Out of the blue in the very early 1950s, Mom and Dad and Uncle Doug and Auntie Joan decided to go on holiday together. I’d been taken on a few holidays by Mom and Dad in the past. It was usually a week in Rhyl where I was bought the occasional ice-cream.
We’d been to Shrawley, too, from time to time. It was usually just Mom and me and we’d gone with the Buckle family who lived on Waterloo Road. We’d stayed in an ageing single-decker bus which had been converted into a sort of holiday cottage, with a shed-like wooden building beside it which had some bunk-beds in it.
Shrawley, in Worcestershire, was – and still is, I think – a quiet little place along a main(ish) road with The Rose & Crown pub as its main place of entertainment. To get to the “cottage”, we had to walk up a broad, cow-pat covered farm-track. My main activity, which I enjoyed greatly, was simply to walk up and down that track. Sometimes, I would wander into the woodland on a slope nearby.
This time, though, and for no reason that I knew, it was agreed that we should all stay in a holiday-cottage: me, my cousin Susan, Mom, Dad, Doug and Joan. Doug had found an ad in ‘The Express & Star’, and got in touch (by post, I guess, for nobody in our street had home-phones back then) with a Mrs. Bull in Birmingham.
I suppose the joint holiday was to split the expenses.
The name of the cottage was all but unpronounceable to us, nor was the area in which it stood. It turned out to be Penpombren in Rhos-y-Gell near Pontarfynach (which the English called by its map-name: Devil’s Bridge).
And how different that holiday was! The cottage was in the country, though not the country like those open farm-fields round Wolverhampton It was not even like the farmlands around Shrawley. It certainly was a different Wales from the one in which Rhyl was. This was – as I was later to find out – Wild Wales.
I heard the Welsh language for the first time, and there were even people in the area who had no English at all. It was like a foreign land, which indeed was and still is the truth. I had such a comfortable feeling there, as if the land warmed me and protected me.
This was nothing like my Damascus Road discovery of jazz; simply a cosiness which I still feel right down to my toes.
Mom even allowed me to wander freely anywhere I wanted and, oh, how I wanted! From down in Rhos-y-Gell, the twelve-year-old me walked and walked and walked. I discovered the Hafod Estate, green and mysterious in those times with the ruined walls of the octagonal library still standing. I visited The Arch many times, and marvelled at it being built there in the wilderness. I went on foot to Cwmystwyth and saw the scars left behind by the lead mines. I strode out all the way to The Splash, which was then a ford just before the junction with the A44, and paddled in it, drying my feet on grass.
Nobody worried about lads being abducted in those days, certainly in that area. And these walks continued for years afterwards, for we came back and back. Eventually, we rented, full time, Rhos Goch, a cottage now very much renovated, and returned to it Summer and Winter alike, sometimes just for a quick overnight stay.
We made friends with quite a few locals. Tom Evans Dolcoion, a bachelor who had only his housekeeper, Mattie Rogers for company; newly-weds Wil and Brenda Evans at Glangorslwyd; the Lloyd family at Penlonfedw Stores; Lewis Lewis and his family who lived at Minffordd and his parents, John and Neli, who lived along the lane at Dyffryn Gell.
Tom Evans gave me my first lessons in both the Welsh language and Welsh history. Wil Evans played a lot of practical jokes on us. Lewis Lewis set up a petrol-driven electricity generator and ran his lighting and a small black and while television from it – his was the first house in Rhos-y-Gell to have electricity and this was before the Nant-y-Moch scheme even began.
Old Cardiganshire had become my Paradise. Even now, when I come back across the border into my homeland, I feel the same thrill I felt all those years ago. Here is my peace, here is my refuge.
Saturday, 9th May, 2009.
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