The start to our week of walking in the Yorkshire Dales and we began with an easy stroll along the banks of the river Ribble. The name ‘Ribble’ is thought to derive from the Breton word ‘Ribl’ meaning ‘riverbank’. The river begins in the Yorkshire Dales in Ribblesdale, at at a spot called Gavel Gap high on the moor above Newby Head. It’s a famous salmon river and in the Autumn it’s possible to watch salmon leaping up the various waterfalls along its course.
But we’re here in May, and it’s the time of bluebells and wild garlic.
Ribblesdale is the best known walking area in the National Park and features Yorkshire’s famous Three Peaks – Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent (more about the last on my next post) – offering challenging walks and amazing views. This short walk is the easiest section of the Ribble Way.
The weir at Longcliffe.
We passed the remains of old cotton and snuff mills, industries long gone now but the houses that were the homes for many of the labourers still stand, strong buildings many built of the local grit stone.
Nearby is the town of Settle where the hydro harnesses the river to create clean, green electricity.
Photograph courtesy of settlehydro.org.uk/
The Hydro is powered by water from the Ribble immediatelyabove the weir, through a sluice gate, down what is called the Archimedes Screw (the turbine) and back into the Ribble just after the base of the weir. Electricity is generated by the falling water rotating the turbine which, in turn, drives a generator. The electricity is fed by a direct line to the old mill building which is now apartments. Any electricity not needed by the apartments is fed into the National Grid.
It was a lovely easy trail, the weather was good, a perfect stroll through the fields and on the Settle bridleway.
And perfect for the photographer to capture two of his favourite subjects… Water and reflections.
Our main aim for this walk was to see Stainforth Force,the two metre high cascade waterfallwhere the salmon leap in the Autumn.
There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.
Today I am thrilled to welcome Juliet Greenwood, a friend for many years, and a brilliant writer. Juliet is sharing her special memoriesLlyn Idwal, a lake near Snowdon in Wales.
I have so many places in my memory that remain vivid over time. The one I have chosen has been familiar since childhood, and is one I hope to visit again very soon. Oddly enough, it’s less than six miles from my cottage in Snowdonia, but because it was just outside our five-mile range from home during the pandemic lockdowns, and since these have eased I’ve had a puppy whose joints need protecting, I haven’t been there since 2019. It’s a place that’s both private and very public, both accessible and isolated, and one that is filled with atmosphere, images and stories.
The place is Llyn Idwal, a small, beautifully clear, lake that lies a short walk up from the main A5 road between the university city of Bangor, on the coast, and Snowdon itself. During the day, and particularly in summer, it is popular with tourists from all over the world. But if, like me, you live only a few minutes away by car, it’s still possible to arrive at first light, when it’s almost completely isolated, with just the occasional serious climber heading out for a day on the surrounding peaks of Tryfan, the Glyders and Y Garn.
Being surrounded by high mountains, the light and the colours caught in the lake’s waters are constantly shifting, caught within a huge silent bowl, sometimes utterly still, with a sense of vast space and silence, at other times savage with wind and rain. At the far end is a cleft in the rock called the Devil’s Kitchen. I can remember my imagination being fired as a child by the stories that, when cloud rises up like smoke above the kitchen, you know the devil is cooking up his tea. It’s always a reminder of the uncontrolled and (if you are not careful and treat the landscape with respect) perilous wildness of the mountains, where, from the tops, you can see the train chugging away, taking visitors up Snowdon, or look down on the sea and mountains stretching out into the distance, and feel your own smallness and insignificance.
My favourite memories are of those occasional calm and cloudless mornings, when the lake itself is utterly still, with occasional ripples from the breeze. Especially in the silent clarity of first light, it has a mournful air that perfectly reflects the legend of Prince Idwal being drowned in the lake by his enemies, and the saying that no bird has since flown over its waters. There’s a feeling of being in a true wilderness there, a place to breath in clean air, clear the mind and put troubles into perspective. As a writer, it’s also the perfect place to work out particularly knotty plot lines. Not that you can concentrate on anything but watching your feet and drinking in the atmosphere, but I usually find that the mind has been quietly working underneath while the body has been doing its thing, and the solution is there once I arrive home, tired but exhilarated and desperate for toast and a strong pot of coffee.
It’s one of those place I’ve always taken for granted. The last time I went up, on a crystal clear late autumn morning in 2019, I – like everyone else I met on the way down, cheerful and friendly, and enjoying this accessible piece of wild beauty – had no idea how life was about to change. Where I walk my dog each morning nearly my house, I can see the mountains surrounding Llyn Idwal. It was a weird feeling during the pandemic to have them so close, and yet forbidden. Similarly, there was an even stranger conflict of the idyllic quiet of a landscape devoid of tourists, which now belonged only to those of us who live here, and the frightening events of the world outside.
In this vast landscape of the mountains, there was a glimpse of a world without human beings, the birds louder, the seasons quietly turning without us. When my car battery went flat (the only thing he was called out to, during lockdown, the recovery man told me wryly), I drove up the valley to recharge it, turning round as I reached the entrance to Llyn Idwal and the edges of my permitted range. I couldn’t resist stopping briefly and winding down the windows. Despite not daring to turn the engine off in case I couldn’t start it again (the mortification!), the silence and the stillness was overwhelming. Unnerving, even, like a post-apocalyptic world. For all my longing to be there after so many months, and the frustration of being so close to the lake, I hastily dashed back to the busy throng of my characters, with all their noisy troubles and conflicts.
