Merionethshire - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
MERIONETHSHIRE, a maritime county of North Wales, bounded on the west by the bay of Cardigan, being that part of the Irish Sea which separates the two great promontories of North and South Wales; on the north-west by Carnarvonshire; on the north and north-east by Denbighshire; on the east and south-east by Montgomeryshire; and on the south by Cardiganshire, and the estuary of the river Dovey, or Dyvi. It extends from 52° 31' to 53° 2' (N. Lat.), and from 3° 20' to 4° 28' (W. Lon.); and includes an area, according to Evans' map of North Wales, of 430,000 statute acres, or upwards of 670 square miles. Within its limits are 8480 houses inhabited, 546 uninhabited, and 75 in the course of erection; the population is 39,332, of whom 19,279 are males, and 20,053 females. The annual value of real property assessed to the property and income tax, for the year ending April 1843, was as follows: lands, £108,237; houses, £31,231; tithes, £3189; quarries, £9729; mines, £263; railways, or tramways, £600; other property, not comprised in the foregoing, £416: total value, £153,665.
The county derives its name, in Welsh written Merionydd, Meirionydd, and Meirion, from a cantrev of ancient Wales, called Meirion, which was incorporated with it, at its southern extremity, on the settlement of its present limits in the reign of Henry VIII., and which gave name to the province of Meirionydd. This cantrev received its appellation from its having been the portion of Meirion, grandson of Cunedda; the latter, a prince of North Britain, came into North Wales in the fifth century, to rescue it from some Irish invaders, and, having succeeded in his enterprise, divided the recovered territory among his sons and grandsons. Merioneth is the only county of North Wales which retains its ancient name; with the addition of the word shire.
In the time of Cæsar, the present county formed part of the territory of the Ordovices; and after the Roman conquest it was included in the district Mervinia, a sub-division of the great province of Britannia Secunda. The Roman station Heriri Mons is placed by Stukeley near Bala, in the county, but by others it is thought to have been situated at Tommen-y-Mûr, near Festiniog. Caer Gai, in the vicinity of Llanuwchyllyn, near Bala; and Pennal, on the southern border of the county, near Machynlleth in Montgomeryshire, are also considered to have been the sites of Roman settlements. The Via Occidentalis ran the whole length of the county, from south to north, entering it from the station Loventium, in Cardiganshire, and passing by the large encampment at Pennal, and the station Heriri Mons, to Segontium, on the shore of the Menai. A branch of the southern Watling-street also traversed it from the station Mediolanum, in Montgomeryshire, by Caer Gai, near Bala, to the Via Occidentalis at Heriri Mons. In the division made by Roderic the Great, this county was included in the kingdom of Aberfraw, or North Wales, excepting only the eastern and north-eastern parts of it, forming the ancient cantrevs of Mowddwy, Edeyrnion, and Glyndyvrdwy, and part of that of Dinmael, which belonged to the kingdom of Powys.
Though sometimes the scene of internal struggles, Merionethshire, from its remote and almost inaccessible situation, in the wars of the ancient Britons with the Saxons; Danes, and Normans, was never the scene of action until near the extinction of Welsh independence. Henry II., having assembled the choicest troops from every part of his extensive dominions, in the year 1165, entered the Welsh territory at Oswestry, while the power of all Wales was collected at Corwen, in this county, to oppose him. By cutting down the woods in his progress, to prevent surprise, notwithstanding some opposition which he met with from detached parties of the Welsh soldiery, Henry advanced to the Berwyn mountain, at the north-eastern extremity of Merionethshire, where he pitched his camp in order to refresh his forces. The English were stationed on the acclivity of the hills, and the Welsh, presenting a dark and formidable front, were posted on the summit of the opposite mountains, each army appearing unwilling to commence the attack: but the situation of the English monarch soon became critical, for the Welsh, watching every movement, and neglecting no opportunity of intercepting his supplies, reduced his army to the utmost distress for want of provisions and forage. These difficulties were still further increased by sudden and heavy rains, which rendered Henry's position in such a broken and uneven country almost untenable; and at last the waters, descending from the hills in torrents, compelled him to retreat into England with great loss of men and stores.
In 1404, Harlech Castle was suddenly seized by the valiant Owain Glyndwr, on his raising the standard of revolt against the newly-acquired authority of Henry IV.; but four years after, it was retaken by an English army sent to suppress the rebellion. After the accession of Edward IV. to the throne of England, the castle, then in the possession of David ab Ievan ab Einion, a firm friend of the Lancastrians, was held for that party for several years, in spite of entreaties and menaces. Finding the governor determined to continue the resistance, the king at last sent an army against him, under the command of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who, after encountering numerous obstacles in conducting his forces through these alpine regions, at length invested the fortress, which, however, was not surrendered until after a long siege, and then only on the most honourable terms. This appears to have been the last post defended on behalf of the house of Lancaster. Soon after the close of the war, DinasMowddwy and its neighbourhood became the resort of numerous felons and outlaws, who formed themselves into desperate bands of plunderers, by one of which, Lewis Owen, of Llwyn, near Dôlgelley, Vice-Chamberlain and Baron of the Exchequer of North Wales, was openly attacked and murdered, in 1555, on his way to the assizes at Montgomery; but by the most vigorous measures this evil was at length abated. Early in the civil war of the seventeenth century, Harlech Castle was strenuously defended for the king by Sir Hugh Pennant, until, the garrison becoming mutinous, it fell into the hands of the parliamentarians: it was afterwards again in the possession of the royalists, but was finally taken, in March 1647, by a force under General Mytton, being then the only fortress in North Wales that held out for the king. Dôlgelley, having been originally garrisoned for the parliament, was besieged by a small party of royalists, who, however, were dispersed, and their leader made prisoner. Prince Rupert appears to have passed through Merionethshire, towards Oxford, in August 1644.
