George Borrow's Second Tour in Wales by Cantrill, T. C.


Transcribed from the 1910 Y Cymmrodor edition by David Price, email

[Picture: Public domain cover for article]

George Borrow’s Second Tour in Wales.


The reader of Dr. Knapp’s Life of Borrow will remember that, three years after the 1854 expedition to North Wales, George Borrow made a rapid traverse through the south-western portion of the Principality. The incidents of the former excursion formed the basis of _Wild Wales_, but the only published record of the latter tour is the brief itinerary given in the _Life_. {160a}

It so happens that for several years past our professional duties have taken us into the western regions of South Wales, and into parts of the counties of Carmarthen and Pembroke traversed by Borrow in 1857. Not satisfied with the bald outline of the journal published by Dr. Knapp, one of us wrote to him in Paris with the request that he would be kind enough to furnish us with a few details as to the villages passed through, and the inns where Borrow lodged. To our gratification Dr. Knapp did far more than we had asked; he sent us a verbatim transcription from the original note book, accompanied by the following letter {160b}:—

191 r. de l’ Université, Paris. 26 Aug. 1908.

DEAR SIR,—Your very interesting communication of the 1st of Aug. reached me on the 6th. My chests containing Borrow’s MSS., Letters and Note Books, are stored and sealed up, so that they are no longer readily accessible even to me, in the present state of my health and impaired strength. Besides, the Note Books are in pencil, written as he strode along the roads of England and Wales, very badly, and subsequently much thumbed as he pored over them in later years. Hence they are very trying to the eyes, and as mine are giving me much trouble, growing weaker and weaker, I dreaded to subject them to any fresh tension even with the powerful lenses I am forced to employ. However, after much reflection I decided to unscrew the boxes till I came to the Note Books, from among which I drew forth the little one for 1857. And although it has cost me two weeks to decipher and write down only ten pages, I feel that the labour is wisely bestowed if it in any way accomplishes your desire. From Lampeter into Brecknock hills to Builth I could no longer follow Borrow. He is full of badly written Welsh, is constantly losing his way, and the Welsh names of villages, hamlets and parishes cited are not in Lewis or Lett’s County Atlas as he gives them. Still, if you want the Itinerary or anything further, please let me know.

I should very much like to meet you, but I travel little. Last year we were in Norwich three months—July 1 to Oct. 1—for my wife’s health, but we went nowhere, only passing thro’ London going and coming. I was glad to learn the _date_ of Henrietta’s death. Mr. Murray wrote me of the fact without mentioning the date. By the way I should like a picture of Borrow’s birthplace at Dumpling Green; I have the one given in “The Sphere” but cannot lay my hands on it. Could I trouble you further for the title of the best modern Welsh-English Dictionary—not Pughe’s—and a Grammar with Exercises, and of whom it could be ordered. Your letter is very valuable to me and I prize it greatly.

Yours very truly, W. I. KNAPP.

_T. C. Cantrill_, _Esq._

As neither of us saw any prospect of following Borrow’s route beyond St. David’s, we had refrained from troubling Dr. Knapp for details of that part of the journey.

With Dr. Knapp’s transcript in our hands we have traversed on foot much of Borrow’s route, and made personal enquiries of some of the older inhabitants, and, in some cases, of descendants of Borrow’s informants, in an attempt to rescue from oblivion some particulars of the places visited and the characters encountered by Borrow in 1857; and now, since the Note Book appears to have left Europe for a transatlantic home, it seems desirable to publish so much of the transcript as is available, together with our comments.

Apart from the usual Borrovian disregard for accuracy as to distances, directions, and orthography of place-names, the journal is remarkably straightforward, and the task of identifying the un-named localities a light one. In his passage of Milford Haven, however, it is difficult to follow Borrow, as we have pointed out. Nor perhaps shall we ever know now how he got to Laugharne, where the notes commence abruptly at an un-named inn. Presumably he availed himself of the railway, which was open at that date and would bring him to St. Clears, five miles from his starting-point.

One wonders how much the world has lost by Borrow’s neglect to incorporate the experiences of 1857 in a volume similar to _Wild Wales_, but there is no doubt that the impressions he gathered were brought to bear on that work, which was not published till 1862.

