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The Devils Bridge

There are three bridges over this part of the Mynach Gorge, each one built successively over the others, as they needed to be improved for traffic. The lowest of the bridges dating from the 11th century is the original one and is associated with a Devil legend that is common in Britain with minor variations from place to place.

A woman and a cow got stuck on one side of the gorge unable to cross over. The Devil appeared and said that he would build a bridge over the gorge in exchange for the soul of the first living creature to cross it. The Devil finished the bridge and waited in anticipation for the first thing to cross it. The woman cunningly threw a piece of bread across the bridge and her dog ran after it, meaning the Devil had to be satisfied with the soul of a dog.

I would speculate that this legend derives from a foundation sacrifice on the old bridge; it has not yet been proved but sacrifices were carried out as a part of ancient building procedure. Other sacrifices included those at churchyards, where a dog was sacrificed as the first burial so that its spirit would guard the churchyard. This may have led to the legend of the churchyard black dog. It is interesting to note that some bridges with this legend are also said to be haunted by a black dog.

Devils Bridge is an amazing place to visit as the bridge crosses a deep narrow gorge with a very fast flowing river.  Paths are laid out with with some steps that enable  you to get unique views of site.

See Also: Devil's Bridge Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria

Directions: Reached from the A4120 at Mynach

Image Copyright: 
Alison Topham

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Ian Topham
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Re: The Devils Bridge

Before visiting Devils Bridge I had seen many photographs of it.  However I never truly appreciated the depth of the chasm which it crosses.  I hope the above video we took illustrates the exactly what an engineering feat this must have been for medieval bridge builders. 

This bridge may have formed part pilgrimage route and I wonder whether this may have had something to do with the Devil legend being associated with it.

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Ian Topham
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Re: The Devils Bridge

The Welsh Fairy Book (1908) by W. Jenkyn Thomas

One day in the olden time, old Megan of Llandunach stood by the side of the river Mynach feeling very sorry for herself.

The Mynach was in flood, and roared down the wooded dingle in five successive falls, tumbling over three hundred feet in less than no time. Just below the place where Megan was standing, there was a great cauldron in which the water whirled, boiled, and hissed as if troubled by some evil spirit. From the cauldron the river rushed and swirled down a narrow, deep ravine, and if the old woman had had an eye for the beauties of nature, the sight of the seething pot and the long shadowy cleft would have made her feel joyous rather than sorrowful.

But Megan at this time cared for none of these things, because her one and only cow was on the wrong side of the ravine, and her thoughts were centered on the horned beast which was cropping the green grass carelessly just as if it made no difference what side of the river it was on. How the wrong-headed animal had got there Megan could not guess, and still less did she know how to get it back.

As there was no one else to talk to, she talked to herself. "Oh dear, what shall I do?" she said.

"What is the matter, Megan?" said a voice behind her.

She turned round and saw a man cowled like a monk and with a rosary at his belt. She had not heard anyone coming, but the noise of the waters boiling over and through the rocks, she reflected, might easily have drowned the sound of any footsteps. And in any case, she was so troubled about her cow that she could not stop to wonder how the stranger had come up.

"I am ruined," said Megan. "There is my one and only cow, the sole support of my old age, on the other side of the river, and I don't know how to get her back again. Oh dear, oh dear, I am ruined."

"Don't you worry about that," said the monk. "I'll get her back for you."

"How can you?" asked Megan, greatly surprised.

"I'll tell you," answered the stranger. "It is one of my amusements to build bridges, and if you like, I'll throw a bridge across this chasm for you."

"Well, indeed," said the old woman, "nothing would please me better. But how am I to pay you? I am sure you will want a great deal for a job like this, and I am so poor that I have no money to spare, look you, no indeed."

"I am very easily satisfied," said the monk. "Just let me have the first living thing that crosses the bridge after I have finished it, and I shall be content."

Megan agreed to this, and the monk told her to go back to her cottage and wait there until he should call for her.

Now, Megan was not half such a fool as she looked, and she had noticed, while talking to the kind and obliging stranger, that there was something rather peculiar about his foot. She had a suspicion, too, that his knees were behind instead of being in front, and while she was waiting for the summons, she thought so hard that it made her head ache.

By the time she was halloed for, she had hit upon a plan. She threw some crusts to her little dog to make him follow her, and took a loaf of bread under her shawl to the riverside.

"There's a bridge for you," said the monk, pointing proudly to a fine span bestriding the yawning chasm. And it really was something to be proud of.

"H'm, yes," said Megan, looking doubtfully at it. "Yes, it is a bridge. But is it strong?"
"Strong?" said the builder, indignantly. "Of course it is strong."

"Will it hold the weight of this loaf?" asked Megan, bringing the bread out for underneath her shawl.

The monk laughed scornfully. "Hold the weight of this loaf? Throw it on and see. Ha, ha!"
So Megan rolled the loaf right across the bridge, and the little black cur scampered after it.

"Yes, it will do," said Megan. "And, kind sir, my little dog is the first live thing to cross the bridge. You are welcome to him, and I thank you very much for all the trouble you have taken."

"Tut, the silly dog is no good to me," said the stranger, very crossly, and with that he vanished into space.

From the smell of brimstone which he had left behind him, Megan knew that, as she had suspected, it was the devil whom she had outwitted.

And this is how the Bad Man's Bridge came to be built.



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