Bridges and their builders

The warriors and feudal chiefs of the olden times have left stirring names behind them; we trace their exploits with breathless interest in many a chronicle and many a legend; their memories are a spell: but what has become of the names and the memories of the less noisy workers through the middle ages, the builders of our glorious Gothic cathedrals, the collectors of our libraries, the good Samaritans of the poor, the disseminators of morality and devotion, the healers of the sick, and the benefactors of the common people in a hundred common ways, that are so unobtrusive, they are apt to escape us altogether? Where, for instance, is the record of the monk who first conceived the bold design of throwing a bridge over the deep chasm of the mountain torrent Mynach? If the utility of a design be the best test of its excellence, and the difficulties that must be overcome the most signal evidences of the architect’s skill, few men have been better entitled to remembrance: but history, busy with the doings of the illustrious great, —which, heaven knows, have been but too often little enough, had no time to waste on such matters or on such men. And we fear tradition can hardly be received as a satisfactory authority in the present case, since it assigns the enemy of souls as the author of the bridge. (Fig. 714.) The year 1187 has been supposed to be the date of the work, but all is conjecture; the only thing we can with tolerable safety state is, that we must look for its munificent and able builders in the Cistercian Abbey which has left its ruins in the neighbourhood. As a general rule, it should seem that in these early times bridges and roads for the general convenience were works about which few troubled themselves; the people had not been used to such luxuries, for one thing, and then the works involved much labour and little present fame, so they would have been left undone, but that, as usual, the monks, the civilizers, stepped in and did them themselves. The chasm in question was impassable until the bridge was built, which remained, for nearly six hundred years, the only means of communication between the opposite sides. About the middle of the last century there were discovered some symptoms of weakness and decay, when the county (Cardigan) built another bridge over it, leaving the original structure an honourable memorial of the skill and practical benevolence of Old England, and a picturesque addition to this most delightfully picturesque of scenes. An interesting description of the falls, and of the romantic scenery around, appeared in the ‘Penny Magazine’ for 1834, to which we may refer our readers. The ruins of the Cistercian Abbey are still to be seen near Hafod, a place of high reputation for its beauty, and where Johnes, the translator of Froissart, so long resided. Two difficult paths lead down from each end of the bridge to the rocky sides of the chasm, but the direct descent is lower down, nearly under the comfortable inn called the Hafod Arms. From the back windows of this house we look upon the great falls of the Rhydal, situated at the head of a rocky glen; and we hear, but cannot see, the four falls of the Mynach.