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Dinas Mawddwy, Gwynedd, is a fascinating little exemplar of Welsh life. It takes its name — as its northerly neighbour, Llanymawddwy does— from the River Mawddach. This in turn creates for its estuary the description Aber Mawddach, which has fallen into the English corruption Barmouth. The distinction they share is that from the mountain-sides against which they crouch the Dovey finds its source. Higher than Cader Idris, the Aran Fawddwy with its twin crest of Aran Benllyn holds in a deep hollow the Creiglyn Dyfi; the river coming from it in its infant state is, appropriately enough, called the Llaethnant (Milk Brook).

Dinas Mawddwy can be reached from Maliwyd on the Dolgellau road. To reach Llanymawddwy, a fork must be followed from the further end of the little town. The way to Dinas takes one through a country curiously distinct from both the sharp peaks of Snowdonia and the rounded moorland shapes that roll South of the Dovey. The hills here fall in long, steeply angled slopes set close one against the other, leaving only narrow, fissured valleys between them, and give the impression that they are all moulded to the same height. The nearest parallel in Britain is the splintered tableland in Derbyshire around Matlock. It is the kind of country that lends itself to the growth of secluded, even furtive, communities and protects their independence. The saying in surrounding parishes that Dinas has earth that is blue and air that is water may be prejudiced and defamatory, but it does insist on certain real characteristics. The mining of lead was the traditional industry of Dinas but the hewing of slate took over. And the hill-formation attracts rainfall in a remarkable way; these valleys do indeed turn their air to water on occasion, and the great peaks of the Arans, close at hand, seem to act as a magnet for mist and thunderstorm. The belief that its inhabitants are not as others are is a survival from earlier days. Even now, as Borrow noted in his time, the people around Dinas show a prevalence of bright copper tones in their hair. The folk of South Wales are dark and Mediterranean in type, some of them with the crisply curled black hair that Caesar saw among the Silures; the people of Anglesey are often fair and tall. In the central area of Powys, a man may be yellow-haired until he is twenty and then steadily darken to brown. For some reason, the pocketed hills of Mawddwy have kept reserved a people noted for their distinct coloration. They emphasized their distinctiveness by warring against all corners, and were known as a band of robbers. In the days of Henry VIII, justice determined to wipe them out, and they took their revenge by waylaying and slaughtering one of the King's judges on the high road. This dramatic incident is often referred to; the result was the suppression and final dispersal of the Red Robbers in 1555. Several explanations have been suggested for the existence of this peculiar people. One is that they were descendants of intrusive Danes or even Normans; the separate section in the church at Llanymawddwy for the red men is sometimes called to the aid of this argument. “Danes”, however, seem to have been disinclined to settle so far from the sea, and where they settled they were usually adventurous traders rather than spoilers; and the Norman attribution has little to support it. The more plausible theory is that the earlier occupants of the country, the Gaels (or Goidels, as Sir John Rhys called them, to set them apart from the later Brythonic invaders), were the direct ancestors of the men of Mawddwy. They would therefore be cousins of the red-haired Scots of Ireland and North Britain. The name Gwyddel is found in many parts of Wales; but by origin the name means a native of the soil, and it has no direct racial significance.

Today, Dinas is one of the most delightful villages of Gwynedd, and its people are neighbourly and welcoming. It is approached from the Dovey valley and offers anglers the attraction of salmon, sewin, and trout. Where the road sharply turns for Abercywarch, it has an old, unpretentious, and attractive inn, facing a few shops typical of the remoter Welsh valleys, and set into once much larger buildings with a distinctive and traditional structure. The device of the double door facing the street is much used; the door is halved, the upper part opening to allow the owner to face and talk with the caller, the lower part remaining bolted to prevent children from invading the street.

We must not leave Dinas Mawddwy without recalling the comment on itself, its neighbourhood. and its people made by Christopher Saxton, who, in the first decade of the 17th century, surveyed this part of the world and had it illustrated in a map “performed” under his directions.

“The inland part,” he says, “it so riseth with mountaines standing one by another in plumps, that as Giraldus saith, it is the roughest and most unpleasant country to see to in all Wales. For, it hath in it mountaines of a wonderfull height, yet narrow and passing sharpe at the top in manner of a needle, and those verily not scattering, heere and there one, but standing very thicke together, and so even in height that Shepheards talking together, or railing one at another on the tops of them, if haply they appoint the field to encounter and meet together, they can hardly do it from morning till night.”

The words he quotes are from the Itinerary of Wales by Gerald de Barri in the 12th century. He adds, with caution, “But let the Reeder heerein relie on Giraldus credit”. For the next set of remarks, he draws upon his own factual observation: “The inhabitants, who for the most part wholly betake themselves to breeding and feeding of cattaile, and live upon white meats, as butter, cheese, &c. . . are for stature, deere complexion, goodly feature and lineaments of body, inferiour to no Nation in Britain but they have an ill name among their neighbours, for being too forward in the wanton love of women, and that proceeding from their idleness”.

Mouthwy, as he writes it, was a well-known common, once belonging to the Prince of Powys but at last passing by marriage to the family of Mitton, from whom descended the notorious sporting squire, John Mytton rake, drunkard, hard rider to hounds, spendthrift, hero, and in the 1820s High Sheriff of Merioneth.

Nearby towns: Dolgellau, Machynlleth, Welshpool

Nearby villages: Aber Cywarch, Aberangell, Aberllefenni, Capel Arthog, Cemmaes Road, Corris, Cross Foxes, Darowen, Esgairgeiliog, Garthbeibio, Llanbrynmair, Llanelltyd, Llanfachreth, Llangadfan, Llanuwchllyn, Llanwrin, Llanymawddwy, Mallwyd, Pantperthog, Penegoes, Pennal, Tal-y-Llyn, Talerddig

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