One day last week, I decided
to cross over the "cob" from Portmadoc to the pleasant though straggling little
village of Penrhyndeudraeth. To the uninitiated in local
topography, the term "cob" is a word employed to denote the famous embankment
over the Traeth Mawr estuary, built at great expense (£100,000 it is said) by the late Mr.
[William Alexander] Madocks. There was a stiff north-easter blowing and sweeping
down from the snow-covered mountains of Merionethshire, as I prudently took the lower, or
carriage road, compartment of the cob.
The two Traeths run up into the mountains in a northerly
direction, in parallel lines for five or six miles and they are separated by a hilly slope
of land. On this long-tongued but nameless peninsula, is situated the village of Penrhyn
and in a snug, rocky alcove on the side of Traeth Bach is to be found (I say
"found" advisedly, because the rambler will not drop upon it by chance) Aber la.
Aber la is to be spoken as if written Abber-yah. I started
towards the end of the peninsula. Afterwards I
found myself on the road running on from Deudraeth Castle, and then there was a fine
building in front the Lodge,
with the stables adjoining, the latter being built with all the most modern improvements.
But no smoke rose from its chimneys nor was there a living thing of any kind.
appeared to be tastefully planned out by some party or parties. I opened a door which led
into the garden and a house in the centre of it. Neither man nor woman was there, only a
number of foreign water-fowl on a tiny pond, and two monkeys, which by their cries
evidently regarded me as an unwelcome intruder. The garden itself was a very fine one, the
walls of which were netted all over with fruit trees. A visit to this enchanting place
would have been much more agreeable in the earlier part of Autumn than on a piercingly
cold day in January, with icicles in abundance.
I felt myself
freezing fast. In my desperate wrath I abruptly quitted the garden, and proceeded along a
gently-sloping path anywhere, to any spot,
rather than remain in that cold, silent, and fruitless garden. I had not proceeded more
than a few yards when on turning round a small curve to the right, to my glad surprise I
espied a splendid mansion in front, and close by
on the very edge of the sea, but which the inequalities of the ground had up to the last
moment concealed from my view. I at once felt, instinctively, that this was the real Aber
la and I was right. In a few moments afterwards I found myself sitting by a bright
and glowing fire, and soon became if not absolutely warm yet a little less cold.
Aber la, then,
gentle reader, is a beautiful mansion on the shore of Traeth Bach, in Merionethshire. It
was built by the late Mr. [Henry Seymour] Westmacott at very great cost, and
with exquisite taste and judgment. It is one of the most picturesque of all the summer
residences to be found on the sea-coast of Wales.
The site has a
south-east aspect, and it is completely sheltered from the north and west winds by hills
immediately in its rear, and partly so to the east by a rocky escarpment which bulges out
a little way into the Traeth. These projecting rocks have very irregular surfaces and are
completely covered over with purple heath, gorse, and other wild shrubs. Immediately in front of the Villa and for a distance
of 200 yards or so parallel with the beach, there
is a raised terrace about twenty feet in height. This terrace with its shrubs, statuettes,
and other ornamental appendages, is one of the chief features of the place, and must have
entailed an enormous outlay as well as time and labour.
At the northern
end of the terrace is a miniature pleasure ground (also raised) bounded by perpendicular
rocks, and which abounds in cascades, water jets, romantic footpaths, and a great variety
of costly native and foreign shrubs and flowers. There is thus a mingled blending of art
and nature, and the effect is perfect. Above the merely ornamental portion of the grounds,
are situate the fruit and the kitchen gardens, the aspect of which is all which could be
desired. My informant told me that the climate was very mild (which I felt much inclined
to doubt); and as a proof he shewed me a hardy
exotic plant from New Zealand which was flourishing in the open ground. The rocks facing
the Traeth are quite perpendicular to a certain height; but on the summit and along the
sides of them there has been made a number of secluded walks of the most romantic
character, leading to elevated spots where the
best views may be had of the Villa, the Traeth, the surrounding mountains, and in one
place, of Cardigan Bay. Cold and bleak as was the day, and leafless as were the trees, I greatly enjoyed the
magnificent views from these rocks, and admired the skill of the
cunning hand which had planned out those delightful walks.
We returned to
the warm fire awaiting us, and which we poked up
with very considerable vigour and determination. I was then
"shewn over" the inside of the fairy retreat. It was a perfect "curiosity
shop" and something more than that. There was a great deal of carved work, and the
plate glass I thought was in too great an abundance. Amongst other articles of vertu I was shewn a magnificent sideboard, made at Vienna, and which gained a prize at the Great Exhibition in London, in 1851, and for
which Mr. Westmacott gave 600 guineas. In the midst of all this beauty and splendour and which had occasioned so much expense and trouble to
accumulate, I could not help feeling regret that the gentleman by whom it was all
accomplished, died just as the plans he had projected and carried out were all but
completed. Such is often the end of earthly hopes and human expectations.