-style wooden Gazebo that the wonderful majesty of the falls can at last seriously be drunk in. And then for the devilish bit. It's perhaps someone with a wonderful sense of irony that dubbed the next stretch: Jacob's Ladder. Because heavenly would be a very subjective word to use. It's quite a steep drop downwards with very narrow steps that lead to the bottom of the valley floor.

 

 

The iron railings either side are very well polished, that's perhaps because so many people have kept a firm grip on the descent downwards.  (Jacob's Ladder was meant to have been a stairway to heaven seen by Old Testament figure, Jacob as he slept to escape his brother Esau. While he slept he saw angels climbing a ladder into heaven).

 

The next stretch of the walk, however, could certainly be described as some sort of superlative paradise, and it unfolds enticingly before you as you cross the River Mynach. Over the modern, metal bridge,  a spectacular view of the all of the waterfall's five levels hits you as they cascade in a magnificent display down the hillside.

 

Camera at the ready, you can then start to snap away at the various sections and capture enduring images of the downward torrents as they froth and foam into the frenzied, swirling waters.

 

 

The only setback is that you have to have the strength and stamina to climb up the other side or the ravine, up another series of steps and terraces. They present quite a challenge - so you have been warned.

 

Fortunately, there are lots of resting places and viewing platforms so that all the energy and force of the falls can be absorbed and taken in at a pace that suits you.

 

Along the route, one interesting landmark is the once infamous Robber's Cave, where brigands of old use to shelter while on manoeuvres in the area or to share out their ill-gotten gains. You can certainly get a wonderful view of the falls from this vantage point and more or less continuously as you wander up the pathway to the exit.

 

 

And apart from the area being a local beauty spot, the falls and bridges have had a reputation as a tourist attraction for some 200 years, and was helped in this regard by local landowner Thomas Johnes who built the Hafod Arms Hotel at the beginning of the 19th century.

 

His sole aim was to drive visitors to the area, and among the most famous was the poet William Wordsworth.

 

So taken with the falls was he, that he put pen to paper to come up with the following prose, which certainly describes them in a very evocative and romantic style:

 

To the Torrent at the Devil's Bridge, North Wales 1824

 

How, are 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!

 

As you leave the last of the torrenting series of falls, there is a free telescope that can give you a much wider view of the whole area from such a great vantage point. This then leads on to the exit turnstile and the Hafod Arms. The extensive tea rooms there would certainly be worth trying out for a welcome cuppa or some country-style fare.

 

You can in fact just visit the shorter view of the bridges and the Devil's Punchbowl or Cauldron from another route down into the head of the ravine. However, there is much less to see and it's perhaps better to take the more comprehensive tour of the area. For more details about the area and available walking routes, please go to http://www.devilsbridgefalls.co.uk/

 

Here is the slideshow of pictures.

 

If you feel like trying out some more things in the area, the nearby Hafod Estate is certainly a great area for walkers. Its 200 hectares is owned by the Forestry Commission and is bedecked with a plentiful supply of conifers and deciduous trees.

 

There is also a wonderful narrow gauge railway, the Vale of Rheidol Railway http://www.rheidolrailway.co.uk/ , which used to be a major means of transport between Aberystwyth and this area. It has been revamped in recent years, and is now a well-regarded tourist attraction in its own right. There is a station very close to Devil's Bridge all the way to Aberystwyth, which is 12 miles away on the Ceredigion Coast.

 

People could also cross the Cambrians from near the Hafod area and head across to Rhayader and the Elan Valley to take in some of the magnificent walking and cycling trails around the series of reservoirs there.

 

Directions: From Glyn-yr-Aur take the roads into Dolgellau. Once there join the A487 past Machynlleth down to Aberystwyth. Then take the A4120 out towards Devil's Bridge. The journey time should be about 1 hr 20 minutes.