Monday 14 May 2012, 10:00
Just beside the A44 near Eisteddfa Gurig, about 10 miles outside Aberystwyth in mid Wales, you'll see it. In a dip in the road, there's a scruffy-looking rock. On it, stark white letters are painted: ELVIS.
Elvis Rock. Photo: Jeremy Bolwell
The Elvis Rock has been there for 50 years. Since May 1962 it has been a landmark known throughout the country.
It changes; sometimes it even changes to say something entirely different, but it always reverts, within a couple of days, to the name of The King. But why? Why is it there in the first place? And who ensures it stays there?
The Elvis Rock in about 1994. Photo: Gwenllian Ashley
In the run-up to the Montgomeryshire by-election held on 15 May 1962, two men in balaclavas decided to demonstrate their support for the Plaid Cymru candidate, Islwyn Ffowc Elis, by painting his surname on a rock beside the road.
John Hefin, from Borth, and his friend David Meredith, from Llanuwchllyn, near Bala, were the culprits.
"It was the 1962 by-election for the Montgomeryshire seat after the death of the Liberal Party's Clement Davies," said Mr Hefin. "We borrowed David's father's car, which was highly recognisable as he was the most respected minister in Aberystwyth, and we took off.
The Elvis Rock in about 1989. Photo: Gwenllian Ashley
"In balaclavas we set about our task - we wore balaclavas because writing graffiti in those days was very frowned upon.
"We wrote Elis in red and surrounded it in green - the colours of Plaid Cymru and Wales. You could see the sign for at least a mile away in the daylight."
Mr Meredith said of the pair's antics: "We saw this wonderful rock. It's not often that a rock presents itself in such a way and we decided to paint Elis on it.
"We went back some days later to admire our work and damnation, someone had changed Elis into Elvis.
"We never mentioned it to Islwyn Ffowc Elis, but I'm sure he would have been pleased to have been associated with Elvis."
Elis, a politician and novelist, died in 2004 at the age of 79.
Elvis Rock. Photo: Penny Mayes
After the rock had been painted, then amended, it took on a life of its own. It became a recognisable marker for anyone making their way through mid Wales, not least the thousands of Aberystwyth University students over the years.
In 1992, the word was changed to read LUFC in recognition of Leeds United's First Division title, while according to one-time Aberystwyth University student Raquel, commentating on the BBC Mid Wales site: "One year, some devout soul replaced 'Elvis' with 'Jesus', but I am afraid 'Elvis' was quickly reinstated! When returning to Aber, I have always loved seeing the Elvis Rock as it is a signal that it is not much farther to get home."
Also in 1992, following his death, the name of Benny Hill appeared on the rock, but again it was short-lived. Another comment on the BBC Mid Wales site said: "I knew the rock as a child in the 70s and it was a sign of homecoming. I've loved its ever-changing style over the years and the devotion given to it by its fans."
It's this affection for something inanimate and superficially unimportant that marks out the Elvis Rock. There was public outcry when in the mid-2000s it partially disintegrated, and another version appeared on another rock. But thankfully, for its thousands of fans, it's back in its rightful place.
But, aside from who actually takes it upon themselves to keep reapplying the whitewash, there's one more mystery... at least according to Bristol's Terry Filby, writing on the BBC Mid Wales website:
"I wonder if there is more to the legend of the Elvis Rock, as during the week of 2 September 1968 I was on honeymoon in and around Aberystwyth when out around the isolated dam area I came up behind a stationary, new American car with two men in it.
"I was driving a Ford Anglia 105e. As I drew close the guy on the left looked over his shoulder and I immediately said to my wife 'That's Elvis!'. She did not disagree. The car suddenly sped off and lost my Ford."
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