I did start writing an article of Roman Britain on film but it was a load of carpet bags… So here’s a short story instead.
THE LONG LOST TRAVELLING CIRCUS OF YNYS MON
In Bangor there is a shortcut from the lower to upper city, a flight of steps that gets you up to the taverns and the takeaways a few minutes faster and avoids the arduous climb of one of the steepest hills in town. At the top you find yourself midway down a narrow side street and a short walk down this street is Yr Mynydd, Bangor’s most secret and most local pub. I would not have found it myself had not the curiosity to see what lay at the opposite end of the road to that which I would usually travel got the better of me.
There, behind an old iron gate and a faded sign concealed in the overgrown hedge, is a building that has seen better days. It must have once been painted white but now where the paint remains it has begun to turn the colour of old milk, a yellowy, off white sort of colour. Damp and mould and lord knows what clings to the walls around the drainpipes giving the impression of an ugly, dilapidated and unwelcoming place. The path to the door is lined with weeds and from the grubby windows you get the feeling that somebody within is watching you, tempting you closer. Unlike most ‘local’s’ pubs they like strangers here, if only for the fact that they can have some fun with them.
Opening the creaky door with the flaking black paint and the stained glass window pain, a red lion in the centre, you find a room unchanged for seventy years and a dozen pairs of eyes all turn to watch as you pause for a moment and then walk up to the bar.
‘Sure you don’t want to be in Y Gwiber lad?’ the barman asked me, cleaning a glass with a dirty rag. ‘Much more welcoming to strangers they are… Up on Caellepa, over the other side of the city. They do all them fancy cocktails you youngsters like as well.’ They also, I hear, do a lot of other things and there’s more than just alcohol in their cocktails. I’d rather not go in there.
‘I’ll have a rum and coke,’ I told him, passing a fiver over the bar.
‘Don’t have none of that fancy rum stuff here. Only alcohol we’ve got is gin and beer.’
‘Not in the same glass I hope.’ The barman leaned over to me, a toothy and sinister smile on his face.
‘Would you like to find out how it tastes?’ Without waiting for an answer he took the fiver from the bar and poured out a mixture of Brains beer and gin. He slid it over and waited for me to taste it.
‘It’s an improvement on the usual taste,’ I commented. The barman and all the other customers roared with laughter.
‘Now there’s a lad who appreciates flavour!’
I retreated to an isolated corner with my gin and beer combination whilst the rest of the pub returned to whatever conversations they had been having before my arrival, every so often their eyes flicking to my corner to see what I was doing. Tucked down the side of the seat, I noticed, was a week old copy of the North Wales Post and I could not help but notice the headline: POLICE CALL OFF SEARCH FOR MISSING MIGNEINT CAMPERS.
I had picked it up and started reading when an old man appeared from across the room. I had not noticed him before but now he came I could not help but be frightened. His hair was long, wild, and unwashed, his face stubbled, and one of his eyes was made of green glass.
‘They’ll be saying they got sucked into the bogs, will they?’ He asked in Welsh. His voice was cracked and high pitched. ‘That’s what they always say when people go missing up there on the Migneint, that they got sucked into the bogs. Those two’ll make it forty five that have gone missing this century and I reckon that not one of them got sucked under. No lad, you mark my words. Those campers all fell in with the Long Lost Travelling Circus of Ynys Mon.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ The old man grinned a sinister grin and then sat down opposite me.
‘The Long Lost Travelling Circus of Ynys Mon… Drink your drink lad and I’ll tell you about it. That’s if you can gin and beer it…’ He chuckled at his own joke.
‘It was the greatest circus to ever come out of Wales it was. You’ve never seen a circus like it boy, I can tell you that much. Whenever it came to town all the children would flock from across to see the clowns and the animals and the acrobats and the razzmatazz of the big top. Whenever folks heard the song of the ringmaster approaching the town they would come running to see them and greet them and find out what time that evening the festivities would start.’
‘What was the song?’ someone called from across the room. Something twinkled in the old man’s glass eye.
‘Ahhh… The song! I don’t sing it so well but me brother Peaty… He were a natural.’
‘Go on, give us a bit,’ the barman challenged. The old man side eyed him but obliged.