A small portion of this county is in the diocese of St. Asaph, the rest is in that of Bangor, and the whole is included in the province of Canterbury. It comprises the deaneries of Mowddwy, Penllyn and Edeyrnion, Ardudwy, Estimaner, and Tàlybont: the total number of parishes is thirty-six, of which twenty are rectories, five vicarages, and the rest perpetual curacies. For purposes of civil government, it is divided into the hundreds of Ardudwy, Edeyrnion, Estimaner, Penllyn, and Tàlybont and Mowddwy, which last consists of two former hundreds that were united on account of the small size of Mowddwy. It contains the market and assize towns of Bala and Dôlgelley; the market, sea-port, and bathing town of Barmouth; the market and sea-bathing town of Towyn; the sea-port and bathing town of Aberdovey; and the market-towns of Corwen, DinasMowddwy, Festiniog, and Harlech. One knight is returned to parliament for the shire, who is elected at Harlech; the polling-places are Harlech, Bala, Corwen, Dinas-Mowddwy, Dôlgelley, and Towyn. The county is included in the North Wales circuit: the Lent assizes, and the Epiphany and Midsummer quarter-sessions, are held at Bala; and the Midsummer assizes, and Easter and Michaelmas quartersessions, at Dôlgelley: the county gaol is in the vicinity of Dôlgelley; and the county houses of correction, or bridewells, are at Bala, Corwen, and Dôlgelley. It comprises the entire poor-law union of Bala, the greater part of the unions of Dôlgelley and Festiniog, and part of the unions of Corwen and Machynlleth.
Nearly the whole of the surface is occupied by wild and barren rocks and mountains; and though the mountains are not so high as those of the adjoining county of Carnarvon, yet many are very lofty, and others of less towering height are still, by their precipitous and craggy sides, rendered sublime objects. Contrasted with the gayer character of a highly cultivated country, the scenery of Merionethshire would be considered bleak and dreary; but a variety of objects, forming innumerable contrasts, render it strikingly pleasing and romantic. Besides the grandeur of its maritime views, its lofty mountains, and inaccessible crags, the enjoyment of a tour through the county is heightened by the diversified appearance of its lower hills, of several small plains, and of numerous valleys; while the whole district is interspersed with woods, lakes, rivers, torrents, cataracts, and all the varied decorations of nature in her wildest garb. From a line entering from Montgomeryshire, and running northwestward by Bwlch-y-Groes, near Aran Vowddwy, to Drws-y-Nant, between Bala and Dôlgelley, and thence across the mountains to Llyn Trywerin and Llyn Morwynion, and terminating near the head of the valley of Festiniog, the rivers descend in opposite directions, on one side eastward, and on the other westward; and a farmhouse on the line, called Pant Gwyn, is so situated that the rain which falls on the western side of the roof may be said to flow into Cardigan bay at Barmouth, and that falling on the eastern side into the Irish Sea at Chester bar. The principal streams on the western side of this parting ridge are, the Dovey, which flows south-eastward along the rich valley of Machynlleth; the Maw, which pursues its course through Ganllwyd, and is joined by the Wonion, that flows from Drws-y-Nant along the Vale of Dôlgelley, the united streams emptying themselves into the sea at Barmouth; and the Traeth Bâch, which runs westward, along the Vale of Festiniog. The principal on the opposite side is the Dee, which rises under a hill near the head of Bala lake, and passes north-eastward along the beautiful Vale of Edeyrnion, and thence eastward along the romantic Vales of Glyndyvrdwy and Llangollen. The Vale of Dovey far excels in fertility the vales of any of the other streams; a circumstance attributed by geologists to the difference in the qualities of the strata surrounding each.
The principal and most elevated chain of mountains is the Berwyn range, which, commencing in the south-eastern part of Denbighshire, forms the lofty summit of Cader Verwyn, near the northeastern extremity of this county, and stretching south-eastward, presents numerous lofty peaks, and includes the mountains called the Arans and the Arenigs. The loftiest heights of the chain are, Cader Idris, which rises with a trifurcated summit to the south of Dôlgelley, near its south-eastern extremity, and from which it makes a rapid ascent to the sea-shore at Sarn-y-Bwch; Aran Mowddwy and Aran Penllyn, to the south of Bala mere; the Arenig mountain, westward of Bala; and Cader Verwyn, above mentioned. In point of elevation, these mountains hold a middle rank between the towering peaks of Snowdon and the humbler swells of the Plinlimmon range. The height of the first above the level of the sea is 2914 feet; of the second, 2955; of Arenig, 2809; and of Cader Verwyn, 2563. The vegetable produce of the mountains is fern and furze, or gorse, upon the lower and drier outskirts; heath upon the loftier summits of argillaceous schistus, having its roots in shallow peat upon clay or rammel; and rushes, and a variety of mosses and other alpine aquatic plants, on the humid slopes and hollows, upon various depths of peat. These wastes abound with grouse, and the town of Bala, situated in the midst of them, is a place of great resort for sportsmen.
The numerous Lakes are very small, except that of Tegid, or Bala mere. This is the largest in the principality, being nearly twelve miles in circumference, and has been fathomed in various places to the depth of from fifty-five to one hundred and twenty yards: the town of Bala is situated at its northern extremity. Some of the principal of the smaller lakes are, Tàlyllyn, near the foot of Cader Idris, on the southern side of that mountain; Llyn Bodlyn and Llyn Cwm Howel, near Cors-yGedol; Raithlyn, near Trawsvynydd; Cynwch, Elider, Tecwyn Uchâ and Isâ, Llyn y Cwm Bychan, Arenig, &c. Bala mere is remarkable for a peculiar kind of fish called gwyniaid, the salmo lavaretus of Linnæus; Llyn Cwm Howel, for a deformed species of trout; and Raithlyn, for a singular variety of perch.
