There are lots of appearances of the Devil in myths and legends across the world, and the UK is no different. Being a predominantly Christian country since St Augustine was sent to the isles and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the late 6th century, the Father of Lies has given the land lots of tales and stories to intrigue and thrill. One of those particular stories comes from my old neck of the woods, about a dozen miles from the university town of Aberystwyth (Abb-er-ist-with) on the west coast of Wales, a story with the Devil from a thousand years ago.
Go to the little town of Devil’s Bridge, and you’ll find plenty of scenic walks through the woodlands to wonderful little waterfalls, and views out through the hills. Something which might strike you as odd, however, is a bridge over the river; or rather, three bridges. The top one’s for the road, and the one underneath is what it replaced. But right at the bottom, the little arched stone bridge buried deep down in the gorge, is said to have been built by the Devil himself.
The story goes a little something like this. One day long ago (some versions say the turn of the 11th century, others sooner and others earlier), an old woman found herself with a problem. Her prized cow had somehow ended up stuck on the other side of the river, and she was unable to go across to bring it back again.
It was then that the Devil, visiting Wales for the first time, appeared to the old woman. Full of charm and, the devil told the woman that he could get the cow back across the river.
“Will you?” the woman asked, for she didn’t know it was the Devil, and that he was cunning.
“Indeed I will,” said the Devil. “I shall build you a bridge across the river, over which you may go and retrieve your cow. It shall be done by the light of day, so go home and sleep and rest easy, for when dawn comes tomorrow, the bridge shall be built.”
“Thank you,” said the old woman, for she really needed that animal. “But I have nothing to pay you with.”
“Oh, I have no need of coin,” said the Devil. “I ask for a very simple fee. I request that I am allowed to keep the first living thing which crosses the bridge.”
The old woman thought for a moment before agreeing to the Devil’s conditions. “Alright,” she said. “That sounds reasonable to me.”
So the woman went home at dusk and the Devil got to work building the stone bridge across the river. But as she lay in bed that night, her dog curled up nearby, she turned the Devil’s words over in her mind. They didn’t seem to make sense to her. “Why would I go to collect my cow, when, as the first living thing crossing the bridge, I would end up having to give myself to him? That doesn’t seem right to me. I wouldn’t be able to do anything with my cow, after all.”
At dawn the next day she traveled back out to the field to see what the Devil had done. True to his word, he had built a stone bridge across the river for her, straight to her cow on the other side. “You see?” said the Devil. “I have done as I have said. Now you may go and collect you cow without owing me a penny.”
The woman took a step toward the bridge, and then another. But as the Devil was rubbing his hands together, the woman took a piece of bread out of her pocket. She whistled to her dog and then threw the bread as hard as she could across the river. The Devil cursed and screamed as the dog scampered across the bridge to get the bread, and became the first living thing across the bridge.
The Devil, upset at having been tricked by an old woman, took the dog and vanished, never to return to Wales for shame.
It isn’t the scariest story in the world, but like most old folk tales it isn’t designed to be; it is here to teach a lesson. That some things are too good to be true, and we must be constantly on guard and aware in order to make sure we don’t fall prey to those who would take advantage of us. So if you’re ever in that particular neck of the woods, how about a trip to see a bridge built by the Devil himself? Enjoy the walks, see the monument, and remember that you should never be too trusting.
If you want more Welsh myths and legends, my article on the wailing cyhyraeth can also be found on HorrorAddicts.net.
Article by Kieran Judge