If ever a bridge could be said to reflect the history of the village within which it was built, then Pont Rhydycilgwyn over the River Clywedog at Rhewl would fit the bill wonderfully.
The bridge as seen today, crossing the modern A525 Ruthin to Denbigh road dates from 1819, but there has been a crossing here, of one sort or another for centuries. As the name would suggest, it was originally a ford, and would have served as such for an age and a day, until the growth of travel in the 18th and 19th centuries warranted a bridge.
And it has several names, this bridge of Rhewl, other than Pont Rhydycilgwyn. It is known as the Pont yr Englyn, for one, since in a wonderful smidgen of quirkiness, it has inscribed within its inner surface a poem, written in the englyn style, of course - a traditional form of short poem, in which quantitative metres are used, involving a strict counting of syllables with rigid patterns of rhyme. Each line of the poem should have a repeating pattern of consonants, and an accent known as a ‘cynghanedd’.
As such, the poem poses issues in producing an easy translation, which retains the rhyme…but of course, it was never really meant to be translated into any other language However, an effort is given below, and is to be found in Gordon Emery’s rather wonderful, ‘Curious Clwyd 2’, and does an excellent job in maintaining the meaning of the poem and something of the rhyme.
‘Blood ford bridge, truth mantle making – On bedrock
Its foundation withstand shaking
So well it will be waiting
For generations waking.’
The poem seems to be accurate, since while other bridges in the district have suffered from flood damage in the past, the Pont Rhydycilgwyn has resolutely survived. As for the author, legend tells that it was written by Twm o’r Nant of Nantglyn, the Cambrian Shakespeare, no less. It has been suggested that he was also responsible for inscribing the englyn into the bridge.
As the englyn makes plain, however, the bridge is known by another name - a rather darker, sinister name. Pont yr Afon Gwaed, roughly rendering into English as, ‘The Bridge on Blood River’ perhaps refers to the Battle of Maes Maen Cymro in 1118, in which Hywel ab Ithel of the cantrefs of Rhos and Rhufoniog fought the sons of Owain ab Edwin of Dyffryn Clwyd in what would seem to have been an extraordinarily brutal encounter - one which led to the Clywedog running red with the blood of the slain, and the fields (one of which is named Cae Gwaed) to the north of the bridge used to cremate the dead. There is also the possibility that it refers to an English Civil War skirmish, perhaps linked to the bloody business in nearby Ruthin of 1646.
And so the Pont Rhydycilgwyn lends itself to mystery. A bridge of several names, of wonder and savagery. In little Rhewl, if you please.