Once again, ten years later, Borrow made an expedition into Wales, though of this journey the sole evidence appears to be a note book, among the Borrow MS. scheduled by Dr. Knapp, {162} of a tour in Western Wales in April, 1867.

The following is the transcript of the 1857 note book as received from Dr. Knapp (except that several of his comments, chiefly orthographical and now superfluous, are dropped); of the insertions in square brackets, some are Dr. Knapp’s, some are our own; for the notes, we alone are responsible:—

[August 23rd, Laugharne].—Sunday morning. Brilliant day. Paid moderate bill for good accommodation. The landlady said she hoped she sh’ld see me there again. {163a} The bridge. Wooded dell. {163b} Took the hill route to Tenby, turning to the left. Beautiful scenery between the two high wooded banks, road rapidly descending.

The little place, Plasholt. {163c} The child of the Church of England whose mother was at church. Soon found myself on level land and a good road; denes {163d} and moory lands between me and the sea, bounded by high banks of sand. Wooded hills on my right with here and there a farm house upon them or at their foot. Dreadful heat—sought refuge in a meadow with a high hedge to the road. Pursued my way along the road for several miles—beautiful gentleman’s seat {163e} under the hill at a little way from the road. Came to a little farm house close by the road. The woman and cows—asked for water. The woman not civil till I had given her a penny. The Burrows—rabbits—view.

Pendeane [Pendine], “Head of the Denes”. The man, son of Cornish boatswain. The public house on the shore {163f}—company. The kind of flush farmer {164a} who had been to Australia and who said the Chinese got all the pretty girls—the lone village on the top of the hill {164b}—the church. The old woman of the Church of England reading her English Bible by the wayside. Over burning hills.

Marrows [Marros]. The English village. “Mr. Morgan holds another parish where he preaches in Welsh.” {164c} Presently very near view of the sea on my left, seemingly a bay. Coast stretching to the South—headlands to the East. {164d}

The English musicians, one of which [_sic_] was a harper, by the road side. Noble prospect of bay {164e} whilst descending the hill—the scene very much like Douglas Bay.

After descending hill, crossed a little foot bridge {164f} over a kind of pebble way, {164g} then on the sea shore and in Pembrokeshire. Discourse with men who sat on beach. Puzzled them by telling them that the name of the bridge, which it seems had no name, should be Pont y Terfyn.{164h} I observed that one of them, a young man, instantly jotted the words down in a book. They both spoke Welsh and were out of Carmarthenshire. Presently left shore and, after ascending and descending a hill or two by a circuitous route, soaked with perspiration and almost exhausted I reached Saundersfoot {164i}—Picton Arms. {164j} Kind good humoured honest woman who apologized for the indifferent accommodation of the house, by saying that S. was a country place and that they were Welsh.

[August] 24th, [Monday].—Breakfast. Burning morning. Bathed in the sea beyond the little pier, on sandy beach with rocks here and there—water shallow, tide going out—waded some way—then swam—dived at last in water between seven and eight foot—rock and sand at bottom, deep—strolled up hill after dressing—the shaft of deserted mine.

Saundersfoot is a small straggling place on the bottom and declivity of a hill—there is a pier, coal works, and tramway. There is a great rise and fall of tide here, sometimes thirty feet. At the end of the headland to the South-East is a strange rock, which can be reached at low water, called the Monk’s Rock. {165a} Written on the pier at Saundersfoot. The coast strikingly resembles the scenery about Douglas; but Saundersfoot cannot be compared with Douglas, pier exceedingly rude, very narrow, entrance at N. into bason quite dry at low tide. High and strong wall to the East and cliff to the S.

I was very much fatigued from the journey of the previous day. Laugharne is only 12 miles from S.F. but I shall never forget the heat of the weather—it was truly horrible. The Australian Welshman said that the heat of Australia was nothing to it.

[August] 25th, [Tuesday].—After breakfast started from Saundersfoot after paying bill which was very moderate, the dear good landlady apologizing for my indifferent accommodation though it had been excellent. Written at the top of St. Margaret’s Rock, Tenby. {165b} In Tenby Castle.

About 5 miles from Tenby, St. Florence. Beautiful girl with donkey. No Welsh spoken in the parish.

