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The Erwood Crossing

The best view of the Wye-crossing at Erwood is from the far bank, where ‘Glanyrafon’ stands overlooking the water.  Now owned by Peter & Caroline Horsburgh, this riverside house used to be known as The Boat Inn – a tin plate with that name on is still nailed to the telegraph post at the roadside – and before that Caban Twm Bach (= Little Tom’s Hut1).  In the latter incarnation it was a decrepit, thatched inn with stables and a cattle-stance. (See pictures.)

There is a sad story about The Boat Inn, and I wish I knew how true it was.  It emerged in a local newspaper in the 1930’s, but refers to much earlier times, before the first bridge across the Wye was built in 1861.  Caroline tells it well: Twm and his son owned The Boat Inn and a ferry – perhaps a heavy wooden box on a loop of rope would be a better description.  The ferry was beached near what is now the bridge, where the river is deep (#5), and three or four beasts could be fitted on it at one time.  Twm and his son probably prayed for heavy rain so the herd couldn’t wade or swim across, and one day their prayers came horribly true: the swirling water caused one of the beasts on board to panic and capsize the ferry.  The drovers on board grabbed the beasts’ tails and got pulled to land.  But Twm was drowned.

That’s the story.  So I looked through the records of three local parishes and there is just one recorded incident of drowning, but the date is not early enough and the victim is not Twm from Caban Twm Bach.  It was reputed to be a dangerous crossing, but that's as far as my knowledge went.

Then Caroline told me how 15 years ago, when they were ten and twelve, her daughters went for a morning swim in the Wye.  The younger one emerged from under water with a loud Ouch! and the elder swam down to see what had hurt her sister’s foot.  There, screwed into the bedrock, was a large eyebolt or iron ring....for a ferry; what else?

Please tell me if you have any more details of this story, or indeed any evidence that it’s untrue2.

(April 2019.  Have just given a talk at Painscastle, where the audience gave me lots of new information.  The cruelly steep hill north of Glanyrafon, they said, would not have been the drovers' - or the beasts' - preferred route.  Instead they would have walked across the "Boat Fields", due east of the inn; past The Skreen and along the bottom of Twyn-y-Garth before turning north-east to Penisarplwyf to join the Painscastle Road.  Or, of course, they may well have found their way across The Begwns and reach Rhydspence that way, missing out Painscastle altogether.)


So far the route had been across grassland, so no need to shoe the beasts.  But not far ahead are the metalled roads of England, so the shoeing stations at Painscastle and Rhydspence were the next stops.

1 Thanks to Steve Woodward for pointing out my previous mistranslation (Feb. 2019).  The hut or cabin was NOT the Boat Inn, but must have been a little shelter on the Epynt side of the Wye where Tom waited for customers.  On the Nat. Lib. Scotland 1880's 6" map the phrase Cafn Twm Bach is printed in the middle of the Wye, quite separately from The Boat Inn.


2 In October 2016 Mike Jones emailed me to say that years ago his great-aunt Ellie had sent the story of Twm Bach to the local paper.  She told Mike that Twm Bach was his x8 great-grandfather, which would put the date of the drowning -at a guess - in the first quarter of the 19C.  This is backed up by Twm Elias, who dates it, in his On the Trail of the Welsh Drovers, as 1815. 
For years I had misread Mike's email and skipped the important "x8".  Now, in Jan. 2019, I've tried to put the record straight.  Thanks, Mike! 
PS: The ferry carried on without Tom.  It was used by an angler in 1852 whose fishing trip was printed in the Hereford Gazette.

The Erwood Crossing image 1
The Erwood Crossing image 2 and...(1960's)
The Erwood Crossing image 3
...the same house...(2008)
The Erwood Crossing image 4
...with 3 different names.
The Erwood Crossing image 5
Twm's crossing-point