I have so many memories of Llyn Idwal, going up as a small child, and in all weathers as an adult. It will be strange going back after the intensity of the time since I was last there. Like most of us, I’m still processing the emotions of the pandemic, and I shall have sad, as well as joyful, memories of the beloved four-legged walking companion who adored it up there, and whose time came to an end before we could go again. But I shall also have my new little walking companion, who will be deliriously discovering a new world (we’ve already had the conversation about sheep). And I’ll be remembering that, in the meantime, I’ve had another two books published, with a third completed, and now on its way to being published this May, and just how amazing that is – something you forget when you are in the middle of it all!
I know that when I so go back to Llyn Idwal, I’ll wait for one of those brilliantly magical early mornings, when I can get up there at dawn, and savour the stillness and the sense of isolation, before returning down amongst the walkers making their way up, exchanging greetings, as people (and dogs) in the mountains do, and sharing the beauty of the day and the privilege of sharing this very special place. And then I shall return to my desk and corral my Shakespeare sisters into doing what I tell them, rather than heading off on a tangent. I shall fail, of course (characters always do their own thing), which may well require another dawn adventure to the calming waters of Llyn Idwal….
Bio and Links
Juliet Greenwood is a historical novelist, whose latest novel, The Shakespeare Sisters, set near Stratford-upon-Avon during WW2, will be published in May 2023 with Storm Publishing. She has previously been published by Orion and Honno Press, with her first novel being a finalist for The People’s Book Prize and two of her books reaching the top 5 in the UK Kindle store. She has always been a bookworm and a storyteller, writing her first novel (a sweeping historical epic) at the age of ten. Juliet is fascinated both by her Celtic heritage and the history of the women in her family. She now lives in a traditional cottage in Snowdonia, North Wales, set between the mountains and the sea, with an overgrown garden (good for insects!) and a surprisingly successful grapevine.
Llyn y Fan Fach is a glacial lake in the Brecon Beacons situated beneath Picws Du mountain, the second highest peak of the Carmarthen Fans in the Carmarthenshire section of the Black Mountain in the west of the Brecon Beacons. (The name Brecon Beacons has recently reverted to its old Welsh name, Bannau Brycheiniog, which means “the peaks of Brychan’s kingdom”)
For anyone interested Brychan Brycheiniog was a legendary 5th-century king of Brycheiniog (Brecknockshire, alternatively Breconshire in Mid Wales.
Brychan depicted in a window of the church in Brecon, Wales.
There is one thing I want to say before we go any further with this post.
Never believe the stats!
Distance: 9.2 miles (14.8km) circuit (Let’s just say Circuitous! Or, if you’re really wanting to be pedantic – like a dog’s hind leg… or two!) Elevation gain: 720m (Gain is the right word. The exhilaration of getting anywhere near that height makes one feel as if one has reached the top of the world. If you can get enough breath to get that far!) Difficulty:Moderate (if you can call the initial mile of a one in ten ratio upwards on a stony, gravelly track, followed by steeper narrow paths – Moderate.
The Llyn y Fan Fach car park near is reached by a winding single track road (with the added bonus of few signposts in an area that the SAT NAV doesn’t recognise – we went in a complete circle at one point) and is remote with no facilities. At all (Am I selling it to you yet? Hmm? Well… I will… later. Honest.).
All the previous being said, we had a wonderful day’s walk. Hike… I should have said hike, here(Or even … climb!)
Actually, when we arrived there was a group of young people from London who were walking the area as part as their Duke of Edinburgh Award. Very chatty – when they stopped to get their breath – which was as often as us. So I didn’t feel that decrepit!
And, of course, we had a picnic sitting by Lyn y Fan Fach, a beautiful lake surrounded by magnificent craggy mountain peaks. Sheltered by a wall, with the sun warm on our backs, we watched the grass swaying under the clear water, the surface a glistening reflection of the sky. The only sounds were the rustling of the wind, the cries of the skylarks, and, in the distance, the faint voices of people walking along the ridges of the Picws Du mountain
Which gave the photographer a chance to peruse the area.
Llyn y Fan Fach is renowned for Welsh Folklore. One folklore legendis the myth of ‘The lady of the lake’. In the folktale, a young farmer of the 13th century spotted the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen emerge from the lake, she was a princess from the kingdom of fairies. He courted the fairy princess by baking her bread and after three attempts he succeeded in winning her hand in marriage on the condition that if he hit her three times she would leave him. He complied easily because she was so beautiful and they were happy for years bringing up a family at his farm near Myddfai, with her magic dowry of farm animals. In time the inevitable happened he hit his wife (reported as apparently playfully!?) and she disappeared back into the lake taking her prized animals with her, leaving the farmer with her sons. The sons once grown became known as the “Physicians of Myddfai” who became physicians to the English royal court..
Further to the east, beneath the peak of Fan Brycheiniog, there is another larger lake called Llyn y Fan Fawr. These lakes and peaks can be visited through a combination of mountain walks. We studied the climb to the right. A very steep climb. And decided to take the easier routeto the left.Easier for some – see below – the photographer in the distance, eager to get more photo opportunities.