On the SEA-COAST are various marshes scattered along its whole extent; and the waste uninclosed sands of the Traeth Bychan, at the northern extremity of the coast of the county, occupy several thousand acres. Different embankments have been made on the land skirting this marsh, thus securing some hundreds of acres from inundation at spring tides, to which they were before liable; and the sandy estuary of the Traeth Bychan, a little to the north of it, has been wholly inclosed. The sea is thought to have made great encroachments on the shore of the county in remote ages, a supposition accredited by tradition and various existing evidences. Sarn-y-Bwch, above-mentioned, is a ridge of huge stones covered by the tides, but appearing at low water: it stretches westward into the sea, from near the mouth of the river Dysynni, in the vicinity of the church of Llangelynin. Another similar line, but of much greater extent, reaches south-westward from a point on the coast south-west of Harlech, and is called Sarn Badrig, or the "ship-breaking causeway," from the accidents which occur to vessels approaching this sunken reef unawares at full or half tides: it is about twenty-four feet broad. Sarn signifies a causeway, or pavement; and a monkish legend relates, that the way was miraculously formed by St. Patrick, to facilitate his passage between Britain and Ireland, and was therefore called Sarn Badrig. By some, these ranges are considered as the work of art, but by others merely as rocks in their natural position. By such as entertain the former opinion, Sarn-y-Bwch and Sarn Badrig, with other causeways in more southern parts of Cardigan bay, are asserted to have constituted the barrier of a rich tract of land, named Cantrev Gwaelod, or the "low-land hundred," the inundation of which is recorded in verse in a very old manuscript, called "The Black Book of Carmarthen;" the names, also, of several towns that were overwhelmed, are yet preserved in the traditions of the Welsh. This event is said to have taken place about the year 500, at the time when Gwyddno Garanhir, father of Elphin the patron of the Welsh bard Taliesin, was lord of the territory, owing to the negligence of a drunkard named Seithennin, who in the night left the sluices of the embankment open. In the sea, about seven miles west of Aberystwith in Cardiganshire, is a collection of loose stones, termed Caer Wyddno, "the fort or palace of Gwyddno;" and adjoining to it are vestiges of one of the more southern causeways or embankments of Cantrev Gwaelod. The depth of water over the whole extent of the bay of Cardigan is not great; and on the recess of the tide, stones bearing Latin inscriptions, and Roman coins of various emperors, have been found below high-water mark: in different places in the water, also, are observed prostrate trees. The truth appears to be, that the inundation swept away only a small part, and not the whole, of the land now covered by the waters of the bay, as Ptolemy the geographer, who lived in the second century, marks the promontories by which Cardigan bay is bounded, and the mouths of the rivers, in nearly the same relative situations which they occupy at present, giving the latitude and longitude of each place according to his mode of computation. Some account of the submarine forest in the bay will be found in the article on Cardiganshire. The Vale of Towyn, in the south-eastern part of Merionethshire, seems to have been restored by the sea some time after the inundation of Cantrev Gwaelod: a considerable part of it, of value only as a turbary, was drained and embanked by the exertions of the late Edward Corbet, Esq., of Ynysymaengwyn, and converted into meadows of the richest quality.
In the larger valleys, and near the sea-shore, the climate is mild; upon the mountains it is cold and tempestuous, and on some of the higher summits the snow sometimes remains until June, though in the vicinity of the sea it soon disappears, even in the depth of winter. The soils are various; those of the low lands are very fertile. The prevailing kind is peat or moss, which is found at all elevations, but of the greatest depth on levels and in hollows favourable to its production. It occurs of less depth on gentle slopes, upon clay or rammel, being such substrata as do not admit the filtration of water: this latter is generally covered with a coarse matted herbage, which characterises what is provincially called rhossy land. Till, a hungry light mould, tinged by the orange oxyde of iron, is common on the mountains. Ferny soil, or hazel mould, is frequently found on the lower hills, producing fern, broom, and the larger ulex or gorse, besides various kinds of underwood. All the smaller valleys traversed by rapid streams have a light gravelly soil, which becomes gradually more fertile in approaching its lowest levels: the light soils of the Vale of Dovey owe their superior fertility to their receiving from one side deposits from the soft shaly mountains of Montgomeryshire and Cardiganshire; while the soil of every other valley in the county is derived only from mountains of clay-slate, or of primitive siliceous substances. Free loams, well adapted for the general purposes of tillage, abound in the Vale of Edeyrnion, in the vicinity of Corwen; and lighter soils on the marine level, or semi-vale, of Ardudwy, on the western side of the county. The wastes on the sea-coast consist of extensive sands.
