Portrait of George Borrow

Wild Wales

Borrow’s romantic account of his Welsh Tours

On 27th July 1854 George Borrow began a tour of North Wales which would last until 16th November 1854.  The Borrow’s lodged at Dee Cottage, Llangollen, and from there Borrow started local excursions, followed by a long walk via Corwen, Capel Curig to Bangor and Holyhead (and lots of other places).  Then in September he headed south via Caernarvon, Beth Gelert and Festiniog and back to Llangollen.  October saw the start of a long walk to Bala, Machynlleth, Devil’s Bridge, Strata Florida, Lampeter, Llandovery, Swansea, Neath, Merthyr Tydvil, Caerphilly and Newport, finally ending up at Chepstow on 16th November 1854.

During this period Borrow filled notebooks with the people he met, the incidents and so forth.  These notebooks, together with Welsh material that Borrow had already written, were written up during 1855 and 1856 to form Wild Wales, which was first announced as ready for the press in 1857.  However, the apathy that had greeted the publication of Lavengro and Romany Rye led to Borrow keeping the book in abeyance.

In 1860 Borrow published The Sleeping Bard and a review of it in Quarterly Review, under the title The Welsh and Their Literature.  This presumably gave Borrow the confidence to publish to long-delayed Wild Wales.

The initial reviews were mixed, with the Cornhill concluding:

It is difficult to characterize the work just issued by Mr. George Borrow, without preface or explanation of any kind, under the title of Wild Wales.  We are dubious whether it is simply a record of his walks through Wales, or whether he has mingled a quantity of very mild and not very amusing fiction with actual experiences.  In any case the book is extremely defective, and contains an unpardonable proportion of triviality and self-glorification...

whilst the Spectator said:

This is the first really clever book we remember to have seen in which an honest attempt is made to do justice to the Welsh literature.  If Welshmen had any wish to propitiate the Saxons in their favour, they would undoubtedly feel considerably indebted to the experienced, shrewd, and discerning traveller who passed through a great portion of their country on foot a few years ago, and now presents the world with a most interesting account of his adventures

After Borrow’s death the book gradually gained in popularity and is now seen as one of the classic books on Wales.  Unlike Borrow’s other works, Wild Wales, has been in print for many decades.

source: Knapp, Vol. 2, cf. pp. 105–124