It was so clear we could the rise and fall of the land for miles, it was stunning.
The path often disappeared under the mounds of long tough tussock grass and patches of boggy water. Though awe inspiring it felt very isolated: a few people far above us on the ridges of Fan Brycheiniog, a man striding, then sitting down, in the distance, a group of young men studying compasses and maps.We stopped – often – when skylarks rose and fluttered in front of us, desperate to take us away from their nests in the undergrowth. The wind came in strong cold bursts, and after we’d walked another mile, we knew, however disappointing it was, that we should turn back; not try to reach the other lake, Llyn y Fan Fawr, beneath the peak of Fan Brycheiniog, The speed we were going, we would chance being there after dark. Perhaps we shouldn’t have lingered so long at the first lake.Or set out earlier in the day. Or not got lost.
So, after a couple of photo shots, we made our way back across the land and down the track to the car. The Duke of Edinburgh students were still somewhere on the ridge. Knowing how they had dreaded the climb I didn’t envy them. And yet, not having achieved what we set out to do…
Still, a wonderful day in all.
Until the next time we attempt this walk …. or not.
Over the years we’ve walked many times around the Llys – y- Fran reservoir, now called the Llys-y-Fran Country Park.
Back in the day (as my grandad used to say), the walk around the reservoir (about seven miles) was more of a hike and a scrabble around rocks, trees, and, sometimes, through streams.There’s still a little negotiating of streams, as I mention later.
But first the technical and public information bits…
Llys-y-Fran Country Park is three hundred and fifty acres in all, which includes the two hundred and twelve acresof the reservoir. In the parish of the village Llys y Fran, the community of New Moat, it’s on the southern slopes of the Preseli Mountains.
Llys-y-Frân dam was constructed between September 1968 and 1972.The final concrete was laid on the nineteenth May 1971, completing a total of over 500,000 tons of the stuff since the project began. By May, the depth of water had risen to forty feet but it was only on the fifth of December 1971, exactly nine months after impounding had started, that the reservoir overflowed for the first time.
The reservoir was officially opened by HRH Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, on Tuesday, the ninth of May, 1972.
The dam is a hundred feet (thirty metres) high and the lake is fed by the River Syfynwy.The water is used by homes and industry in south Pembrokeshireand is managed by Welsh Water. It’s one of eight-one reservoirs in Wales.
The forecast for the day was good, so we donned walking boots and rucksacks and set off. I’m cheating a little here – the photograph below was taken on the last stretch of the homeward-bound section, as we looked back with smugness on how far we’d walked.
Back to the beginning… These days the walk is a wider, if still steep and winding in places, gravelly track around the circuit of the lake, and is interspersed with cycling routes of varying degrees of difficulty. I promise you, (and am most disappointed that I forgot to ask husband to photograph it), there was one route highlighted by a sign of a skull and crossbones… with a note that the route was only for those of the highest skill and fitness … (and, I added to myself, the most crazy!).
“There’s a lot of water to cross, isn’t there?” I remarked, after wobbling on strategically-placed rocks and tree trunks in one particularly wide stream.
“Well, it is a reservoir,” he replied, striding manfully through the water.
“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit!” Was the only remark I could summon up, as I stopped trying to balance and sloshed after him.
The whole time we walked we met only two cyclists and three couples with dogs. The sun shone (most of the time) and there was just a slight breeze that moved the grasses, the patches of daffodils, the leaves and petals of the primroses, the early gorse. Except for the calls of the Canada Geese and, at one point, the noisy squabble of seagulls, it was peaceful. Through the woodland there were stunning views all along the way.
We stopped for a picnic. I won’t admit we stopped to catch our breath – although we did do a bit of puffing up those steeper parts. I’ll even go as far as to say it stopped me talking … sometimes!Anyway, we were ready for a bite to eat, a coffee, and another photograph opportunity .
The photographer! What isn’t seen here is the robin who followed us around for a least a mile after we’d fed him some crumbs, and is a few inches behind David, patiently waiting for him to move (he had his foot on a crust of bread).
What used to take us two and a half hours to walk this trail, this time took us over three and a half. I claim mitigating circumstances – we stopped often ( very often) for husband to take photos. Oh … and to eat the picnic.
And I refuse to talk about the fact that we both walked like ducks the day after!
N.B. The word llys translates into English as “court” and y frân translates as“[of] the crow“. Just thought you might like to know that.
I’d no intention of getting lost – but there again, I never do. It just happens. Usually I have a husband (not a random husband, the one I’ve had for some years) to point me in the right direction. He’s used to me saying ” how far away are we from where we were?”, but this time I was on my own. Well, me and daughter’s dog, Benji.
Looking non too happy. (the reason will become apparent later)
Radyr Woods is around fourteen acres of woodland, with a network of footpaths, boardwalks, and steps throughout the wood.
There is easy access to a mixed woodland and include a local nature reserve (Hermit Wood), with a canal, streams, ponds, springs, grass and heath land.
Look carefully… there is a duck, hiding on a mix of branches… honest!
And another… swimming this time.
And there are interesting panels explaining the intriguing history of the area...
