De eerste Devil’s Bridge werd geslagen over de kloof, ongeveer 40 m boven de snelstromende rivier Mynach. Op dit punt stort de rivier zich via vier opeenvolgende waterrvallen ruim 100 m oplaag. Deze brug zou in de 12de eeuw gebouwd zijn door de monniken van de adbij Strada Florida, door ridders van de orde van de Tempeliers of door de duivel zelf, gezien de gevaarlijke plek.
We schrijven de 12de eeuw. Er leefde een vrouw, met een hond en een koe bij de rivier de Mynach. Op een ochtend wilde de vrouw de koe melken, maar wat bleek; de koe stond ineens in het weiland aan de overkant van de rivier. Hoe de koe daar terecht is gekomen is onverklaarbaar, want een brug was er niet en van steps and stones was nog geen sprake. Verbouwereerd keek de vrouw naar de overkant, toen er een monnik verscheen. Ze legde het probleem uit en de monnik krabde zich achter de oren. “Vrouw “, sprak hij, “ik bouw vannacht een brug voor je zodat je bij de koe kunt komen”. De vrouw was zeer opgetogen. “Maar”, ging de monnik verder, “ik wil er wel wat voor terug hebben. Het eerste wezen dat gebruik maakt van de brug is voor mij”. De vrouw was allang blij en ging accoord. Zo geschiedde. De volgende dag was de brug inderdaad gereed. De monnik stond aan de overkant te wachten. Toen herinnerde de vrouw de belofte aan de monnik en realiseerde zij zich de consequentie voor het betreden van de brug. Ze riep haar hond en stuurde deze als eerste over de brug. De monnik werd woedend. “Wat voor streek lever je me nu”, schreeuwde hij uit. Op dat moment wakkerde de wind aan en de monnikskap vloog af en de duivel werd zichtbaar.
In 1753 heeft men een nieuwe brug gebouwd boven de oude, die tekenen van slijtage begon te vertonen. In 1901 werd de bovenste brug gebouwd om te kunnen voldoen aan de eisen van het moderne verkeer.
Devil’s bridge is situated in Cardiganshire, South Wales, Between Hafod and Aberystwith, and not far from the roots of the mighty Plinlimmon. This bridge is thrown across a deep rent or chasm in the rocks through which, about 118 feet below the arch, the river Mynach forces its way, and after flowing onwards for a few yards, dashes down in a succession of cataracts into a deep abyss, which is about 326 feet beneath the level of the bridge, but only partially seen from it. The opposite disrupted cliffs, at the point where the arch spans them in a very bold and picturesque manner, are not above eighteen feet asunder; they are in part covered with hardy mountain ash and other trees; but lower down they lay bare their magnificent masses of dark rock, which have been worn, fretted, and brought to a slippery-looking polish, by the constant rushing of the Mynach,–which is here rather a mountain torrent than a river. A fine safe carriage-road leading to the foot of Plinlimmon runs over the upper arch; for, as the reader will perceive in the engraving, there are two arches that span the chasm, the one over the other. The lower bridge, to which the legend made the devil stand god-father, was built in 1187, by the monks of Ystrad Flur, or Strata Florida, or Star-flower Abbey, an important house of the Cistertian order, where many of the ancient Welsh princes were buried, and the mouldering ruins of which are still to be seen in the neighborhood, at a short distance from Hafod. In those dark ages most of the monasic orders were the benefactors of mankind, and the pioneers of civilization; they were the greatest road and bridge makers then in existence; for while the warlike barons and lawless feudal chiefs found their safety and glory in inaccessible mountain fortresses and dangerous and impassable ways, it was to the interest of the monks that the faithful from all parts should be able to repair without impediment to their abbeys and churches, the shrines of which were to be enriched by popular piety, whilst their own influence was to be increased by a direct and constant communication with the people. This particular bridge, though insignificant enough as a modern work, was important and extensively useful in those days, and indeed even now it (or rather its successor) is the only direct medium of communication between those who live on the opposite sides of the long deep chasm or bed of the Mynach. After having done good service for 600 years–facilitating the friendly intercourse of man with man, and the interchange of people’s cattle, produce, and goods–after having survived the religion (as a national faith) of those who built it, and the cells and cloisters of the proud Abbey in which they lived, this old bridge showed some symptoms of weakness and decay, and consequently the new arch was built over it in 1753, the expense being borne by the county. Though the bridge and the gulf beneath it have been immensely exaggerated by certain affected tourists who cannot be emphatic without being hysterical, nor describe what nature and art have placed before them without magnifying its dimensions, and so brightening its lights here, and darkening its shades there, that scarcely any likeness to the object is left, they certainly present, when taken in connexion with one another, and whether seen from the level of the bridge, or from the chasm below, a most striking and picturesque scene, and one that is in itself worth a journey of many miles. At each end of the bridge there is a steep, rough path down the rocky sides of the chasm to some ledges hanging over the stream, where the visiter may stand almost immediately under the arch, and hear, with singular effect, “the roar of many waters,” whose headlong course is unseen, or only very partially and mysteriously revealed at one or two points of rock. The foaming waves, indeed, seem to sink into the bowels of the earth, and to see them re-appear the traveller must climb up the path and descend again into the chasm by a still rougher and indeed a somewhat dangerous path, about a hundred yards to the south-west of the bridge. A guide, who is always on the spot, and a little courage, accompanied by prudence and patience, will however carry him safely down the ravine to a broad and compact ledge of rocks, whence his eye can take in nearly the whole of this compound and really beautiful cataract, which may be dwelt upon for hours and with increasing delight, even by those who have seen the grander water-falls of Switzerland and Italy. We lay some stress upon this assertion, because too many of the flying tourists of the day run from one end of the continent to another without ever thinking of what is contained in our own beautiful native land, and because people generally are too apt to think lightly of what is near home and easy of access.