Before the late continental war, the quantity of land under tillage was computed at less than 14,000 acres, and the inhabitants chiefly depended upon Montgomeryshire and Denbighshire for a supply of grain, of which Bala was the principal mart; a few cargoes of rye from London and Liverpool were also brought to Barmouth. But a great and favourable change has since taken place in the agriculture of the county; and there is scarcely even an upland farm upon which a sufficient quantity of oats and barley for the consumption of the occupier is not grown. Fallowing is hardly ever practised, the common farmers considering it much too expensive and unprofitable an operation. The fields in the more elevated situations, having no other divisions than those made by low fences of sods and fragments of stone walls, cannot be brought under culture for wheat or any other winter crop, as it would be entirely devoured by sheep, which have the unlimited range of the whole farm from November until the Lent crops are sown, when they are turned out into their mountain walks. Oats are the species of corn principally cultivated. This grain is generally sown for three, and sometimes more, years successively, but with very inferior profit; after which the land is commonly sown with grasses, and depastured for five or six years, and then again brought under the same course of tillage. Various species of white oats have been in cultivation for the last half century; and the hardy black oat, which was formerly the only kind sown, is now only partially grown, in situations where the land is of inferior quality: the latter, however, is more suited to the climate, and its straw is a highly nutritious food for cattle. In the narrow valleys of Merionethshire, which, like its streams, run generally from north-east to south-west, most barley is grown on the side having the southern aspect, and oats chiefly on the opposite side; the latter side, called cîl haul, that is, "a place forsaken by the sun," having also generally a springy soil, while the former has a dry gravel and hazel mould: the inhabitants of the northern aspects have a phrase current among them, that "the shade never went to the sunshine to borrow oatmeal." Besides oats and barley, which are the most common crops, wheat is grown on the best soils, and rye on temporary inclosures of small pieces of the waste lands, which are pared and burned, and after the crop is gathered are again thrown open. In the uplands, all the kinds of grain that are there grown were formerly, in most places, cut with the reaping-hook, instead of the common and more expeditious method with scythes, which is now practised. Potatoes are every where commonly grown; in the eastern parts of the county with great care, but in the western districts, and more especially in the Vale of Ardudwy, in a more negligent manner. Fruit-trees are profitably cultivated throughout the whole of the county.
The artificial grasses are of the ordinary kinds, and are extensively cultivated: the seeds are produced in the county, with the exception of those of clover, which are generally procured from other districts. Various valuable species of grasses are indigenous, such as white clover, dog's-tail, &c. The inclosed and uninclosed grass lands, which together occupy by much the greater portion of the county, are for the most part appropriated to the rearing of lean cattle, to be sold to the graziers of richer districts, who fatten them to supply places of great consumption. In these hilly regions are also produced great quantities of butter, of which about three tons per week are sent in firkins to Chester, during the six summer months, from the neighbourhood of Bala, besides a supply to Denbigh, Holywell, and other weekly markets: some is likewise forwarded by sea to Liverpool. Much cheese is also made, but it is of a very poor quality, all the richness of the milk being extracted by the butter, and in lieu of it the curd saturated with rennet to such a deg as to render it quite spongy, and of a very strong flavour. Many of the poorer class prefer this kind of cheese, of which several tons are annually sold at the fair of Dôlgelley, in the county. It is seldom coloured with annatto.
Artificial irrigation is practised in different places, and on a more particularly extensive scale on the estate of Mr. Corbet, of Ynysymaengwyn, in the Vale of Towyn. Lime is used as a manure within a convenient distance of the Gwerclas and Havod rocks, near Corwen, the only places in Merioneth that produce white lime, and where about 50,000 bushels are burned annually. The argillaceous limestone found in different parts of it, derives its chief value as a manure from being burned with peat, the ashes of which become intermixed with the lime. Great quantities of peat ashes are applied to the land in every part of the county; and sea-thong (alga marina), and the fucus of various kinds, are gathered on the sea-coast after storms, and extensively employed as manures. The kind of plough in most common use is the old large heavy one of North Wales, the same that is still chiefly used in the counties of Anglesey and Carnarvon.
The cattle are remarkably small, and have few particularly good qualities, except their extreme hardiness, and consequent cheapness of rearing; those on the mountains are commonly black, but much less in size, and less uniform in character, than the Anglesey breed. The sheep are of a small hardy kind, peculiar to the mountains of Wales, having generally white faces and legs, and sometimes horns. The smaller weigh from seven to nine lb. per quarter, and yield a fleece of from three-quarters of a lb. to one lb. and a half; the larger weigh from nine to twelve lb. per quarter, and carry from one lb. and a half to two lb. of wool. The wool is of a very mean clothing quality, being mixed with coarse long hairs, called by the manufacturers kemps, and by the Welsh sythvlew: the breed is, however, found to be susceptible of great improvement, as is more especially seen in the flocks of different farmers in the parishes of Tàlyllyn and Llanvihangel. Hardly any sheep of other breeds have been introduced. In the county are reared great numbers of the diminutive and exceedingly hardy ponies called merlins, that obtain their whole support, during winter as well as summer, from the coarse herbage of the mountain wastes, where they breed promiscuously, and from which they are never brought down until they are three years old, and fit for sale. Those bred on the Berwyn mountains are then driven within a ring fence, and such as are considered the best are separated from the rest; the latter are again set at liberty, and the former are driven for sale at the fair held at Llanrhaiadr-yn-Mochnant. Great numbers of these spirited little animals are employed in carrying on their backs the produce of the manufacturers of the county, when purchased by salesmen; and their use is almost wholly confined to their native districts. Another breed, somewhat larger than these, and probably raised by an intermixture with the English horses, is occasionally seen; they are hardy, handsome, and exceedingly active in climbing the slippery steeps of the hills. The large heathy mountains, more particularly those of the Berwyn range, swarm with a species of bees, and on a fine day these wilds may be traversed for miles without hearing the least noise save the monotonous hum of these busy insects.
The woods were formerly very scanty, and of little value; but in modern times the native woodlands have received much attention, and extensive plantations have been made by different proprietors. The Vale of Edeyrnion, near the borders of Denbighshire and Montgomeryshire, and the vicinity of Bala, have been greatly ornamented with plantations. In other parts of the county, also, most of the vales are well wooded; and although the bleak exposure of the mountains is inimical to the growth of forest-trees, yet there are various situations and soils in which timber sometimes acquires a very large growth. Some verses in celebration of a noted oak-tree formerly growing at Ganllwyd, in the parish of Llanddwywau, and which, when felled, measured 609 cubic feet, are still sung to the harp by the peasants of the county, by whom it was held in great veneration; and many magnificent trees, produced from acorns of this monarch of the forest, are scattered in different places: some of the finest are on the Tany-Bwlch demesne. This county being, next to Carnarvonshire, the most mountainous of North Wales, its waste lands are very extensive; but most of them have been appropriated, and many of them inclosed under different acts of parliament. Some mountains are inclosed up to their very summits; but many others are quite unsusceptible of improvement: the most valuable wastes are the marshes on the sea-coast. The principal fuel of the county is peat, of which it contains great abundance, almost every farm having its appropriated turbary: such as have no commonright buy the article by the load. On the sea-shore, between Towyn and Aberdovey, is found a bed of excellent peat, which extends to an unknown distance under the waters of Cardigan bay: to arrive at this, however, it is necessary to remove several feet of sand deposited by the sea; and, owing to the saline particles contained in it, the flame soon corrodes culinary vessels exposed to its action.