Apparently there are the remains of a late-Prehistoric burnt mound where hot stones would have been immersed in water until it boiled and the burnt and broken stones or pot boilers formed the mound. Although it’s not known what the mound was used for (one could guess rituals – but I’ll go no further with that idea) The mound wasn’t discovered until 1911, but it is evidence that the site was inhabited centuries ago. There are also rumours that a 10th century holy well existed on the site In medieval times Radyr Woods formed a part of the walled deer park of Radyr Court, the historic home of the Mathew family.
The area was farmed and quarried up to the mid 20th century. Conglomerate stone from the Radyr Quarry was used in the construction of both Llandaff Cathedral and Cardiff Castle.
There were quite a few other dog walkers to pass pleasantries with and allowing the dogs to sniff one another’s bottoms socialise. Then I met a man walking his dog, and his ferret
He offered to show me how the ferret walked on the lead. But I had seen him walking towards us for some time. And Benji was showing rather too much interest in the proceedings. I thought it safer for the man to hold said ferret up high-ish. Still a bit too close to Benji, I thought. His dog just looked bored.
I walked on, not noticing which paths I took. Until I realised I didn’t know where I was, and how to find my way back.
When one path seemed to run out and I sank into the mud I thought I’d better turn back. After wandering aimlessly for ten minutesI met a young woman I’d spoken to earlier and when she realised how clueless I was, she took pity on me and, with the aid of Google maps (“you haven’t got Google maps?!”, looking askance at me), walked back with me (quite a long way) to where I eventually recognised a path.
Quite fortuitous meeting her, actually. She belongs to a reading group and I’ll be going to talk with them sometime soon.
As for the sulky looking Benji at the start of this adventure – covered in mud when we eventually arrived back at the house, he needed a bath. And wasn’t impressed.
‘Let’s go to Lake Vyrnwy,’ Husband said. ‘Take some photos.‘
“Take some photos”, is a phrase that has been used many time down the years of our marriage. Sometimes it makes my heart sink; it often means I carry on walking along a chosen trail, before realising I’ve left Husband behind, oblivious, and capturing, “just the right shot” and have to retrace my steps. I have complained that this means I have walked miles more than him, but he, (“quite reasonably,” he says) means I’m burning more calories off. I ignore the implication of this… normally… but make sure I eat his chocolate bar as well as my own, when we stop for lunch.
Anyway… Lake Vyrnwy...
Just on the edge of The Snowdonia National Park and south of Lake Bala, Lake Vyrnwy is set amidst the remote and beautiful Berwyn Mountains. With spectacular waterfalls, and unspoilt open countryside. Except that, although the scenery is, as always, fantastic, the waterfalls are sadly depleted. As is the reservoir. However, since these photos were taken in August, and we’ve had such downpours, with fingers crossed, an inch or two may have been added to the water level. One can but hope!
We parked in a designated area that was supposed to be on the edge of the lake. It wasn’t; the water was so low we could have walked quite a few metres on shingle that should… would … in ‘normal times’ be submerged. It reminded us that, underneath, was a village, lost many years ago.
Llanwddyn was a village on the hillside next to the Cedig river. There were thirty-seven houses, three chapels and a Church of St John, and, in the surrounding countryside, ten farmsteads. Farming was the main occupation of the people in the valley, they ate simple food, such as mutton broth, porridge, gruel, and milk and burned peat from the moors in their fireplaces.
But, with expanding industries in the the Midlands and the north-west of England, and the prospect of higher wages, many people left. To make matters worse for those still trying to make a living from the land, in 1873 the local vicar,Reverend Thomas H. Evans published a report that the area was useless for agriculture, because it was waterlogged for much of the winter.
Seeing this, made us realise how many streams must has poured down the hills. Imaging the rush of water, I suppose it’s easy to understand the Reverend’s statement. Yet it has left me wondering why he wrote the report. Was he paid? Were the villagers aware of what he’d done? If they did find out, what was the reaction? I haven’t been able to discover that. The writer in me is itching to research that time. It did coincide with a time when the authorities of Liverpool were exploring the country for sites to build a new reservoir to cope with the growing population on both sides of the Mersey. So who’s to say!
Various sites were under consideration in northern England and Wales, but in most cases there were snags By 1877 a group of engineers arrived in Llanwddyn. Their visit was to look into the possibility of damming the river Vyrnwy. A survey revealed a large area of solid rock, just where the valley narrowed, two miles south of the village, which could act as a base for creating a large, artificial lake that had the potential for holding many millions of gallons of water.
It brings a feeling of awe, of sadness, almost, to be walking on land that is normally submerged under water, on land where a village once stood, where people once lived.
Driving further around the lake we pass a sign at the side of the road – “Track to impressive hillside view. Not to be missed”. Well, if ever there was a challenge to a photographer, that was it. Husband got out of the car and disappeared for a few minutes, soon to return. ‘It doesn’t look too bad. Come on.’
And indeed the first few steps were not too bad. And then we turned a corner… to be faced by an almost vertical path, a rocky vertical path. I stopped; why do I always let myself be fooled?
‘Come on, it’s not far!’ He said that numerous times for the next ten minutes. Hauling me from bend to bend. ” Think of the view!”
I couldn’t think of anything, except how to get my next breath.
But I had to admit, the view was worth it. The coniferous forests planted around the lake by the Forestry Commission are impressive.
On the way back, Husband found two stout branches to use as walking sticks, to scrabble down between mossy rocks and sliding muddy stones. It was either that or an undignified descent on my backside.
