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Letter from Corwen

18 Feb 2024 7 minute read
Deion and Dylan, fixing broken things – Glyndwr in the background

Julie Brominicks

Even passing the Texaco Garage a mile or two south you sense the town to come with its corrugated sheds and haulage yard is an outpost; romantically rain-dark and ruinous, save for Glyndŵr swinging his sword from his statue – feistily – lest we forget.

The A5 squeezes through so it’s from dusty bus windows, delayed between log lorries and sheep trailers that you see two men out there fixing traffic lights onto a flat-bed.

And you think Corwen is caught in time and space somewhere between Glyndŵr, the drovers, and Ifor Williams (whose factories are all about).

And maybe, even before getting chance to rub away at its dark patina you guess Corwen is a magic lantern of a town. What’s not to like? It howls of transit.

Librarians Nia and Gwen Photo: Julie Brominicks

“Mae’r lle yn reit isel dynni’n meddwl” say the librarians, referring to the empty shabby shops with more closures to come.

The library’s opening hours have just been cut even though demand for help with blue badges and the like and the ‘warm room’ where people can help themselves to a panad has never been greater.

Arwel Huws, butcher Photo: Julie Brominicks

“We need Corwen to change but not too much” say Arwel and William the butchers. “It would be nice if people stayed a while rather than just passing through.”

Dinam in the Post Office with an old photo of Corwen – without roadworks!

“There is never-ending roadworks! They go like this, in circles and nobody knows what is happening!”

That’s Ive from Lithuania, who is learning Cymraeg by Zoom and runs the Post Office with her husband Dinam. So out I go to ask the guys I’d seen with the traffic lights what they are doing.

Fixing broken things

“Trwsio pethau wedi malu” say Deion and Dylan. ‘Fixing broken things’ I report back to Ive who laughs and says anyway it’s much better here than at their Doncaster Post Office, where they had gangs and police every day.

“In Corwen we have never had to ban one person!” The kids buying sweets like it too. “Dim rhy busy” says one. “Mae pawb yn caredig” says his friend. Everyone is kind.

So true. Sue and Dave volunteering in Canolfan Ni reel off their activities. Food bank, CAB, MIND, free lightbulbs. The dial-a-ride bus won an award.

“There’s a woman with a new baby having to wash in cold water – we try and help.”

Wahid valeting a car Photo: Julie Brominicks

School-bus driver John turns up early so the kids can get on and get warm.

And Wahid in the Hand Car Wash, despite me having no vehicle, points to the roof, says gently “it is raining” indicates a sofa on which I am invited to sit while he and his colleague valet a Liverpudlian’s car, and presents me with a Red Bull.

John who drives one of the school buses

Gateway

I get to know Corwen because it is my gateway to Sir Ddinbych, whose interesting places to visit by bus the county council have commissioned me to blog about.

Corwen; a place to change buses, a place to drive through, or where travel-bewildered labourers, bikers and delivery drivers load up on breakfasts in Yum Yums.

Double-wagons, hay trailers, BT vans go by, and there’s Deion and Dylan, jet-washing. They offer to do my boots.

Corwen from Coed Pen y Pigyn Photo: Julie Brominicks

From up at Coed Pen y Pigyn, you see Corwen between Y Berwynion and Afon Dyfrdwy which has slate fences on its banks and a rose-gold gleam at sunset snared by alders like bright fish in a net.

Corwen is poised between mountains and river, eons and languages.

“Cymraeg?” hissed a man on the bus bench one night, out of the corner of his mouth as if Welsh was contraband.

“Sais,” I whispered back “o dros y clawdd.”

But there are places you can go in Corwen and speak Cymraeg straight off without apology. The library, Caffi Treferwyn, the butcher’s, Gwesty Glyndŵr.

Ifor lighting the fire in Gwesty Glyndŵr

Labyrinthine

I was in that labyrinthine hotel on a hot September afternoon when someone told me that in winter they huddle around the fire and chuck in a quid for the coal.

Now it is winter.

Sue is serving Hedd a pint after his shift at Ifor Williams.

And Ifor Siôn places his mug on the mantelpiece, kneels at the hearth in his tweeds, builds a tower of paper and sticks, puts a match to the tinder, gazes awhile at the blaze, and I am hit by a terrible thought.

What if this place were a Wetherspoon? No!

Sam and Katie’s laundry service in the old Poor House

Or what if Katie and Sam (wearing woolly hats against the cold) who run the laundry service in the old Poor House were replaced by a row of machines? No.

Worse – what if Caffi Treferwyn became a Costa?! What? No Dilys serving up piles of “sglodion a chaws a ffa ar y ben” on porcelain plates for Angharad to place sweetly alongside a vase of silk tulips and gyp? No.

To hell with overlarge lattes and extractor fans.

Dilys and Angharad in Caffi Treferwyn

Glyndŵr’s spirit

Ah Corwen! Glyndŵr (whose estate was up the road) looks on from his horse outside the chemist.

I ask people if his spirit lingers and they say no and yes at the same time and then remember the kids get involved with a procession every year so maybe.

But there are no sword-wielders now, or so I presume, till I meet a lost chef from Manchester on his way to an interview at Palé Hall Hotel.

I tell him there’s a bus in an hour or maybe he could hitch and he says “well I could hitch, but I’ve got a bag full of knives see” and I wonder.

Afon Dyfrdwy Photo: Julie Brominicks

Corwen you are like an advent calendar, each dark door revealing something lustrous.

Slate fences by Afon Dyfrdwy Photo: Julie Brominicks

My blog work is finished now, so this is not a ‘letter from’ but really a ‘letter to.’

Dear Corwen, on Friday, held up between a Dŵr Cymru van and a log lorry, I peered one last time through dust-streaked windows and I saw Deion and Dylan drilling the pavement.

Dear Corwen. I hope you get the visitors you desire and the funding you darn well deserve, but meanwhile, please know, that this one traveller at least, loves you just the way you are.


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

This has morphed into Ricky Lee Jones’ Last Texaco who has written an autobiography ‘Last Chance Texaco’…Corwen…the next train…

JulieB
JulieB
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Diolch MM for your tangential thinking – I might never get round to reading the book, but I just gave the whimsical song a whirl. And yes the train. I didn’t write about the train and the buzz it brought to the town (says Chris in Yum Yums) Or The Crown and its mysteries. Or the DIY store. Or the community orchard. Or The Emporium that used to be a chemical shed. Or the drovers I’m intrigued by. Or even the grieving gravestones in the churchyard where widows wept! Or the fabulous museum and its Glyndwr exhibits, or the woman… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  JulieB

Hi Julie, I bet my Library person has it by now, but she will be 25% smaller. Books come at an awful rate…anyway I knew the town and some of the people of area well years ago. The place seemed to avoided both boom and bust, I hope the Railway Fever continues… Ivor Williams are an international success that sets the company apart… (Travel wasn’t by horse and coach but thumb, a much more open ended journey was envisaged in those days. Speaking of horse drawn vehicles there is a great tale of the good life in my namesake’s county… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Tell your friend Ms Beer that her book has arrived, Mine is the first stamp and my first sense is of Mark Twain and William Moon kayaking down the Mawddach, reading between the lines, rivers are the most tangential of creatures…

JulieB
JulieB
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Indeed!

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