The MINERAL PRODUCTIONS of the county are various, consisting chiefly of lead and copper ores, and slates; and its geology is interesting, although it has received but little illustration. To the west of a line extending from the estuary of the Dovey up the course of that river to its source, near Aran Mowddwy, thence along the stream of the Twrch from its spring to Bala mere, and from that place along the Dee to its confluence with the Trywerin, and then up the latter river to its own source and that of the Conway, the Merionethshire mountains are for the most part of the primitive siliceous kind, rugged, steep, and barren; whilst eastward of the same line they are chiefly composed of primitive argillaceous schistus. The peaks and summits of the Berwyn range, like those of the Snowdon chain, are composed of rocks of the trap formation, which are succeeded on the northwest by slates of various kinds, extending to Snowdon: argillaceous schistus also appears on the southeast of this chain, extending into South Wales. A line of dark-coloured argillaceous limestone extends from Cader Ddinmael, near Cerrig-y-Druidion, on the southern border of Denbighshire, south-westward across this county, being observable successively at the tremendous ravine called Glyn Diphwys; at Llwyn-y-Ci, near Rhiwlas; on the borders of the river Trywerin, near Llanuwchyllyn; at Llanvachreth, Braich-y-Bedw, Blaenau, Hengwrt Uchâ, Caerynwch, Minfordd near Tàlyllyn, and lastly at Bwlch Côch near Cader Idris. A narrow tract of similar limestone extends in a nearly parallel direction, on the opposite side of the Berwyn chain, being found at Rhiwarth, Bryn Melyn, Cwm Hyved, Bwlch-yGroes, and Cwm Tylyddian near Llanymowddwy, all on the eastern border of the county: some of the same kind also occurs at Rhiwaedog, near Bala. At Gwerclas, near Corwen, is a detached rock of white limestone.
The porous appearance of some of the rocks on the sides of Cader Idris has led some travellers to suppose that mountain, or at least parts of it, to be of volcanic origin; and this opinion seemed to receive strong corroboration from the existence of a large hollow, high in the mountain, now filled with water, and forming a lake overlooked by a steep cliff, greatly resembling the crater of a volcano. It is, however, now believed that no traces of volcanic matter are to be found. The upper part of the steep cliff abovementioned forms the summit of the mountain, and consists chiefly of immense columns of highly crystalline greenstone, similar to those forming the Giant's Causeway in Ireland, rising at a considerable angle from beneath a collection of broken rocks that lie between their base and the lake. The height of these cliffs is about 1100 feet, of which at least the lower half is occupied wholly by the columns of greenstone. Similar, but smaller, columns appear above, and are interstratified with slates, much resembling primitive clay-slate, lying at right angles with the columns of greenstone. The southern flank of the mountain consists chiefly of slates, lying at almost every possible angle, in different places; while on the north of the summit, between the lake at its base and the town of Dôlgelley, is an immense range of stony mountains, extending nearly from east to west, consisting chiefly of greenstone, which is in most places columnar, but in a few slaty. The profile of these rocks, in the distance, resembles steps, the intervening hollows of which are sometimes partially filled by slates. Some of the greenstone of the range incloses crystallized carbonate of lime, thus assuming the character of a porphyritic rock. In many places it is observable that the carbonate of lime has been decomposed, leaving cavities; which circumstance, together with the decomposition of the iron, forming an ingredient of the hornblende that abounds in many places, has given to the rock a cellular and rusty appearance. The peaks of the other principal summits of the Berwyn chain are similar in the general character of their geological formation to that of Cader Idris, excepting those situated eastward of Bala lake, where the hills and mountains are wholly composed of primitive schistus, that is, such as does not contain iron pyrites, or any traces of impressions of organized bodies. Shivery schistus, or shale, occurs in different parts of the county, as also do quartz, mica, and spar, in connexion with the slate strata.