In 1880 the Liverpool Corporation Waterworks Act was passed by Parliament, and received the Royal Assent. Preparations were at once put in hand to gather the work-force and equipment necessary for the construction of what was to become the first large masonry dam in Britain and the largest artificial reservoir in Europe at the time. Work on the site began in July 1881.
The stone for the masonry was obtained from the quarry specially opened. All other materials were brought by horse and cart from the railway station at Llanfyllin, ten miles away. Stabling for up to 100 horses was built in Llanfyllin. The labour force topped 1,000 men at the busiest stage of the work on the dam. Many of them were stone masons working in the quarry, dressing the stone which was not easy to handle.
In a very short time the dam was completed. The village of Llanwddyn, and all buildings in the valley that were designated to be covered by the water, were demolished.
St Wddyn’s church was built on the hill on the north side to replace the parish destroyed by the flooding of Vyrnwy valley. Many of the graves were relocated from the graveyard of the old church to St Wddyn’s before it was flooded. It was was consecrated on the 27 November 1888, the day before the valves were closed. It took a year before the water reached and spilled over the lip of the dam.
On a previous walk, some years before, we witnessed a wedding procession coming from the church, led by a chimney sweep in all his glory. Apparently it’s considered lucky to see a chimney sweep on your wedding day, the belief being they bring good luck, wealth, and happiness. The bride and groom did look joyous. I would have loved to have tagged onto the procession, but, that day, we were looking for “a good view of the water”, further along the road.
On the same hill as the church a monument was erected in memory of ten men who died in accidents on the site during the building of the dam and another thirty-four who died from other causes at the time.
Stone houses, matching the stone of the dam, were built on either side of the valley for the people whose homes had disappeared under the lake. I suppose there must have been a lot of opposition to flooding the valley to provide Liverpool with water at the time, and since, but records have apparently shown that it brought prosperity and stability to the area.
Our final excursion on our walk was to the waterfalls.
One of the highest is the Rhiwargor waterfall at the northern end of Lake Vyrnwy. From the car park I was relieved to see the relatively flat path along the valley of the river Eiddew. There was a trail leading up and up along the side of the falls. Despite much attempted persuasions, I declined, and opted for a coffee and a picnic at a nearby picnic table. And I ate his chocolate bar! Well, after that impromptu climb earlier, I thought I deserved it.Who said I hold grudges?!!
N.B.The Lake Vyrnwy Nature Reserve and Estate that surrounds the lake is jointly managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Hafren Dyfrdwy (Severn Dee). The reserve is designated as a national nature reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protection Area, and a Special Area of Conservation.
There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.
Today, I’m so pleased to welcome Phil Rowlands. I seem to have known Phil as part of the writing world for as long as can remember. I have interviewed him a couple of times forand he was always a very welcome addition to the Narberth Book Fairs. Here Phil tells us, in a very poignant account, of the many special memories he has ofNewgale, Wales.
A chorus of waves and pebbles washes over me as I stand in the place where, back in the folds of time, the five of us, Mum, Dad, my sister, me, and Bob the sheepdog dallied one year for the summer weeks of school holiday, in an old caravan owned by a distant relative.
One night our little van fought so violently with the raging winds and torrential rain and my six-year-old self fretted so passionately, that we returned home, a journey of eleven miles away, to spend the night. Returning in the sun and light of day, I searched for the scattered wreckage but there was none. Even the tent toilet, attached by top and bottom ties, still stood proudly. It was the first sight of my ‘what if’ irritation of the years ahead.
It is beautiful here, a mile of golden sand, patterned with the crisscross current cuts of the angry sea. The warriors of foam, riding the crest of the curved waves, invade the beach and then pull back to regroup for their next attack. High stacked stones lining the edge of this ‘sandy battleground’ look impassively on. They have seen it all before. I wonder if they remember me, the day I lost my Mum and ran through the forest of adults, tears in my eyes and my ever-present smile slipped away in the desperation of the search. Each step I took seemed to drag me deeper into the roots of fear and loss. Then, at last, after a panting panic run, in the shimmering distance, I saw her yellow flowered frock and was soon locked in the solace and safety of her suntanned arms and the warmth of the smell that was and always will be her. We always loved a cuddle, my Mum and me, right up to the end. I miss that most.
Which way to walk? What box of memories shall I open? I think I will head towards Cwm Mawr, the little cove that became ours during the six weeks sojourn. Sunburn, grainy cheese and tomato sandwiches, jellyfish, crabs, and ice-cold rock pools mingle with caves, cliﬀs and the corpses of sheep that couldn’t stop in time but floated down to become a picnic for the parasites.
The Duke of Edinburgh pub, hidden on the other side of the pebbles and across the road, was once the only barrier for the sea, facing the elements with the bravery of one who knows it cannot win. A tidal wave in 1900 swept in the stones, washed the pub away, swirling the frantic souls as they sank to their deep and watery end and flooded the valley for a mile or more. My great grandfather, a postman, sitting on his delivery trap, watched it happen in helpless fascination. Or so the family folklore goes.
A flick of time to my early teenage years and Wendy from Windsor. She was a sultry sixteen-year-old who caressed my libido and was the best French kisser I had ever found. She showed me that oral was not just the spoken word and led me to what suited her best. How could she know so much at such a tender age? But, oh, how grateful I was that she did. We spent many a happy, messy hour in her parent’s tent as they washed the London cobwebs away with the fresh and salty Welsh air and a pint or two of Scrumpy in the lounge of the Duke.