Halfway House. Manbedring parish {166a}—bason of water.

Llanfar {166b}—singular village 2 m. from Pembroke. Handsome girls in singular dress, milking cows in the street—some good-looking houses—church with tall thin spire.

Pembroke—mean entrance—dull, lifeless, town—fine castle towards the end. Lion Inn. {166c}

Pembroke Castle—written in the birth-room of Henry VIIth.

Patters Barracks, {166d} firing. Difficulties of crossing water. Walk to Milford—Llan Stadwell—returned. {166e} Drunkard by the road’s side. “This is my residence, Sir,” but never asked me in. Soldiers with deserters.

[August] 26th, [Wednesday].—Milford Haven—glorious bay, but the sun so hot and dazzling as nearly to deprive me of my senses.

Stanton {166f}—the same peculiarly thin kind of spire which I had seen at Llanfar.

Johnston—village—no Welsh.

Haverfordwest—little river—bridge; {167a} steep ascent {167b}—sounds of music—young fellows playing—steep descent—strange town—Castle Inn. H.W. in Welsh Hool-fordd.

[August] 27th, Thursday.—Burning day as usual. Breakfasted on tea, eggs, and soup. Went up to the Castle. St. Mary’s Church—river—bridge—toll—The two bridge keepers—River Dun Cledi {167c}—runs into Milford haven—exceedingly deep in some parts—would swallow up the largest ship ever built {167d}—people in general dislike and despise the Welsh.

Started for St. David’s. Course S.W. {167e} After walking about 2 m. crossed Pelkham Bridge {167f}—it separates St. Martin’s from Camrwyn {167g} parish, as a woman told me who was carrying a pipkin in which were some potatoes in water but not boiled. In her other hand she had a dried herring. She said she had lived in the parish all her life and could speak no Welsh, but that there were some people within it who could speak it. Rested against a shady bank, {167h} very thirsty and my hurt foot very sore. She told me that the mountains to the N. were called by various names. One the [Clo—?] mountain. {167i} The old inn {167j}—the blind woman. {167k} Arrival of the odd-looking man and the two women I had passed on the road. The collier [on] {168a} the ass gives me the real history of Bosvile. Written in Roche Castle, a kind of oblong tower built on the rock—there is a rock within it, a huge crag standing towards the East in what was perhaps once a door. It turned out to be a chapel. {168b}

The castle is call’d in Welsh Castel y Garn, a translation of Roche. The girl and water—B---? (Nanny) Dallas. {168c} Dialogue with the Baptist {168d} who was mending the roads.

Splendid view of sea—isolated rocks to the South. Sir las {168e} headlands stretching S. Descent to the shore. New Gall Bridge {168f}. The collier’s wife. Jemmy Remaunt {168g} was the name of man on the ass. Her own husband goes to work by the shore. The ascent round the hill. Distant view of Roche Castle. The Welshers, the little village {168h}—all looking down on the valley appropriately called Y Cwm. Dialogue with tall man Merddyn? {168i}—The Dim o Clywed.

Solva, &c. {168j}

St. David’s. Commercial Inn. {169a}

[August] 28th, Friday. St. David’s.

[August] 29th, Saturday. Started for Fishguard or Aber Gwayn. {169b} Abereiddy—Matrice {169c}—came at last to Fishguard upon the coast. Commercial Inn.

[August] 30th, Sunday. Fishguard to Newport—the public house—the old good humoured talkative landlady. Gin and water—Bayvil parish—Aber Tafi {169d} on the left—broad and beautiful bridge. Cardigan Inn—the 3 com. trav.—Recd letters from wife.

[August] 31st. Burning day. Stopped within, the greater part of it—felt unwell—cholera pains.

Sept. 1st. To Llechrhyd, thence to Kilgerran Castle and back to Ll.—Pont Kennarth. New Castle Emlyn. Salutation Inn. Rain during the night.

Sept. 2nd. To Lampeter Inn.

Sept. 3rd. Lampeter to Llandewy Brevi {169e}. [Dr. Knapp here adds “the rest impossible; all mts. and obscure places not on maps”].

Sept. 5th. To Builth.