The Berwyn range of mountains has hitherto been found richer in lead than in copper. Ores of the former metal and of black-jack are found in the county at Vigra or Buddugre, near Pont Ddû, in the parish of Llanaber; at Moel Isbri, in the parish of Llanelltyd; in the vicinity of Dôlgelley; at Bwlch-y-Plwm, near Traeth Mawr; at Graig Wen, near DinasMowddwy; at Melin-llyn-y-pair, in the parish of Towyn; and at Bryndinas near Dyfryn Gwyn, also in the vicinity of the last-mentioned place. In the year 1847, the lead-mines of Merionethshire produced about 310 tons of ore. A mine of sulphate of copper has been worked at Aberdovey, at the southwestern extremity of the county; and great quantities of sulphate and some carbonate of copper at the Buddugre, or Vigra, and Clogian mines, near Dôlgelley, which adjoin the second of the lead-mines above-mentioned. These copper-mines are valuable, the ores being rich, and they are worked with spirit: the matrix is semi-indurated whin, intersected by veins of quartz; and as the ores are intimately blended, as it were, in the solid substance of the rock, the success of working them was originally much more uncertain than regular-sided rake veins. A gentleman resident in Dôlgelley, learning that the ashes of the peat procured from a turbary near Dôlvrwynog, in the parish of Llanvachreth, could not be applied with advantage as a manure, suspected the cause, and by chemical tests found that they contained copper. He thereupon employed men to cut and stack the peat that produced these ashes, and constructed kilns for burning it: the ashes he shipped for Swansea, where they were made to yield excellent copper. From this circumstance it has been supposed that the surrounding mountains teem with copper-ore, which, through the medium of springs, or otherwise, had impregnated the peat of the hollows below with a solution of sulphate of copper. In the rocks in the neighbourhood of this turbary are various works for procuring copper, and vast quantities of the ore were obtained some time ago at Benglog, in the same parish. In the Berwyn range, slates for the roofing of houses and other buildings are raised at Maen Gwynedd, near Cader Verwyn; Dinas-Mowddwy; Moel Grychan, near Aberllyvni; and Peniarth Uchâv, between Cader Idris and the sea. At the Idris quarry, near Lake Arren, Minfordd, one vein alone is found to measure 1200 yards in length, and upwards of 100 in width. The quarries at Festiniog, near the north-western extremity of the county, are in a branch of the Snowdon mountains; they employ more than 1000 men and boys, and produce slates of an excellent quality, which are conveyed by a tramway of about thirteen miles to Port-Madoc, in Carnarvonshire. The great proportion of argillaceous earth in the composition of the argillaceous limestone renders it of inferior value, both as a cement and a manure, so that it is only worked on account of the absence of better materials: large quantities of the white limestone found near Corwen, are quarried and burned.
The chief manufactures are those of webs, and knit woollen stockings and socks. The former is carried on in the town of Dôlgelley, and in the surrounding country, to the distance of twelve miles, as also in the Vale of Dovey; and in these districts, almost every little farmer is a manufacturer of webs, and few cottages are without a loom. These webs, called by the London drapers Welsh plains, or cottons, are a sort of thick white cloth, made in pieces from 90 to 120 yards long, two pieces constituting a web. The same branch of trade is carried on in the western part of Montgomeryshire, and the southeastern portion of Denbigh; but the quantity produced in Dôlgelley and its neighbourhood is greater than in either of the other districts. The Dôlgelley webs may be divided into two classes; the coarser, which are three-quarters of a yard wide; and the finer, seven-eighths of a yard: these, as well as those made in the district of which Machynlleth is the centre, are indiscriminately called by the drapers strong cloth, to distinguish them from those of the Glyn district, near Oswestry, which are termed small cloth, because they are about one-eighth of a yard narrower, although of the same length. This manufacture has long prevailed in the shire of Merioneth, as appears from acts of parliament passed in the 1st and 3rd of James I., and from two orders of the Privy Council of Charles I., one to the magistrates of the county, in the year 1635, complaining that the Welsh cottons made at that time were of inferior quality to those formerly made, a circumstance injurious to the interest of the London merchants trading to France; and the other to the Lord President of the Marches, in 1637, limiting the length of the webs, and prohibiting the use of fell and lambs' wool in their manufacture; ingredients which are now found of much value, and are imported to Barmouth, in great quantities, from Leghorn, London, and Dovor. The warp is at present made of the coarse fleece wool of the country; whilst the woof is a mixture, containing about one-third, and sometimes one-half of lambs' wool. Until about the close of the last century, the only market for these webs was held weekly, on Thursday, at Shrewsbury, where they were exposed to sale in a hall belonging to the drapers' company of the town, into which no buyers but of that particular fraternity were admitted. At that period the manufacturers were exempted from the effects of the monopoly, by means of professed dealers, travelling over the country and buying the produce of their looms generally at their own houses. Within the last few years, the Dôlgelley flannel-trade has considerably declined.
The town of Bala is the centre of the stockingmanufacture, and the chief market for the sale of its produce. The boundary of the district in which it is carried on, commencing with Corwen, on the Dee, extends by Bettws into Denbighshire, where it proceeds by Yspytty-Ivan and Llanrwst, and, including the south-eastern extremity of Carnarvonshire, passes by Penmachno to Festiniog in Merionethshire, and thence by Llanuwchyllyn and Bwlch-y-Groes, along the northern side of the Berwyn hills, to its commencement at Corwen. This line comprises a mountainous tract about eighteen miles in length, and twelve in breadth. The stockings and socks are of all sizes and colours, and of various degs of fineness: the number of pairs annually sold at Bala is calculated at nearly 200,000, besides woollen gloves. The Merionethshire hosiery is universally recommended by medical practitioners, being particularly soft and warm, from the peculiar quality of the wool of which it is manufactured. Besides the native manufactures, there is a woollen-cloth factory at Dôlgelley, in which town also are dressed great quantities of native sheep and foreign lamb and kid skins, that are sold to the glovers of London, Worcester, Denbigh, and other places.
Barmouth is the chief port of the county, and its harbour has received great improvement from an embankment of stone to secure its entrance, completed in 1802, at which time a new quay was also constructed. Aberdyvi, or Aberdovey, at the mouth of the river Dovey, possesses a harbour that might also be rendered very commodious: it was almost unfrequented till of late years, but has now risen to some little importance. The principal articles of export from the county are cattle, sheep, webs, stockings, dressed skins, ores of lead and copper, poles for the collieries of South Wales, bark, slates, and butter; the chief imports are corn, lamb and kid skins from Italy and other foreign countries, and the various kinds of ordinary shop-goods.