Most of the summers, in my early years, my family stayed in one of a cluster of chalets with wood and glass verandas, overlooking the beach, the cliffs and the steep road leading down to the village. My dad, who worked as a car salesman, would have his two weeks holiday, and then commute until we returned home the Friday before school went back. On his daily drive, mum and I would travel with him to the top of the hill that led towards Haverfordwest and then walk back, calling into the farm for eggs or buying hot bread from the seaside shop. The boy who worked there thought he was Johnny Cash, wore a cowboy shirt and hat and strangled words that were more Nercwys than Nashville. Still, he helped to colour the landscape of those early years of freedom, and fun.
In later times, when we owned a caravan at the top of the other hill that led to Solva and St David’s, we would walk back over the cliﬀs, climbing up through the carpet of moss and heather, pausing at the top, hand in hand, to survey our borrowed world of sand and sea, the horizon distant and hazy in the early morning misty sunshine.
Sometimes, though, it rained for days and, if not walking on the sands enjoying the wet, we would sit in the dryness of the veranda, watching the flooded campsite with its array of sunken canvas wrecks and try to count the blow-up beds, bags and plastic cups being chased around by the, determined to not let it spoil the holiday, tourists from Cardiﬀ, Glasgow, London or Hull. Often, I felt a perverse pleasure in this unfair act of God. It was a payback for their invasion of my private holiday space.
Cwm Mawr could be reached three ways. By the beach when the tide was out or over the cliﬀs, down past a cottage which sat a few yards from the drop into the sea. I was drawn to it and was desperate to live there. It had a windmill, small windows, and a constant pile of logs. Always when I passed, I could feel it drawing me to look in through its dusty glass or daring me to knock on the door and ask to go in. I never did. I might have broken the spell and that would never have done. The last way to reach the little bay was to walk up the road to Penycwm and then go through the gate with its ‘Farm Animals. Please Shut the Gate.’ sign, and down the rough-tracked valley passing, on the right, the green wooden colonial-style bungalow that was known, to me and my peers, as the TB house. It was once a Convalescent Home, and its shadow of infection and danger still loomed large as I hurried on my way to the safety of my little cove. I always meant to chance a night-time raid but never did. Perhaps, if it’s still there, I might make the eﬀort though I do not wish to shatter the thin film of time that protects it from the present.
After crossing a cool, clear, pure stream, and scrambling over the shingle of long-gone ages, you reached the rock-strewn beach with its high walls and sculptures. A picture book of past and present. A ‘Boy’s Own’ landscape of adventure and fantasy. There were large water filled hollows, big enough to swim in, if you wanted to risk disturbing their hidden dangers – the anger of awakened crabs or the poisonous puﬀs of Portuguese Men O’ War, imprisoned when the tide retreated, easily ballooned in my fertile mind.
They were happy, carefree times, uncluttered by the responsibilities and shattered dreams to come. A protected world, in which laughter came easily and old age lay hidden slyly in the shadows of future years.
A great treat was to go to the cinema once a week and then on the way back to fill up the roasting pan with fish and chips from Dew Street. We would wait until we got back to Newgale, almost beside ourselves with desire, as that special salt and vinegar smell wrapped itself around us and we almost drooled in anticipation of the delights to come.
The first time I saw the seals it was early evening. We were sitting on the rocks, halfway up the broken cliﬀ, tired from long hours of sunshine and salt. A family of three swam up and basked on the flat rocky plateau below us. Glorious silky bodies, faces twitching to give warning of the first scent of danger. They didn’t mind us being there and seemed to sense that we intended them no more harm than to share in their lives for this moment of time. I can’t remember how long we stayed but dusk was slipping its curtain over the light as we reached the caravan. Dad had been home for four hours and was beginning to think that Neptune had taken us to lodge in his deep and mysterious home.
Next night he came back early and joined our little group. The seals glanced upwards as he arrived but relaxed when he sat with us. He was overcome by their innocence and peace, and I never felt as close to him again.
About Phil Rowlands
I am a screenwriter, author and producer. After many years as a ‘safe pair of hands’ actor, mainly in film and television, I moved into the production side as a freelance writer and producer. I’ve written feature films, TV and radio dramas, documentaries and animation series and worked on productions as a script doctor and consultant.
In 2009 I was one of the co-founders of Funky Medics, a production company focussing mainly on innovative health education. Its projects have included heart disease, diabetes, smoking and drug abuse.
Currently, I have four screenplays under option, one for production in 2023, the other three at various stages of draft development.
Siena, my first novel, was revised and republished by new indie publisher Diamond Crime along with my second, Single Cell in April 2021. A new book, TimeSlip, was released in late March 2022.
I write in a shed at the bottom of my small garden.
Originally from Pembrokeshire in West Wales, I now live near Cardiff and have British nationality and Canadian citizenship.
There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.
This is one of my memories; the street I lived in until the age of five.
