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Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile: Pant Glas

23 Jun 2024 4 minute read
The Pant Glas Slip Photo: Tom Maloney

In a year long series Tom Maloney, from Abersychan, shows how you can love a place so well it becomes a part of you.

As a Welsh learner one of the loveliest gifts that I have received is ‘Welsh Place Names and their Meanings’, a handy, pocket-sized book by Dewi Davies. It’s brilliant.

In only a few months it has become a good companion for me, as it is like a fountain of Welsh knowledge revealing so much about places.

The meaning of ‘Pant’ is given as a ‘hollow or valley’ and ‘Pant Glas’ as ‘Green Hollow’.  I think this name must go back in time to a period when the Welsh language was in common usage within the area prior to the industrialisation.

As I read the word hollow, ‘sleepy’ came to mind straight away and I suppose it is a sleepy place now, but it wasn’t always so.

Pant Glas Slip defined by morning light. Photo: Tom Maloney

I am constantly surprised by how long it can take before you actually see something for what it is, that has been staring you in the face for a very long time.

I remember one evening a couple of years ago driving home along the top road from Varteg and the evening light catching the Pant Glas hillside so perfectly that the scar of a landslip seemed unmistakable to my eyes.

The Local OS Map confirmed my hunch straight away, with the description ‘Pant Glas Slip’.

The British Geological Survey gives the following definition of a landslip –

‘A landslide is a mass movement of material, such as rock, earth or debris down a slope. They can happen suddenly or more slowly over periods of time.’

Boulder at Pant Glas Slip Photo: Tom Maloney

Curiously from a distance you really do not get any idea of just how big the fallen rocks at the site are, but when you get up close and personal many of them are truly huge, ‘enfawr’ in the Welsh.

By the size and weight of some of the boulders, it would look like this would have been an event that happened very quickly.

And yet … this seems to be a part of the local history that has been lost in memory.

There are some limited published references to the history. In ‘The Cwm Sychan Circular Walk’ published by Torfaen County Borough Council two slips are mentioned –

‘The slips took place in 1860 and 1861, engulfing the Cwm Byrgwm Mine and several cottages, although remarkably no-one was hurt.’

Given the way these rocks are strewn across the slope it would seem to be a miracle to me that no-one had been injured or killed. The slips must have been a massive talking point in the community at the time!

As yet, I have been unable to find out what actually caused the landslips, but I wonder if the land was geologically weak and if the proximity of the mining works may have further weakened the ground. Perhaps rain too may have contributed to the slips.

An image of contrasts Photo: Tom Maloney

I must have spent many hours exploring this enigmatic, intriguing landscape over the past couple of years. It has an enduring attraction for me.

Nature plays an ever-increasing part, softening the impact of the past.

Just now Common cotton-grass (Eriophorum angustifolium), reminds me of cotton wool lollipops swaying in the wind and add such an image of contrast against the colliery spoil.

Foxglove flowers (Digitalis purpurea) grow so elegantly from the nooks and crannies of the fallen rocks, their blossoms like purple musical notes along their stems. How I love this plant.

Foxgloves growing elegantly. Photo: Tom Maloney

And there is such beauty in the eroded surfaces of the stones, patterned by time.

Every year Winter peels back another layer of their lichen encrusted skins, creating exquisite riven mosaic patterns that are wonderful.

Eroded stones patterned by time. Photo: Tom Maloney

The missing pieces of the mosaics form smaller, abstract pictures that fill the crevices between the stones, which in their turn become new habitats as well.

Sometimes I wonder about the old places that I like to roam, what is it that keeps drawing me back?  As I think about the answer, in the end I think it is beauty that fills my eyes.

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

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