The largest rivers are the Dee, the Maw, or Mawddach, and the Dovey, or Dyvi, which are joined by numerous mountain torrents; independently of various smaller streams in the county, flowing directly to the sea: the chief of the latter are the Dwyryd and the Dysynni. The Dee has its source a short distance above Llyn Tegid, or Bala lake, which it soon enters a little below the village of Llanuwchyllyn. Issuing from this extensive sheet of water beneath the town of Bala, it takes a north-north-eastern direction along the beautiful Vale of Edeyrnion, and afterwards an eastern course by Corwen, and along the picturesque vales of Glyndyvrdwy and Llangollen, into the south-eastern part of Denbighshire. Near the church of Llangar, a mile above Corwen, it is augmented by the Alwen, which descends along the northern border of this county from the south-west part of county Denbigh. The Maw rises in the mountains of the northern part of the county, and flows southward to the vicinity of Llanelltyd, where it is joined from the east by the Wonion. The latter stream, which is about equal in magnitude to the Maw, rises near the source of the Dee, at a place called Drws-y-Nant, and winds along a narrow valley, in a less turbulent course than is usual with rivers having a mountainous origin, passing by the town of Dôlgelley, about a mile below which it joins the Maw. The united stream then expands into the fine estuary of the Maw, stretching south-westward until within a short distance of the sea, when it turns westward to Cardigan bay, forming at its mouth the harbour of Abermaw, or, as it is now termed, Barmouth. The river Maw is navigable to within two miles of Dôlgelley. The Dovey rises at the foot of Aran Mowddwy, and flows southward along the rich vale to which it gives name, passing by the small town of Dinas-Mowddwy, a little below which, on entering the western part of Montgomeryshire, it changes its direction to south-west. Near the town of Machynlleth the Dovey becomes the southern boundary of Merionethshire; and it discharges its waters into the sea through a broad estuary at Aberdovey. The Dwyryd has its source in the mountains on the northern confines of the county, and, gradually losing its character of a mountain torrent, as it emerges into a more level district, flows in beautiful meanders along the celebrated Vale of Festiniog, and, passing beneath the rich groves of Tan-y-Bwlch Hall, falls into the estuary of Traeth Bâch, which opens into Cardigan bay, at the mouth of the inlet Traeth Mawr. Traeth Mawr, extending inland northward, forms for some distance the boundary between Merioneth and the county of Carnarvon, and receives, at its head, the torrent of the Glâslyn, up which the line of separation is further continued. The Dysynni descends in a very irregular course south-westward from the foot of Cader Idris and the lake of Tàlyllyn, and flows into the sea through a small estuary, a little to the north of Towyn.
The roads of Merionethshire, notwithstanding the vast extent of mountain wastes, have shared in the gradual improvement displayed in those of most other parts of the island during the last seventy years. Formerly, almost every valley or dale had its road winding along the bottom of it, which, at its highest extremity, ascended the mountains almost like a flight of steps; but the modern roads commence the ascent at the lower end of the vale, and attain the summit by a gradual rise along the sides of the hills that inclose it: some of the mountain passes, however, yet present great difficulties to the traveller. An abundance of hard siliceous stone is obtained from the mountain ranges, forming excellent materials for making and repairing the roads, the travelling on which is now as easy as the extreme hilly nature of the county will admit. The line from Shrewsbury to Holyhead enters the north-eastern part of the county from Llangollen in Denbighshire, passes through Corwen, and soon after quits it again for the south-western part of Denbighshire. Another road enters from Llanvair, in Montgomeryshire, and runs through Dinas-Mowddwy and Dôlgelley, and by Trawsvynydd, Tan-y-Bwlch, and Pont-Aberglâslyn, into Carnarvonshire: a branch from this, at Welshpool, reaches Bala, by way of Llanvyllin. Two roads branch from the Holyhead line, at Corwen and at Dwyryd or Druid, respectively, to Bala, whence the means of communication thus formed is continued to Dôlgelley. From the latter town an important road extends through Barmouth and Harlech, and across the Traeth Bâch sands, to Trêmadoc, in Carnarvonshire.
The relics of antiquity are interesting, more particularly those of remoter ages. On the small plain near Cors-y-Gedol, in which are situated the lakes of Bodlyn, Cwm Howel, and Irddin, are still numerous Druidical remains, forming a rare group of this class of antiquities, comprising two circles made of loose stones, one of which is about fifty-six feet in diameter, and the other of less dimensions. Half a mile southward from these, on the side of a hill, are two carneddau, or monumental heaps of stones, of extraordinary size; and to the east is a large cromlech, composed of two incumbent stones, one placed over the edge of the other, resting upon five erect stones somewhat inclined. Near this is another carnedd, whereon are two large cromlechs, the tabular stone of one of which is twelve feet long and nine broad. Four stone columns, from ten feet to twelve feet eight inches high, are situated in the vicinity of these cromlechs; three of them have fallen, but one yet retains its erect position: several cist-vaens, or stone chests, lie scattered around. Near the fifth milestone, on the road from Harlech to Barmouth, are two cromlechs, near each other, singularly situated on carneddau of loose stones. The vicinity of Harlech abounds with monumental remains, more especially such as are supposed to have been connected with the Druidical superstitions: on the steep ascent of an almost precipitous hill, and on its summit, are several circles, consisting of loose stones, some of which are single, others concentric, while others again intersect each other: the principal of them, like those of Cors-y-Gedol, comprise also upright stones, one in most cases in the centre.
Craig-y-Ddinas, a conical hill, situated near the group of Druidical ruins first described, has its summit surrounded by a vast collection of rough stones, forming rude ramparts for the defence of the small plain which it incloses. This is generally considered to have been a British fortified post, of a period as early as the Roman invasion; and on another elevated site, at a little distance, is Castell Dinas Corddin, an intrenched camp with an advanced work, supposed to be of equally remote antiquity. On the summit of a lofty rocky eminence, overlooking Nannau, the seat of Sir Robert Williames Vaughan, Bart., near Dôlgelley, is also a very ancient British post, defended by a rampart of loose stones, called Moel Ofrwm, "the hill of sacrifice."
