As has become a tradition at No Good Boyo, here to usher in the New Year is another Ghost Story of a Welsh Antiquary:
I see you are all settled with your pipes and pints. Prys-Price-Jones-Parry-Williams will set out cockles and fly agaric on the dresser in a moment. So I shall begin.
Now, I spent the Imbolg half-term in the seaside resort of Llwyngwril, in the county of M-shire. My pleasures are solitary, and the blustery coast is little troubled by hoi polloi at that time of year. One can take rubbings of lobster pots or pull the odd mussel undisturbed.
I had a little college business to attend to among the parish records of Llangelynnin Church. This tiny chapel lies half-drowned in the doleful dunes above Llwyngwril beach, a fate that the local Nonconformists attribute to the Romish practices of a former incumbent who, the records show, was in fact no more than scrupulous in matters of personal grooming.
It was while returning the weary notes of the defamed parson's successor to the ledger that I noticed a few yellowed leaves, pressed between a sermon about the wind and a tract against Whitsun dowsing.
These were no more than a fragment, dating from the middle of the last century I would hazard, but intriguing nonetheless, and I shall read them for your entertainment. Ah, Prys-Price-Jones-Parry-Williams has lighted the Calan Cottage, so let me begin.
...at the church of Llangellenen, its pitiful frame sunken in the sands. My goal was to etch the rood screen and trace a few inscriptions, but all thoughts of such trivia were banished by a curious discovery on the very edge of the cliff, where ancient gravestones made their last stand before being dashed on the rocks below.
I wandered among these near-derelict memento mori and fair tripped over what I took to be an oddly isolated clump of ivy. Closer inspection revealed a stump, the remnant of a gravestone. I tugged away at the foliage, only to be confounded by what lay beneath.
The stone was wholly bound in seaweed of a particularly tenacious genus that I had not seen before on these shores, or indeed on any others. It was brown and dessicated in appearance, yet firm, oily and unpleasantly cold to the touch. It smelled of mould, of ferment, and of something that I could not quite identify - something that lingered disagreeably in the back of my throat.
I was trying to make out the crude carving when I sensed a presence at my back. I turned to see the verger, an elderly rustic on whose spare frame a mildewed cassock sagged like rotting oilcloth.
"You were wondering who might lie there, sir?" wheezed the gnarled custodian.
"Yes. The stone rather stands out from its neighbours." We spoke in the local dialect of Welsh until, satisfied that there were no visitors nearby, we switched to English.
He pushed aside the kelp with a bradawl long enough to uncover the inscription:
Â dial dof."
"In memory of a Cave. I shall bring vengeance?" I essayed.
"Quite so, sir," nodded the verger in defiance of the chill breeze. "None knew his name, if he was ever one person or in truth any person at all," he continued. A sudden shaft of sunlight swept across the graveyard, if only to mock us with the ensuing gloom.
We made our way back to the porch, where my companion continued his tale.
It seems that there was once a flourishing trade in victuals between Cornwall and the local quarrymen of Eryri. "Our district is cursed many-fold," explained the verger. "By uncouth tongue, barbarous weather, mean industry and unpredictable gravity. But worst of all are the meagre offerings of the Welsh kitchen and the sour admonitions of the Chapel.
"A hewer of slate wishes to slake his thirst, soothe his soul and halt his hunger with meat and ale, not the thin flummery and parched tea that his shrewish bedmate delivers.
"So our enterprising Cornish cousins, whom England has tutored longer in the science of commerce, sent schooners laden with pasties, scones, cider and perry to Port-Madock and thence by pit-pony to the quarries at Llech-Wedd, Dinnorwick and yea even unto Nantlley.
"O how the sons of toil rejoiced! And nay, how their wives and the Chapel elders seethed. No one knows how it began, but wreckers lit fires here above Llwyngwril to lure the Cornish cutters onto the rocks.
"As the terrified matelots waded ashore, bearing their battered cargoes, a hellish horde of harridans would set about them with mattocks, stones and sometimes - horribile dictu! - the bones of our departed, wrenched from the rotting sod.
"Those who survived were bundled into their own barrels of cider and rolled from the cliff tops to a dreadful death.
"Those times are long gone, as are the pasties and flagons, but local people tell of a sentinel set to guard these witching peaks from the distractions of solid food and cheery potations. If the Cornishmen should return with their sinful gifts, it shall rise to wreak revenge upon them 'o'r hallt a'r heli' - from salt and brine."
"And that guardian of Cambrian virtue lies beneath this stone?" I asked, but the verger smiled thinly, shook his mottled head and stooped into the dank and darkening vestry. A strange tale, and one that I...
And here our manuscript ends. As you can imagine I was most intrigued, and enquired discreetly among the scant educated men of the parish.
The village scribe, who also dredged the wells and greased the Scold's Girdle, muttered something about a stranger long ago who had poked around on the cliffs and brought half of them down on his head.
The solicitor knew nothing, and the "physick" had lost his predecessor's records. Their silence was eloquent. I walked the cliff-top graveyard myself, and found no trace of this noisome stump and its words of dread. It had probably followed many others onto the rocks below.
It was only a week or so ago that I received a letter from Aberystwyth, from the National Library no less. My anonymous correspondent enclosed cuttings torn, I am sorry to say, from two periodicals of the last century.
One, from the Dydd newspaper of Dolgellau, had reported the death of a Mr Trelawny of Truro:
"The visitor to Llwyngwril had been staying at the Garthangharad Inn, where the landlord had reported him missing three days before the unfortunate's body was found washed up in a cave below the graveyard cliff. The magistrate, on the advice of Dr Myddfai, ruled that Mr Trelawney had lost his footing and fallen to his death."
Scrawled across the back of this clipping were the following remarks. "No one can find that cave. And there has never been a verger at Llangelynnin."
The other cutting came from The West Briton of Truro itself, and was dated some months later. After rehearsing the bare facts printed in Y Dydd, it went on:
"A beachcomber told this reporter that Mr Trelawney's body showed no signs of immersion in water. It was laid out in the cave on a cairn of bones, some of great age, in a manner suggestive of blasphemy. Our countryman's face could not easily be described. The local constable was unable to recall the exact events, as he had been 'at stool' most of the day, and no other notables would make themselves available for conjecture."
Across the back of this clipping was another inscription: "His mouth was stuffed with seaweed, and his pockets full of pies."
Ah, I see no one has touched their cockles. Then let me bid you all a Happy New Year, sure of step and easy of rest!