The Past Is A Foreign Country
Today, finding the time and seeing that the forecasted rain had stayed away, we took a quick trip out.
We turned left at Tregaron Primary School and headed along the dead-end, single-track lane towards Blaen Caron. Having noticed the deep and muted colours of Spring yesterday on our way along the Devil’s Bridge road from Aberystwyth when the sky was more or less overcast, we enjoyed them again as we climbed towards Blaen Caron.
Those colours remind us again that Winter really has given way to Spring.
When we came to the end of the tarmacced lane, we parked and strolled just a little way down a public-footpath to where Afon Brennig crosses that track. Bess, the Psychodog, splashed across to the other side, but we weren’t wearing proper walking shoes so refrained from copying her.
This – and, indeed, the lane we’d followed – was part of a centuries-old drovers’ road. Flocks of sheep and herds of cows would be gathered in Tregaron and driven up here, and along similar tracks, right over the Cambrian Mountains to markets right across the English Midlands and as far as London.
Many of these old drove-roads can be traced still across these once wild mountains. Maybe we’re used to the Cambrians now, so they seem less wild to us than they might to visitors.
Years ago, whilst writing the ‘Happy Tracks’ series of walking-guides, I followed a route across the tops above our village in the depths of Winter. The snow was turned to ice by the freezing strong Easterly wind. Only an idiot would be out on these mountains in weather like that . . .
Beside the Blaen Caron drove-road, there are the remains of tiny, collapsed houses with crumbling boundary walls which mark the very small patch of land which those who dwelt in the houses once used to scratch some sort of a living.
They are tai-unnos – one-night houses – which were originally built under Welsh law. If, during the hours of darkness, you could fence off a piece of land and put some sort of dwelling thereon which had smoke coming from its chimney by daylight, that land belonged to you. Most of the dwellings would be made from sods of grass, the roofs supported by branches cut from trees. Later, as you settled in, you could improve your home. The original places would become stone-built with slate roofs. They would be single-room affairs, of course.
There you and your family could struggle along to stay alive in whatever conditions the weather threw at you.
I have often asked the question “Why have they fallen down and why is nobody living up there now.” It’s purely rhetorical: either the families living in those wilds died out or they moved to “somewhere better” – the nearest town or village, perhaps, or even followed the drove-roads to the bigger English cities in the hope of finding work.
Those remains of tai-unnos are sorry reminders of the hard times poor people suffered in centuries past.
Though we live in more affluent times these days, I trust we will not forget those lives of slavery and drudgery our not-so-long-ago ancestors had. “We must know our history to understand our present and plan for our future.”