Sept. 6th. Start from Builth for Presteyne (Sunday). Radnorshire Arms. Asked waiting maid if Presteign was in Wales—“No,” she replied. “Is it in Hereford, then?” “No, Sir, in Radnorshire”.

* * * * *

[Paris, 26 Aug. 1908. Deciphered from rubbed notes in _pencil_ made 51 yrs. ago—a full 8 days’ hard work. K. aet. 73.]

* * * * *

The transcript enables us to make a correction in the Itinerary as given in the _Life_. Borrow is there said to have walked, on Sept. 3rd, from Lampeter to Builth. This should read “Lampeter to Llanddewi Brefi.” Where he slept on the night of Sept. 4th we are unfortunately left to conjecture, for it is just here that Dr. Knapp was overcome by the difficulties of transcription and by want of access to large-scale maps, as he admits in his letter. We may, however, hazard a guess that, unless Borrow got hopelessly out of his way, he slept on the 4th at Abergwessin, about half-way between Llanddewi Brefi and Builth. On the 5th he reached Builth, and on the 6th he accomplished a matter of twenty-eight miles from Builth to Mortimer’s Cross (alluded to in chap. 36 of _Wild Wales_)—not a bad day for a man of fifty-four! Beyond this point, however, all we know is that on the 17th he was at Shrewsbury, and on Oct. 5th at Leighton, Uppington and Donnington (all in the neighbourhood of the county town) looking up traces of Goronwy Owen.

And so we leave him. Some day, perhaps, some enthusiast will publish a transcript of the remainder of Borrow’s Note Book of 1857, and also, perhaps, that of 1867, when we may have a further opportunity of following still more closely the tracks of Lavengro across the heart of wildest Wales.


{160a} “Life, Writings, and Correspondence of George Borrow”, by W. I. Knapp, 1899, vol. ii, pp. 184–5.

{160b} Shortly before his death, Dr. Knapp, in a letter (27 Aug. 1908) to the Secretary of the Gypsy Lore Society, thus alluded to this correspondence:—“I have just sent off a bulky parcel that cost me _three weeks_ to write, containing the transcription of one of Borrow’s Note Books of 1857.” See _Journal_, _Gypsy Lore Soc._, New Series, vol. ii, (Jan. 1909), p. 196.

{162} _Life_; vol. ii, p. 381,

{163a} It is difficult to locate the Inn at Laugharne, but from the numerous enquiries we made, it is possible it was the house kept by a Mrs. Brown, and still known as Brown’s Hotel.

{163b} The bridge and wooded dell. The latter divides the town into two halves.

{163c} Plashett.

{163d} Dene or Dean.—Borrow was doubtless well acquainted with this word in the place-names North Denes and South Denes, at Yarmouth, where the term is applied to the sandy waste flats north and south of the town.

{163e} Llanmiloe, the residence of Mr. Morgan Jones.

{163f} The Spring Well Inn, kept in 1857 by a man named Saer.

{164a} Possibly a man named Phillips, a native of Saundersfoot.

{164b} The original Pendine, grouped about the church. The houses near the shore are probably later additions, in part due to the attractions of Pendine as a summer-resort.

{164c} Mr. Morgan’s other parish was Cyffic, near Whitland.

{164d} Borrow undoubtedly included the Island of Caldy as one of the headlands.

{164e} Saundersfoot Bay.—Borrow makes several allusions to Douglas. He stayed there in 1855. The scene in descending the hill from Marros to the shore at Amroth is indeed a noble one, and for picturesque beauty and charm of colour the view can have few equals.

{164f} Now superseded by a cart-bridge.

{164g} A storm-beach.

{164h} Pont-y-terfyn: the bridge of the boundary. The little stream crossed by the bridge divides Carmarthenshire from Pembrokeshire.

{164i} Borrow does not mention Amroth. Possibly the omission was due to the state of the tide which, if near high-water, would keep him close up to the storm-beach, and so curtail his view. This is corroborated by the fact that he proceeded to Saundersfoot by road. Had he been able to walk along the shore, he would have materially shortened his journey.

{164j} Picton Castle Hotel, kept in 1857 by a Mrs. Rees. The Inn is now named Hean Castle Hotel.

{165a} Monkstone.

