Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, October, 1877, Vol. XX. No. 118 by Various


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Page 1

The neighborhood of Chester is as suggestive of antiquity and foreigners as
the city itself. Volumes might be written about the quaint, Dutch-like
scenery of the low rich land reclaimed from the sea; the broad, sandy
estuary of the Dee, with the square-headed peninsula, the Wirrall, which
divides this quiet river from the noisy Mersey; the Hoylake, Parkgate and
Neston fisher-folk on the sandy shores, with their queer lives, monotonous
scratching-up of mussels and cockles, a never-failing trade, their terms of
praise--"the biggest scrat," for instance, "in all the island," being the
form of commendation for the woman who can with her rake at the end of a
long pole scratch up most shellfish in a given time; the low, fertile green
pastures, the creamy cheese and the eight yearly cheese-fairs. The city
itself is the most foreign-looking in all England, and the inhabitants have
the good taste to be proud of this. The river Dee--Milton's "wizard
stream"--celebrated both by English and Welsh bards, is not seen to as much
advantage under the walls of the Roman "camp" (_castra_=Chester) as
elsewhere, but its bridges serve to supply the want of fine scenery,
especially the Old Bridge, which crosses the river just at its bend, and
whose massive pointed arches took the place, when they were first built, of
a ferry by which the city was entered at the "Ship Gate," whence now you
look over "the Cop" or high bank on the right side of the stream, and view,
as from a dike in Holland, the reclaimed land stretching eight miles beyond
Chester, though the resemblance ceases at Saltney, where behind the
iron-works tower the Welsh hills--Moel-Famman conspicuous above the
rest--that bound the Vale of Clwyd.

The Dee is more a Welsh than an English river. It rises in the bleak
mountain-region of Merionethshire, the most intensely Welsh of all
counties, above Bala Lake, which is commonly but incorrectly called its
source. Thence it flows through the Vale of Llangollen, famous in poetry,
and waters the meadows of Wynnestay, the splendid home of one of Wales's
most national representatives, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, and only beyond
that does it become English by flowing round and into Cheshire. On a very
tiny scale the Dee follows something of the course of the Rhine: three
streamlets combine to form it; these unite at the village of Llanwchllyn,
and the river flows on, a mere mountain-torrent, past an old farmhouse,
Caer-gai, lying on a desolate moor at the head of Bala Lake, and through
the lake itself, after which its scenery alternates, like the Rhine's below
Constance, between rocky gorges and flat moist meadows dotted with hamlets,
churches and towns. Bala--otherwise Lin-Jegid and Pimblemere ("Lake of the
Five Parishes")--has some traditional connection with the great British
epic, or rather with its accessories--the _Morte d'Arthur_--of which
Tennyson has availed himself in _Enid_, mentioning that Enid's gentle
ministrations soothed the wounded Geraint

As the south-west that blowing Bala Lake,
Fills all the sacred Dee.

Arthur's own home, according to Spenser, was at the source of the Dee:
Vortigern's castle was near by on the head-waters of the Conway; and "under
the foot of Rauran's mossy base" was the dwelling of old Timon, where
Merlin came and gave to his care the wonderful infant who was to become the
Christian Hercules of Britain. "Rauran" is the mountain which in Welsh is
Arran-Pon-Llin, and which with its rocky shelves overlooks the yews of
Bala's churches and the unaccustomed shade trees which the little town
boasts in its principal streets. The lake, quiet and hardly visited as it
is now, has great resources which are likely to be called upon in the
future, and a survey was made ten years ago with a view of supplying
Liverpool, Manchester, Blackburn, Birkenhead, etc. with water whenever a
fresh demand for it should arise. This would imply the building of a
breakwater at the narrow outlet of the lake, the damming up of a few
mountain passes, and the "impounding" of a tributary of the Dee below the
lake--the Tryweryn, which has an extensive drainage-area; but these works
are still only projected.

[Illustration: BALA.]

There is scarcely an English brook that has not some historical
associations, some poetical reminiscences, some attractions beyond those of
scenery. Wherever water, forest and meadow were combined, an abbey was
generally planted. Bala Lake, with its fishing-rights, once belonged to the
Cistercian abbey of Basingwerk, while the Dee just above Llangollen was the
property of the abbey of Valle Crucis, whose beautiful ruins still stand on
its banks. Before we reach them we pass by the country of the Welsh hero,
Owen Glendower, from whom are descended many of the families of this
neighborhood and others--the Vaughans, for instance; by Glendower's prison
at Corwen, and the Parliament House at Dolgelly, where he signed a treaty
with France, and where the beautiful oak carving of the roof would alone
repay a visitor for his trouble in getting there. The Dee is for the most
part wanting in striking natural features, but here and there steep rocks
enclose its foaming waters; deep banks covered with trees break the rugged
shore-line; a village, such as Llanderfel with a tumbledown bridge, lies
nestled in the valley; and coracles shoot here and there over the stream.
These primitive boats, basketwork covered with hides, or, as used now,
canvas coated with tar, are propelled by a paddle, and are much used for
netting salmon. Near Bangor the fishermen are so skilful that they
generally win in the coracle-races got up periodically by enthusiastic
revivalists of old national sports.

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