It was a narrow street with only ten small, terraced houses. Built in stone, the front exteriors were identical: a door with a window on the left and two bedroom windows above. The differences were made by the individual choices of each household. Perhaps I should really say, the choices made by the women. Each house had different net curtains at the downstairs window, white or cream; a variety of patterns. It seemed like every other Monday the washing lines on the common land at the back of the houses were filled with row upon row of lace-like material. And every Saturday morning my mum cleaned the front step with a white donkey-stone, bought from the rag and bone man in exchange for any old clothes that were past wearing. Rubbing the sandstone in long sweeps over the step she would smooth it out with a cloth until it was evenly covered.She was always in a good mood if she was the first on the street to have a Saturday “tidy front step”.
The street was cobbled. In summer when the weather was hot the tar between the cobbles melted, very tempting for small fingers. We would poke the tar with sticks and often get some on our hands, or clothes. I’m not sure how my mother removed it from my fingers, but I do remember getting into trouble about that. Being too narrow for cars, we were able to play on the road: hopscotch, skipping games, football (the dads would sometimes join in), cricket (being the smallest I was only ever allowed to field, not always successfully, I might add; the street sloped downwards, the ball often only came to rest on the patch of land at the end of the street).
We stayed out from first thing in the morning until dark, given half a chance. I remember eating whatever ‘butty’ I was given for lunch (dinner) sitting on the front doorstep.
The patch of land I mentioned, was called ‘the croft’ for some reason. It was where we had the communal bonfire each year. The men collected old boxes, planks and pallets, broke up old furniture and built the bonfire. Some older boys would guard it to prevent anyone from the other streets stealing anything; there was great rivalry with the bonfires. On the night our mothers produced potato pies, black peas, treacle toffee. Some people threw potatoes onto the fire to cook – which they more often than not, didn’t, but no one admitted the hot, blackened potatoes were raw inside. There was always lots of fireworks (always the dads in charge): Rockets, Catherine Wheels, Rip-Raps, Bangers. We were allowed Sparklers to write our names in the dark skies. I don’t remember it ever raining on Bonfire Night, though, being in the North of England, I suppose it must have.
With no bathroom in the house the lavatory was in a row of three small buildings. A cinder path crossed the common land to get to them. Stiflingly hot in summer, bitterly draughty in the winter, my mum fought a war against germs inside our loo, it always smelled of Jeyes Fluid. The brick walls were whitewashed which sometimes formed bubbles and broke up into powdery flakes that floated down onto the stone flags. With no window, and a door that fitted tightly when latched, it was pitch-black in there. I always stretched my leg out to hold the door back against the wall; I was more scared of the dark than being seen by anyone who passed. And, anyway, over the roofs of the houses in the next street I could see fields and the dark purple of the moors; somewhere that seemed a magical place.
Bath night was Sunday night. With no bathroom in the house, we used a large tin bath that was usually hung on a large nail outside the back door. Hauled in front of the kitchen fire the bath was filled with pan after pan of hot water heated by the wall cylinder.
In winter the only warm room was the kitchen. Bedtime was a dash from there, up icy-cold stairs into the bedroom, tightly clutching my hot water bottle. If my father wasn’t home, my mother, oblivious to any thoughts of Health and Safety, carried a shovelful of fire, burning coals from the kitchen fireplace, to the fireplace in my bedroom, in order to take the chill off the room. It rarely did, but I loved watching the flickering shadows from the low flames on the walls and ceiling. Often, by morning, my clothes, laid out on the chair at the end of my bed, in readiness to jump into, would be stiff with cold, and the inside of the windows were covered in intricate patterns on the panes, icy kaleidoscopes of snowflakes that melted when I held my hand on the glass.
I suppose we were poor, but where we lived and at that time we were the norm. I can’t remember feeling any different from anyone else. But I guess, at five, I was oblivious to the larger picture of our family, days were times of play, and the novelty of the small school I attended. It’s only looking back that I realise how quickly I took for granted our next house with a bathroom, electric heaters in all the rooms, and a garden to play in. Oh, and an inside lavatory!
Best of all, I was within walking distance of the fields and the moors, and as I got older the moors became a somewhere to roam, to escape to, with my dog..
Next week: Places in our Memories #MondayBlogs #Memories with Thorne Moore
“Villagers have restored the shell of a historic “unloved eyesore” tollhouse demolished more than 70 years ago.The original building was among hundreds used to collect money from 18th and 19th century travellers. Volunteers in Tongwynlais, on the edge of Cardiff, have spent more than a year rebuilding it as the first step towards creating a local history trail.“Our volunteers have been fantastic,” said Sarah Barnes, of the Tongwynlais Historical Society.
Before this wonderful restoration granddaughter and I walked the Taff Trail – so thought you might like to see the before and after. Or, in the case of this blog, the “after and before”.
Put a lovely sunny day, with a dog desperate to go a walk, with a granddaughter who needs to be dragged from her mobile and bribed by the thought of a chocolate brownie and a drink of Sprite, and there was only one place to head for, the cafe in the garden centre at the end of the Taff Trail in Radyr.
The Radyr section of this lovely river walk is one we’ve done often
But this time we decided to meander along various smaller paths, even though we needed to retrace our steps numerous times. I was so glad we did because look what we found:
The tollhouse, once used by the Pentyrch and Melingriffith Iron and Tinplate Works in the late 1800s
I thought I’d better seek permission to add some of the photographs from the Tongwynlais Historical Society. I made contact with a very helpful chap, Jack Davies, whose fascinating website also contains an article about the Tollhouse and other history of the village: https://tongwynlais.com/history/
Seren also very kindly leant a hand to point out this lovely heart shaped stone, with a wonderful inscription:
Which immediately brought to mind (well, my mind anyway), my book, The Heart Stone, which was published by Honno, in 2021: So, never one to pass up on an opportunity…
The inspiration for The Heart Stone partly came from research for my degree on The First World War some years ago; a subject that both fascinates and repulses me. At the time I’d found my grandfather’s army records and discovered he’d volunteered to join the local Pals Battalion with two of his friends, although they were all underage.