‘Mae bron y nef,
Hŷn na’r coed,
Iau na’r mynyddoedd,
Chwythu fel awel.
I’r lle rwyf ,
Wrth fy modd.
The song sounded awfully familiar and I wondered if the old man was having me on, if this whole story wasn’t one big leg pull. I said nothing and allowed the old man to continue his story. I wanted to know how far he would go.
‘At the start of each season they’d spend two weeks circuiting Mon before crossing the bridge for their travels. It was different each year of course. Sometimes they’d go out along the coast road or down to Caernarfon and Aber or through the mountains. One year though, the year of eighteen eighty nine, the ringmaster decided something peculiar. He directed the circus along what’s now the A5, as they did every few years, and at Betws-Y-Coed he suddenly decided to turn towards Blaenau. Why he did this I’m not sure. The circus had never been that way before so maybe that was it. Maybe they wanted a change, do something different. But nobody knows for sure.
‘They did their thing outside Blaenau and everybody said it was the best performance the circus ever did, no doubt about it. Two days after they arrived they packed up and set off in their wagons across the Migneint. You can probably guess lad, but they never came out the other side. They vanished. Of course, chances are they went off the road and got sucked into the bogs but if that were the case then somebody would have found them by now. Even on the Migneint you can’t lose an entire circus without a trace. Nay lad, they’re still up there somewhere. People have heard them, heard the song of the ringmaster calling out across the wilderness. When they’re driving along the road people have seen their lights in the distance. Then you have the disappearances. Forty five this century, not one body found!
‘I saw it once myself. Lost the sweetest gal I ever did know to that circus. T’was back in fifty two. It wasn’t so easy to get down to business with someone in those days, not without being caught and shamed, so you had to find an excuse and get somewhere away from prying eyes. We decided upon camping on the Migneint, out near Llyn Conwy. It was quiet, it was isolated and we had no fear that we’d come across the circus. We were no more than children and we thought there was no way in hell it could get us.
‘Perhaps we should have taken more care because in the middle of our business we heard the ringmaster’s song. I wanted to ignore it, I knew what it was, but she wanted to investigate. We left the tent to look and there not far across the dark we saw the lights of the circus, all tempting and inviting. I sore wanted to go and join them but I knew better. I knew if I went over there I’d never come back again. The girl though… The silly girl… The lights of the circus, the song… They were too tempting for her and before I could stop her she’d gone. I called for her to come back but if she heard me she paid no attention. She just kept stumbling over towards the lights and vanished into them. I was going to follow, to claim her back, but by the time I’d thought of that the music had stopped and the lights faded before my eyes.
‘I called out for her, called till my voice was gone, but it were no good. She was gone. I wandered over the bogs next morning, looking for a sign, but I never found any. I’ve looked many times since and never come across one trace of her or the circus that.
‘Let me give you some advice lad,’ the old man intoned. ‘You ever find yourself up there on that Migneint and you see lights and hear that there song I just sang you get out of there double quick or the Long Lost Travelling Circus of Ynys Mon will take your soul!’
I did not believe a word of this story. It sounded like the ramblings of a strange old man in a strange old pub and after my first visit I never set foot there again. I know of others who came across the place not long after and had similar experiences, where they were regaled with hokum stories by the barman and the other customers.
‘An old lady told me she used to be visited by Welsh Leprechauns,’ someone claimed
‘I got a whole spiel about yeti living in the Glyderau,’ another person said. Thus, I settled into believing that the Long Lost Travelling Circus of Ynys Mon was no more than a fairy story.
That was until last June when I happened to be driving over the Migneint and suffered a near catastrophic engine failure. With no phone signal I left the car and walked down the road in search of either assistance or a phone box. After fifteen minutes I came to a cottage and the help of a friendly farmer who allowed the use of his landline and drove me back out to the car. As we reached the spot where I had parked we both saw an odd cluster lights off in the distance, across the moorland and on the wind we could hear the faint sounds of singing.
‘What is that?’ I wondered aloud.
‘That?’ the friendly farmer grinned. ‘That’s the Long Lost Travelling Circus of Ynys Mon that is.’
Image from Bangor.ac.uk