After passing through the narrow, funnel-shaped passage under the bridge, the impetuous Mynach makes four leaps or falls. The first is about forty yards southwest of the bridge, where, after roaring over a rought ridge, it is projected into a fine rocky basin at the depth of eighteen feet. Its next leap is sixty feet, and the third twenty. It then encounters rocks of prodigious size, and of the most bodly-picturesque forms, through which it rolls, dashes, roars, and hisses till it reaches the edge of a tremendous cliff,–a sheer precipice,–down the face of which it throws itself to a depth of 110 feet. Thus the falls together are 208 perpendicular feet, to which ought to be added some feet for the declivity of the three basins or pools they encounter in their descent. We have taken these admeasurements from Mr. Malkin’s description, which our own observation proved to be the most correct. After its fourth and greatest leap, the vexed Mynach–still pouring over an oblique and rock bed–rolls, as a rapid, to the bottom of a broader and more open chasm, where it joins its waters with the Rhydol, another impetuous mountain-stream that, having flowed during part of its course through a narrow chasm like that under the Devil’s Bridge, and made a fine fall a few hundred yards off, meets the Mynach nearly at a right angle. The encountering streams, particularly at the seasons when their waters are most abundant, clash and roar, rush upon and retire from each other like enemies in deadly conflict; but, after a while, becoming friendly on a better acquaintance with each other, and finding more room to move in (for the chasm expands into a fair valley and allows of a wide and level bed), they flow on, in gentle unison, like one and the same river:–
“May our hearts, like their waters, be mingled in peach.”
The inefficiency of words to describe a scene like this has been felt even by the first of poets; nor can the painter represent motion or sound, and without its headlong speed “rapid as the light,”–without its tremendous voice, roaring, howling, and hissing, all in one,–a cataract is only half a cataract, even let it be painted on canvass as huge as the mountains;–is little better than a dumb lion fastened to a stake, with his mane, tail, and paws cut off, and all his tusks extracted.
As we went down the rugged path which, in several places, lies over the face of almost perpendicular lumps of rock, where the tourist must use his hands to grasp the bushes, and his toes to support himself on any little ledge or hole, or inequality of surface, we gave ourselves time, at every good resting-place, to examine the beautiful picture in detail, pausing, as near as we could, at the foot of each successive fall; and, when at last we got below the fourth fall, we sat down on a broad shelving table of rock, close to the foaming sheet, and while the minute spray that filled the atmosphere of that deep hollow, and sparkled in it like diamonds, cooled our heated faces and hands, and refreshed the very heart within us, we gave ourselves quietly up to the enjoyment of sensations which we can only describe by calling them dreamy and delicious. A thousand little irides were to be seen in and over the sheet of falling water, and the prismatic colours, indeed, were scattered all about, and varied and changed places according to the sun’s motion, and the greater or less brilliancy of his rays. Nothing can be more absurd than some of the guide-books when they speak of “the horrors of this gloomy chasm,”–this “abyss for ever denied a ray of sun;” for there is nothing horrid in the scene, which is beautiful rather than terrific; and as for the sun’s rays, they most happily light up every part of it that wants light during a good part of the day, shining, at the very bottom of the chasm, upon the broad, grey rocks beneath the last of the falls. The light, open foliage of the trees above, and the creeping and hanging plants that decorate the rocky sides of the ravine, do not intercept the sun’s rays, but here and there separate and cool them, and give them, as it were, a most delicate light green tinge. This foliage, which is far more abundant than might be expected in so rocky a scene, is the cause of much of its beauty. Whether in descending the sides of the chasm, or in looking upwards from the bottom of it, the flittering leaves and waving and overhanging branches produce the happiest of effects and contrasts.
The path or descent to which we have alluded, and which we can recommend as being the easiest, is on the left bank of the river, and nearly under the comfortable inn called the Hafod Arms. Crossing the Devil’s Bridge, and going along the opposite side of the chasm, the visiter will find two other paths which lead down to the falls. From one of these, which lies over the bold promontory that separates the bed of the Mynach from the bed of the Rhydol, a most lovely view is obtained, the eye embracing all the four falls at once. But to reach the necessary point is, in sober truth, a laborious and even a dangerous task, as the face of the precipitous rock is there partly covered with a layer of soft, thin, rotten, slate-like stones, that break and crumble away beneath the foot.