I only ever remember him as a small man who spent his days in a single bed under the window in the parlour, who coughed a lot, and was very grumpy. He died when I was eight.
There was no conscription at the beginning of the war. The Pals Battalions were formed, to answer Lord Kitchener’s call for volunteers, by encouraging local magistrates to drum up community spirit and patriotic fervour.
The gist of the speeches used were that young men,”… should form a battalion of pals, a battalion in which friends will fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of their town and villages.”
My grandfather was gassed in 1916 near the Somme. He was also shell-shocked and was unemployed for the rest of his life. Once, my mother told me he had never spoken of his experience but had suffered nightmares for as long as she could remember. And that there were whole streets around the house where they’d lived where the men had never returned.
It’s a haunting image.
Four years ago, after my mother passed away and we were clearing her home, I found my grandfather’s army papers again.
During the following week, whilst my husband and I were walking along the Pembrokeshire coastal path, we found a smooth stone, almost heart shaped, placed on top of a cairn amongst the Marram grass. Picking up the stone to examine it, a folded paper blew from underneath. There had been words on it but were, by then, indecipherable.
A love note, I thought; a love note under a heart shaped stone.
A love note, under a heart shaped stone, from a young man who had never returned.
And so The Heart Stone started to form.
The Heart Stone was published byHonno Pressin Feb 2021
I’m,originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines, but have lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for over forty years.
I have an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen. BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. I’m also is a Creative Writing tutor and hold workshops on all genres.
The sunny day disappeared as we walked through the short steep-sided gorge – following in the footsteps of Victorian touristto the Water-Break-its-Neck waterfall, around a mile from the village of New Radnor ( Maesyfed – the Welsh name), in the county of Powys,Wales.
It was a spectacular sight.Yet, beyond the sound of the water it was strangely silent.
We made our way back along the narrow path. I thought we would be taking a slow ramble along the walking trails in Warren Wood – so named for the labyrinth of rabbit warrens that kept the locals fed for centuries, now dwarfed by towering beeches, oaks and conifers.
Husband had other ideas. ‘Let’s walk up the road to the top of Warren Wood,’ he said, pointing vaguely to the left as we left the path. ‘We could get some brilliant photographs.‘
‘How far is it?’
I’ve been caught out by “Not far”, before. Why do I always believe him?
If only I’d read the Nature reserve signage:
“In the 1800s The Victorian landowners planted trees on the moorland, to provide a landscape of scenic beauty thus creating a forest, part of Radnor Forestwhichwas once a royal hunting ground. In those days it wasn’t an area covered in trees but an unenclosed piece of land, legally set aside for the Norman kings to hunt deer. Today, Radnor Forest is a land of hill farming and moorlands, steep narrow valleys and hills, rising up to the highest point in Radnorshire, Black Mixen at 650 metres.“
Note the words, ‘steep’, hills, and 650 metres. What we didn’t know, was that the wide concrete road in front of us was not only steep but has many twists and turns – and always upwards before it got to 650 metres.
Two and a half hours later, with stops for photographs, we reached the top… I thought. We sat on a convenient rock, drinking from our second bottle of water.
‘We could go on for a bit longer?’ Husband said.,looking around. ‘The road carries on.’
‘The proper road stops here not up there.’ I pointed to the dirt track behind us. Steep dirt track.
I’I bet we could get brilliant photos, though. I’ll go and check.’ Ten minutes later he was back. ‘Come on, it’s a fantastic view.’
We walked in silence. Well, to be honest I had no breath to use up in conversation.
‘Ready to go back?’ Husband asked.
I didn’t think I could face that road again. ‘We could try going that way?’ I point to a gentle downward sloping track.’It looks like it’s going back to the start.’
‘It does.’I insisted.
I should,perhaps have said, before now – I have little sense of direction. We stumbled/slid down walked for over an hour with the wind whistling through the tall conifers that lined the ever-steeper, downward track. I became increasingly aware of a brooding silence, each time I said cheerfully,’It has to lead to somewhere…’ and, ‘We’re going in the right direction…’. Until we weren’t… we rounded a corner- to see the road end in a turning point for the Forestry Commission. A thick forest faced us…Hmm…
Back we went,stopping every fifty paces to catch our breath. To be fair there were only a few recriminations. Although I did hear some mutterings – which I ignored. Later,we worked out that we had walked thirteen miles – seven more than we had planned.
The following day we creaked our way rambled sedately aroundthe fields where we were stayingnear Bettws Cedewain, a place in a sheltered valley on the banks of the river Bechan. around five miles from Newtown. The village grew around the crossing of the river where a church was founded by St Beuno in the sixth century. I read that the name of the village is thought to derive from the Welsh word ‘Betws’ – which means a prayer house or bead house where the number of prayers had been counted on beads by the earliest church-goers in Cedewain.