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Culture

Letter from Clydach Gorge

26 Nov 2023 3 minute read
The Lonely Shepherd, cut by early 19th C quarrymen. Photo by Stephen Price

Stephen Price

I write this letter not from where I am, but from where I’m not. From where I was. From where my heart is.

I spent close to thirty years in my beautiful beech lined valley. Thirty tree rings, thirty seasons of young spring green leaves and wet black bark, crisp autumn copper and bare silver branches.

Ruins of iron and lime works, abandoned yards and quarries were our playground. We were family and community all in one.

Unlike so many of my friends, I never wished to fly or flee the nest. My walks were transcendental. My family my joy.

Clydach beech trees in late November mist

Like the awe-striking beech of Cwm Clydach that betray the gorge’s industrial past, I felt a symbiotic relationship to my square mile. I know every track and tree. I know where the bluebells return and from where the cuckoo calls. I know where Ynys y Garth is, even if it never had a sign.

But I don’t know every one any more. My friends are gone. My school has closed. The chapels where I played and great greats married are family homes and AirBnBs.

When I return, I am a stranger. An apparition on the sidelines, locked out of the ebb and flow of a world now gone.

Bonfire nights, crab apple fights, knock knock ginger on the doors of people no longer there, no longer here.

I moved away before the death of my beloved mam. Mere minutes away and unaware of how unsettled I would be.

Nant Dyar Railway Viaduct

Soon after her death, my hiraeth grew too strong and I moved back, with dogs that were once hers in tow, to feel closer, to feel happier, to feel like ‘me’ again. But going back didn’t work, it couldn’t work, and I sold up within a year.

For too long I’d drive past and look towards Llanelly Church and the Lonely Shepherd that overlooks where she lay alone in her resting place, pierced with feelings that can’t be named.

Long before my forty rings appeared on Clydach’s beech, and the devil himself built a bridge connecting Craig Ddu to Gelli Felin, Welsh gravestones began to give way to English. Long forgotten people waiting to welcome family friends, neighbours and even friends of my own to the fold.

My sister’s child won’t attend the same village school or have friends scattered doors away, but the village will be his as it was mine.

His tongue will match the faded gravestones of Siloam Chapel in a way mine could only dream of. Gobaith. Adnewyddu. Adfywiad.

A fallen beech over Nant Dyar Waterfall

Too many of the beeches I’ve known have fallen since I left – victims of our changing seasons. But saplings planted by a younger me, the one that belonged, are now tall enough for him to climb.

One of my mam’s dogs lies with her now, too, in slumber at her feet. She’s not alone. She never was.

And now I understand. We hold gold dust in our hands.

 


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Nigel
Nigel
2 months ago

A lovely piece. Enjoyed reading it several times. Da iawn.

Sue jones davies
Sue jones davies
2 months ago
Reply to  Nigel

Cytuno.

Cymro Penperllenni
Cymro Penperllenni
2 months ago

Da iawn. I explored the graveyard that sits above the Heads of the Valleys and saw, as with many church yards in that area, Welsh gravestones turn to English in the 1870,’s. Trist iawn

Richard Thomas
Richard Thomas
2 months ago

A fine article, I know that area well, in fact I was there yesterday.

Geraint
Geraint
2 months ago

Was there nearly forty years ago, wandering along the old railway lines and followed an incline plain down to an old lime kiln . Was amazed to see a fig tree growing high up between the stones of the kiln. A memory for a lifetime.

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