{165b} St. Catherine’s Rock. Borrow evidently confused this with St. Margaret’s Island, off Caldy Island. The fort which now occupies the top of St. Catherine’s Rock was not built till 1868.

{166a} Presumably Manorbier parish. We have not identified the “half-way house”.

{166b} Lamphey.—Borrow probably thought the name to be a corruption of Llanfair (St. Mary’s). The name is a corruption of Llanffydd (St. Faith’s).

{166c} The proprietor of the Lion Inn in 1857 was a Mr. Jones. There is no record of Borrow’s visit, nor is there at the lodge of Pembroke Castle.

{166d} Pater battery (pronounced “Patter”), near Pembroke Dock. Borrow appears to have crossed Milford Haven by boat (probably from Hobb’s Point) to Neyland, and to have set out on foot _via_ Llanstadwell for Milford; but whether he got as far as Milford that day is doubtful.

{166e} This is ambiguous. Dr. Knapp, in his transcript, suggests in an insertion that Borrow returned to Milford. But there is no evidence that he reached Milford on the 25th, and on studying the notes we conclude that he retraced his steps to Pembroke, and stayed that night (Aug. 25th) at The Lion. Unfortunately there is no record of his visit left at Pembroke. Next day (the 26th) he probably crossed from Hobb’s Point direct to Milford, though he does not say so.

{166f} Steynton, on the road between Milford and Haverfordwest.

{167a} Merlin’s Bridge, on the outskirts of Haverfordwest.

{167b} Merlin’s Hill.

{167c} River Daucleddau. The river at Haverfordwest is the Western Cleddau; it joins the Eastern Cleddau about six miles below the town. Both rivers then become known as Daucleddau or the two Cleddaus.

{167d} Borrow means Milford Haven; the swallowing capacities of the Western Cleddau are small.

{167e} North-west.

{167f} Pelcomb Bridge.

{167g} Camrose parish.

{167h} Appropriately known as Tinker’s Back.

{167i} Dr. Knapp was unable to decipher this word. He remarks in a note that the pencillings are much rubbed and almost illegible. We think, however, that the word should be Plumstone, a lofty hill which Borrow would see just before he crossed Pelcomb Bridge.

{167j} This was a low thatched cottage on the St. David’s road, half-way up Keeston Hill. A few years ago it was demolished, and a new and more commodious building known as the Hill Arms erected on its site.

{167k} The old inn was kept by the blind woman, whose name was Mrs. Lloyd. Many stories are related of her wonderful cleverness in managing her business, and it is said that no customer was ever able to cheat her with a bad coin. Her blindness was the result of an attack of small-pox when twelve years of age.

{168a} Dr. Knapp’s insertion.

{168b} It is doubtful if there was a chapel; no one remembers it.

{168c} Nanny Dallas is a mistake. No such name is remembered by the oldest inhabitants, and it seems certain that the woman Borrow met was Nanny Lawless, who lived at Simpson a short distance away.

{168d} Evan Rees, of Summerhill (a mile south-east of Roch).

{168e} Sger-lâs and Sger-ddu, two isolated rocky islets off Solva Harbour. The headlands are the numerous prominences which jut out along the north shore of St. Bride’s Bay.

{168f} Newgale Bridge.

{168g} Jemmy Raymond. “Remaunt” is the local pronunciation. Jemmy and his ass appear to have been two well-known figures in Roch 30 or 40 years ago; the former died about the year 1886.

{168h} Pen-y-cwm.

{168i} Davies the carpenter was undoubtedly the man; he was noted for his stature. Dim-yn-clywed—deaf.

{168j} Dr. Knapp here says “descriptions omitted.” Up to this point they are complete, but from here onward only a selection has been transcribed by him.

{169a} The inn is now a private residence.

{169b} Aber-Gwaen.

{169c} Mathry.

{169d} Aber-Teifi, _i.e._, Cardigan.

{169e} Borrow alludes to his traverse of this region in a passage in _Wild Wales_ (chap. 93), where he says that “long subsequently” (to 1854) he found that these parts of Breconshire and Carmarthenshire contain some of the wildest solitudes and most romantic scenery in Wales. The “long subsequently,” however, was really not quite three years!