Thursday 21 January 2016


Then came the wonder of topping up the panniers with water! How I hoped the fireman would get wet! Then I glimpsed the furnace deep in the belly of the cab. “There’s two dragons fighting in there,” said my Dad. 
Soon we were on board and the train was rattling down towards the sea.
“What did you mean, Dad, two dragons?”
“It’s the prophecy of Merlin, boy.”
Vortigern, King of Britain was defeated by the Saxons so he fled to Wales and began to build a castle. Every day he built a wall, but next day it would always fall down. The king asked his advisors what to do. They told him to find a fatherless boy, kill him, and then mix his blood with the mortar. Then the wall would not collapse.
Then the advisors said, “We know such a boy, his name is Merlin.”
So they found Merlin and brought him to the king. But then Merlin boldly spoke to Vortigern. Merlin knew they wanted to kill him because they were scared of his magic and he told the king.
Then Merlin said, “King, I know why your walls fall down. They are not built on a good foundation. There, under the ground, is a lake. Under the lake are two sleeping dragons – one red dragon, one white. The walls collapse because they trap the dragons underneath. The dragons fight each other, as they fight the ground trembles and your walls fall down.”
So they cleared away the stone and everything Merlin said was true. The dragons woke up, came out of the hole and fought one another. At first it seemed the red dragon was winning, but then the white dragon won.”
Then Merlin said “What it means is this. The red dragon represents the Britons; the white dragon is the Saxons.  At first the Boar of Cornwall will defeat the Saxons, but eventually they will return to rule Britain.”
“Who is the Boar of Cornwall?”asked Vortigern.
“King Arthur, said Merlin, “and six of his descendants will rule before the Saxons return.”
Then, with the dragons gone, Vortigern finished his castle, and he named it Dinas Emrys, because Emrys was Merlin’s other name.”
“Crumbs,” I said, did it all come true?”
“Every word, boy, every word. First the Saxons came back, then the Normans, then the English”
“Could no one fight them?”
“There was one man: Owain Glyndwr.”
“The man the engine was named after!”
Owain Glyndwr! At Pennal on the River Dovey he drew up the very first declaration of Welsh independence. He fought the invaders. He swooped down from the misty hills and gave them what for. Also he was a master of disguise: they never knew when or where he would attack. And you know, boy, there is no record of him ever dying. Some say he’s still out there in the hills, hiding in the mist, waiting for the right moment to overthrow the invaders.
And the old prophecies foretell the last battle will be at Cors Fochno! On that day, when ferns are brown, when holly is red, with whetted axes and blood-red spear, our enemies will be hurled like pigs into the marsh!

On the bus back to Borth I fell asleep dreaming of Dragons and Devils. A fearless warrior stood guard.

Tuesday 12 January 2016


It was a major expedition: the bus to Aberystwyth, then out onto the platform of the Vale of Rheidol narrow gauge railway, a wicker picnic basket balanced and lugged all the way, and me uncomfortably dressed in best black shoes and cardigan just in case anyone should notice.
But this fretful process was forgotten in an instant as the engine arrived. There is something magic about narrow gauge steam railways. Some people never understand, but small boys instinctively are drawn to such things and many, mercifully, manage not to grow up.
I was entranced by the engine, a pannier tank called Owain Glyndwr. The coaches were, somehow, my size and I felt blissfully at home. As the train coughed, sneezed and rattled up the Vale of Rheidol I was being transported to another world.
At Devil’s Bridge the fit and wealthy strode off to pay their fee and view the picturesque falls. We sat on a station bench, ate our sandwiches, drank lemon squash and waited for the return train.
“Why is it called Devil’s Bridge?” I asked.
Once there was an old lady who had a little Jack Russell terrier dog. She sold bara brith in the market. One afternoon she and her dog were coming home from market, but she found that a great flood had carried away the bridge over the River Rheidol and she could not get home.
Then Devil appeared. He was always on the lookout to cause mischief.  He offered to build a new bridge in exchange for the first soul to cross it. The old lady agreed and the Devil worked all night to build a new stone bridge.

In the morning the bridge was complete and the Devil waited for the old woman to cross. But then the old lady threw a piece of bara brith over the bridge and her little dog ran across to get it. The Devil was outraged, for he had wanted a human soul, not that of a Jack Russell terrier, that would snap and bite all his imps. But he had been outwitted, and the Devil’s Bridge is there to this very day.