'Like one that on a lonesome road doth walk in fear and dread…
because he knows a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread.'
The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
It was late when the farmer left the tavern in Marchwiel. Gusts of icy wind chilled his bones and stung his eyes. A fine spray of rain, like a mist, soaked his face and ran down his neck. He was tempted to turn back to the tavern with its roaring log fire where his friends were still drinking but he kept on.
'This is no night to be walking two miles home,' he muttered and pulled his collar up around his neck. The farmer hurried past the churchyard in the darkness. Gravestones, leaning like drunken sailors, beckoned but he dare not turn and look. By the time he reached the gate his eyes had grown accustomed to the dim light. He knew that going home across the fields was shorter but he hesitated; the path went past the hanging hill. He’d used the path across the fields hundreds of time before and wondered why he felt so reluctant tonight.
'It’s been raining hard all day so the fields will be sodden,' he reasoned. 'The bottom field may even be underwater,' he said to himself to settle the argument. Deciding that he didn’t want to wade through mud or land on his face in the slime, the farmer turned away from the gate and set off along the road. He walked quickly and hummed to keep his spirits up. After a while, the rain stopped and the farmer began to feel more confident.
'It won’t take that long and there’s a bottle of brandy in the dresser,' he whispered, as an inducement to himself. Someone coughed in the darkness, startling the farmer. He stopped and peered along the road. There was another cough and something large moved by the hedge. The farmer stood still and braced himself.
'Who’s there?' he cried as whoever had coughed came closer. If he was going to be robbed he would defend himself. Then he saw his attacker. It was a cow. The farmer laughed at himself for being so nervous. Cows can cough like humans. He had heard the sound many times before. The farmer walked on, past the cow and wondered how far he had gone. Soon he would need to turn along the lane that led to his farm.
'We don’t want to miss the turn. That would not be good,' he said to himself. There were more noises in the dark. Small animals scurried in the hedge. A patrolling fox, hunting for his supper, crossed the road ahead and vanished into a field. Clouds began to fill the sky, like a great weight above the land, so low that the farmer imagined he could reach up and touch them.
'Only a mile left now,' said the farmer, when he reached the lane. The first part of the lane, along Cock Bank, was clear and the farmer made good progress but, when he reached Pentre Mailyn and began to walk down the hill, something happened. The trees that grew over the lane made it impossible to see. Something moved behind the farmer. It was snuffling and disturbing the fallen leaves.
'It’s a badger rooting for worms,' the farmer told himself and, comforted by the explanation, hurried on. The gusts of wind were stronger now and shook the trees that shrouded the lane. Branches crashed together adding to the din but another noise reached the farmer’s ears. A howl so carnal and loathsome, that the farmer shuddered with fear. It was a Devil Dog, an animal that few people ever saw and lived to tell the tale. The Welsh called them the ‘Gwyllgi’ or ‘Dogs of Darkness’.
The farmer began to run. He passed the old clay pit, now filled with water and the clouds cleared for a moment. There, in the moonlight, stood a huge dog. It turned to look at the running man and the farmer saw its eyes. They were bright red. More Devil Dogs appeared. They began to follow the farmer, their paws pounding along the lane and their breath rasping with effort.
'Any moment now and they will have me,' thought the farmer and strained with every sinew to run like the wind. His legs ached and his chest pounded as he ran. He could hear the pack of dogs getting closer but dared not look back in case he tripped and fell. The dogs were almost on him when he reached the farmyard. The farmer charged across the yard and through the kitchen door. His wife was reading when, without warning, the door burst open and the farmer staggered in. He bolted the door and collapsed on the floor. His face was ashen and his eyes wide with terror.
At first no one believed the farmer’s story. Some said it was the drink. Others, that the moonlight had played tricks on the unfortunate fellow and the more unkind villagers said the farmer was a madman. They were, of course, right because the poor man had gone mad that night and never recovered his sanity. It was only when others, brave enough to venture along the lane on dark nights, heard and saw strange things that the farmer’s account of the Devil Dogs was believed.
Today the lane that the farmer had run along, is called ‘Lon Bwgan Ddu’ (Black Phantom Lane) to warn the unwary that terrible dark creatures lurk there, late at night, waiting for their next victim.