A devilishly good day-out
Beelzebub, Lucifer or the Devil has featured throughout creation, and
has more often than not left an indelible impression across the
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
section, after the turnstile, and a quick introductory welcome by a
friendly American kiosk assistant, is certainly easy underfoot and no
problem to follow.
away, you're given the perfect viewing platform to see all of the three
bridges that were built across the gorge over successive centuries.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Torrent at the Devil's Bridge, North Wales 1824
thou named? In search of what strange land
huge height, descending? Can such force
issue from a British source,
not Pindus fed thee, where the band
Patriots scoop their freedom out, with hand
as thine? Or come the incessant shocks
young Stream, that smites the throbbing rocks
Viamala? There I seem to stand,
life's morn; permitted to behold,
dread chasm, woods climbing above woods,
that fades not; everlasting snows;
that ne'er relinquish their repose;
possess the fitmily of floods
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.
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.
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.