Many legends and fantasies have been woven around the River Ogmore. Its waters were once considered magical enough to assuage the spirits of the dead (see ‘The Buried Treasure of Newton’) and local maidens were able to take advantage of its properties to read the future. All they had to do was to take an undergarment to the river bank (the nearby sea would do), and soak it thoroughly. They then had to carry the garment by the teeth, take it back home and place it before the fire to dry. It was important that only the teeth were used: if the cloth touched any other part of their body the spell would be broken. But if done properly the girls’ future husbands would appear before them in spirit form and would disappear only if the garment were turned around.
Taking advantage of the fear engendered in local people by such stories, the lower reaches of the Ogmore River were, in the eighteenth century, the headquarters and hide-out of a gang of ruffians who used to prey on travellers and packmen; and the crew of any ship driven ashore on the nearby sandbanks could expect little mercy.
Further upstream, near the Ewenny River, there were three springs, also considered magical. Their waters united at Skee Well and this area, according to local legend., was the home of water ogres who were in the habit of carrying local maidens and imprisoning them within the springs. No doubt the robbers had something to do with this as well for any girl, once taken away was never seen again.
One day the springs ran dry. They were lamenting, the more knowledgeable people said, because the robbers were giving a beautiful area such a bad name. The robbers were affected, too, for all the fish disappeared from the Ogmore and Ewenny Rivers and in their place were snakes and toads. The bad men stuck it as long as they could and a few of them said they could actually hear the springs groaning; so one or two of the braver ones ventured into the region and asked the wells to fill once more. The men promised that, if they could have clean and pure water again, they would be good and renounce their evil ways.
The wells responded and gushed forth water, whereupon the robbers planted trees and shrubs and became peaceful workers on the land. Since then only good men have lived near the River Ogmore, but the maidens still continued to disappear; and it has never been considered safe to cross the water without first spitting three times.
Author: Alun Morgan
Illustration by Margaret Wooding