Devil’s Bridge

The gloomy weather of yesterday’s drive from St David to Aberystwyth had stuck around with a grey thin broth covering the sky. We navigated our way out of the Glan Y Mor campsite, avoiding the lunatic steep road, but still having to drive the hair pin bend up the hill away from the beach. This location gave a great example of the big house with village below that exists in many a romance novel. I’ve always wondered how far the heroine has to walk to go from the big house down to the village, and the small village, Clarach, nearby to the campsite is situated in the valley about ¾ mile below the manor house halfway up the hill.

We took the vintage Vale of Rheidol railway from Aberystwyth station up a narrow gauge track through the valley of Rheidol to the little village of Devils’ Bridge at the top of the hill. The train ride had rather spectacular views as it climbed up the side of a mountain, and of particular interest is that the railway charity employs an apprentice. As well as training this young chap in railway heritage and maintenance, he gets the job that requires youthful strength – shoveling coal. Not a bad view from the first carriage.

There isn’t much to say about a steam train ride – it’s noisy and steamy on the way up the hill as the engine works hard, relatively quiet on the way down. Once we reached the top, we walked ten minutes down the road from the station to see Devil’s Bridge. As with much of the English countryside, there is a toll gate requiring a pound to pass through to see the bridge. It’s quite different to Australia where we have the queen’s chain, requiring public access to all waterways, and perhaps an improvement we’ve made given the situation in England. One place wanted two pounds just to see a waterfall. Given that waterfalls are commonplace, it’d want to be a spectacular one. Back to Devil’s Bridge, naturally, we paid the money to see three bridges built on top of each other. And in this case, it is worth the small investment.

Oldest bridge showing narrow gorge

The bridges cross a narrow gorge, perhaps a metre across, but very deep with raging waters that have scoured into the rocky divide. The lowest bridge is small and strong. There is a legend around how it was built, and it is romance novel worthy (if one exchanges the devil for a rake, and the old lady for a hot heroine, and creates a happy ending). Devil’s Bridge, built in the 11th century, supposedly by the devil (but probably by local monks) has a fun fable. The bridge is a small stone arched bridge that crosses a narrow, yet deep, crevasse of rushing water. The fable states that an old lady lost her cow, and discovered that it had managed to cross the river. Unsure how she would get it back, she was confronted by a mysterious stranger, aka the devil. The devil decided he would quite like to keep the old lady’s soul, so he made a deal with her. If he built her a bridge, he got to keep the first living thing to cross the bridge (ie the old lady because she needed to go and get her cow). She pondered whether she wanted to give herself to the devil, eventually agreeing to the deal because a bridge would be useful. The devil worked all night to make the bridge, and when the old lady awoke the next day, she stood at the beginning of the bridge. The devil whispered to her to cross the bridge to get her cow. She contemplated her options, leaning forward as the devil continued to make hints. Then she reached into her gown, pulled out a piece of bread, tossed it on the bridge, and her dog rushed across the bridge to grab the tasty morsel. The devil cursed his luck as he now had a dog’s soul for his collection, while the old lady laughed as she outwitted him. The devil was so mortified that an old lady had beaten him, that he disappeared, never to be seen again in that location.

Above that, another bridge, built in the 1700s, includes wider abutments, and is large enough for a carriage to pass over. An improvement on the one below, and interesting to see how the bridge technology remained largely the same between the two bridges. Above both these bridges is the modern version – a flat steel framed bridge with function over form as one expects from a post-Stephenson bridge – this one was built about 1900 to cope with increased transportation in the area.

After many photos and marveling at these ancient and not so ancient structures working together, we had an ice cream and took the train back down the mountain to Aberystwyth. From here we wandered the town, enjoying views of the old castle, the university’s Victorian buildings, and had a late lunch beside the rocky foreshore. Our time in Aberystwyth was over, time to board our trusty vessel and drive into Snowdonia where we ended our day’s adventures in Betws-y-coed (Betoos er koyd).

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