Traces of Roman occupation are very numerous; the following are the most remarkable. Near Pennal, on the banks of the Dovey, in the vicinity of Machynlleth, is a place named Cevn Caer, "the ridge of the city," where Roman coins have been frequently found, and where are yet extensive remains of a large and strong Roman fortification. In the vicinity of Rhiw Gôch, in the parish of Trawsvynydd, are vestiges of a small fort, very singularly situated on a circular isolated rock, supposed to have been a Roman station, from the regularity of the facing stones of the remaining walls, and from the circumstance of the discovery of numerous coins and urns. Its name, Castell Prysur, signifies "a castle built in haste," which may account for the buildings being destitute of cement. In the adjacent inclosed country, in the parish of Maentwrog, is a large Roman encampment, commanding a number of passes. At the south-eastern end of the town of Bala is an extensive artificial mount, designated Tommen-y-Bala, supposed to be of Roman formation, and afterwards the site of a British fortress; and in the vicinity of Llanuwchyllyn are the remains of a Roman fort termed Caer Gai, where various coins of that people have been discovered. Many other Roman coins have been dug up near Llanbedr; at Dôlgelley; and Harlech, at which latter place has also been found a golden torques: another of these rich and elegant ornaments has been found on the mountain of Cader Idris. The Via Occidentalis, now called Sarn Helen (supposed by some to be a corruption of Sarn Lleon, or Sarn y Lleng, "the legionary way"), entering from Cardiganshire, might formerly be traced on the banks of the Dovey, near Pennal, where it communicated with the station. It may yet be traced between Dôlgelley and Trawsvynydd, at Pen-ystryd, or "the head of the street," though now covered with turf, and only perceptible in consequence of its elevation above the ground on each side. Near it are numerous tumuli. Beyond the station Heriri Mons at Tommen-y-Mûr, it must have entered the county of Carnarvon between PontAberglâslyn and Bethgelart. The branch of the southern Watling-street, already mentioned, entered Merionethshire from the vicinity of Llangynog, and passed by Trûm-y-Sarn to the Roman station at Caer Gai, near Bala, beyond which it is plainly visible, and is called Sarn hîr, or "the long causeway." Crossing the mountains by the pass termed Bwlch-y-Buarth, it proceeds to Tommen-y-Mûr.
On a mountain named Migneint, near Rhŷd-ar-Helen, within a quarter of a mile of the Sarn Helen, are some remarkable monuments, designated Beddau Gwŷr Ardudwy, "the graves of the men of Ardudwy," in which ancient division of the country they are situated. The graves are at least thirty in number, and local tradition states them to be sepulchral memorials of persons of note, slain here in a battle fought between the men of Dyfryn-Ardudwy and some of Denbighshire. In the vicinity of these graves are several circles of stones, the largest of them about fifty-two feet in diameter, as also an extensive carnedd, with two upright stones, the whole of which appear to have been surrounded by one very large circle. In a field also near the course of the Sarn Helen, in the vicinity of Trawsvynydd, is a large rude upright stone, called Llêch Idris; and near it is a stone bearing a Latin inscription, named Bedd Porws, or "Porius' grave." Close to the village of Llanbedr are two rude upright stones, of the kind styled by the Welsh meini gwŷr, or "the stones of heroes." Near Corwen was a British fortified post of more modern date than those abovementioned, termed Caer Drewyn; this encampment was occupied by the Welsh forces, at the period of the invasion of the principality by Henry II., and its site may yet be traced by a rampart of earth, situated between the church of Corwen and the village of Cynwyd. The remains of the Cistercian abbey of Cymmer, in the parish of Llanelltyd, the only religious house in the county at the time of the Reformation, form a picturesque ruin, known to the Welsh under the name of Mynachlog y Vaner, and frequently denominated Vaner Abbey. There are yet striking remains of the castle of Harlech; and at a place called Sychnant, about three or four miles from Corwen, are some remains of a mansion which belonged to the celebrated Welsh hero, Owain Glyndwr.
The principal seats are, Abergraynant, and Arthog, near Dôlgelley; Brondanw; Bryn-y-Gwîn, and Caerynwch, near Dôlgelley; Cors-y-Gedol, between Barmouth and Harlech; Dôlgûn, near Dôlgelley; Dôlvriog, near Bethgelart; Garthyngharad, near Dôlgelley; Glàn-y-Llyn; Glànwilliam, near Maentwrog; Hengwrt-Uchâ, Hengwrt, Llwyn, and Nannau, near Dôlgelley; Palê, near Bala; Peniarth; Penmaen Dovey, near Towyn; Rhagat, near Corwen; Rhiwlas; Rûg, near Corwen; Tàlgarth; Tàn-y-Bwlch Hall; Vronheulog; and Ynysymaengwyn. The better class of houses in the county are frequently built of blasted stone and schistus, much of the latter of which will bear to be regularly squared. A few modern farmyards are well planned and of good construction; but the rest are of a very mean description. In the vicinity of the schistose hills and mountains the fences are commonly walls of loose stones, built without mortar. Servants hired by the year usually commence their term of service on the twelfth of May. The common bread of the inhabitants is oatmeal cake, made by mixing oatmeal with a due proportion of lukewarm water, rolling out the dough into thin round cakes, and baking them upon iron plates suspended over the fire, commonly called bake-stones; rye bread, and bread made from muncorn, or rye and wheat blended, are also in ordinary consumption. Some of the most remarkable of the numerous waterfalls are, Rhaiadr Dôlymelynllyn, about five miles from Dôlgelley; Pistyll Cain, or "the fall of the Cayne," about two miles further distant from the same place; and Pistyll Mawddach, or "the fall of the Mawddach," in the vicinity of the latter. In the channel of the Cynvel, a tributary of the Dwyryd, rises a singular columnar rock, called Pulpit Hugh Llwyd Cynvel, or "Hugh Lloyd of Cynvel's pulpit."