Places in our Memories #MondayBlogs #Memories

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.

Copyright: @TalkSaddleworth

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.

Copyright @LiverpoolEchoe

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..

Copyright @David Barrow
Copyright @David barrow

Next week: Places in our Memories #MondayBlogs #Memories with Thorne Moore

Walking the Taff Trail – Well a small section of it anyway. And more of a stroll than a walk. #walks #cycling #photos

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

Thanks to the Tongwynlais Historical Society ( co-founders,Sarah Barnes and Rob Wiseman) the Tollhouse returns to life. What was once nothing more than a few visible bricks covered in 70 years of vegetation, is now a recognisable shell complete with growing wildflower garden

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/

Granddaughter, Seren, with soulful companion, Benji, who patiently waited to continue his walk.

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 by Honno Press in Feb 2021

And a Review of The Heart Stone:

https://amzn.to/3bCkx8w

And a buying link:

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/3hupbc1

Also available from Honno

And a little bit about me:

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.

And here I am:

https://twitter.com/judithbarrow77
https://www.facebook.com/judith.barrow.

An easy walk… I thought!. Warren Wood (beginning with a Short Visit to the Water-Break-its-Neck waterfall) @Powys #Wales #photographs #walks #holidaymemories

The sunny day disappeared as we walked through the short steep-sided gorge – following in the footsteps of Victorian tourist to 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.

The water tumbled through the black slated rocks, a silvery mesmerising flow, to the small stream and creating a fine rainbow mist in the air. Yet there was an eerie and ephemeral feeling to the fallen, bare oak branches laced with lichen and boulders covered in dark green moss and surrounded by curtains of gently swaying ferns.

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?’

‘Not far.’

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 Forest which was 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.

Though the views were wonderful. We could see as far away as Hereford and beyond…..

‘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 doesn’t.’

‘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 around the fields where we were staying near 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.