Support our Nation today - please donate here

Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile: Cwmbyrgwm – A Stack, A Pond and the View Beyond!

25 Feb 2024 4 minute read
Cwmbyrgwm: A Stack A Pond & The View Beyond. Photo: Tom Maloney

Tom Maloney

Cwmbyrgwm – A Stack, A Pond and the View Beyond!

Abersychan often feels like a puzzle, each piece has its own shape, with its own story and character, but a little like rummaging in a puzzle box for a lost piece, some parts of the landscape have become rather lost in time.

Cwmbyrgwm is one of those places. It must have its origins at a time when Welsh was the spoken language of the area, the change probably coming along with the Industrial Revolution.

I like the sound and the feel of this name as you pronounce its syllables, but what does it mean? It was only a few months ago that the ‘penny finally dropped’ as I stood looking over the valley. The clue was there to be seen all the time in the sum of its parts.

Cwm – Valley    byr – short   gwm – valley  (gwm is a mutation of cwm)*

So Cwmbyrgwm literally means ‘Valley of the short valley’, and when you view Cwmbyrgwm from above this name makes such perfect sense.

As a Welsh learner I like these little eureka moments, they are the little wins that give the joy to learning. How I wish I that was born a Welsh speaker!

Cwmbyrgwm Valley. Photo: Tom Maloney

This secretive valley lies at the edge of my square mile. As with so many places that fall out of use opportunities to record the history of the site have been missed.

Sadly, I should also say from the outset that because of its outlying location it suffers from frequent fly tipping and the damage caused by powerful off road motor bikes, problems that seem to affect every part of Wales that are just so very hard to understand, but … there is also such innate beauty here and such panoramas!

Cwmbyrgwm Layers of History. Photo: Tom Maloney

Weather has such an impact on what you see, on how you feel and on what you think and imagine.

I love those moments when the elements have a gutsy edge, when the land and the sky merge and the clouds caress the slopes.

The layers of history are laid bare in every season, but they are not like the soft, moist, almond sponge layers of an opera cake, topped with a chocolate glaze, instead they have a raw, rugged architecture formed by deep mining and by landslip.

Wandering along the paths and sheep trails has a feeling of exploration, it makes demands on you and these days I am never without my trusty stick as a third leg!

Cwmbyrgwm Stack. Photos: Tom Maloney

Nestled into its hillside home, Cwmbyrgwm Stack stands its ground, a vestige of an industrial past.

It is such a familiar feature of the landscape, but within its familiarity it is almost unnoticed by many.

For me it is also an iconic reminder of the numerous chimneys that once populated the valleys and of the communities that have gone.

Its iconic nature takes my imagination to the work of Paul Cezanne and Andy Warhol, on whose shoulders so many other great artists rest.

Cezanne returned time and time again to Montagne Saint-Victoire as the subject for some of his greatest masterpieces.

Mont Sant Victoire Photo: Tom Maloney

Some years ago I was fortunate to visit the spot on which he gazed at the mountain, the light was beautiful and it has remained a special moment for me still.

Andy Warhol famously used repetition in such a different way to produce visually stunning art works like Marilyn Diptych.

My photographs of Cwmbyrgwm have over time become very repetitive and are very much a personal homage to their work.

Cwmbyrgwm Winter Dance. Photo: Tom Maloney

And what of Nature? It is still there, defiantly fighting on.

Sinuous, elegant trees perched above the stack have such energy in their shape and form, so reminiscent of a Winter dance in February and along the colliery spoil delicate lichens delight the eye.

Cwmbyrgwm Lichens. Photo: Tom Maloney

And what of the people of the valley? A little more in the next feature, with perhaps a surprise or two!

Read the earlier installments of Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile by Tom Maloney

Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.