Before I start my new travelog around a Covid London on network Rail (spontaneously entitled ‘theendoftheline #02’), I thought I’d use my recent trip home to Wales to rekindle my story telling. And in a way, it still fits ‘theendoftheline’ theme for two reasons:
- My home town of Aberystwyth is the end of the line for three railway stations, but more importantly…
- This was an emotional return to scatter my mother’s ashes in her hometown. So in a way it was a different ‘endoftheline’, poignant and solemn but yet a happy occasion.
I start my journey in the foothills of three mountains: The Blorange; The Skirrid and The Sugar Loaf. Mam’s home for the last 10 years, so it seems fitting to start my journey here. This is a small market town, promoted as a Gateway to Wales and sits on the confluence of two rivers: The Usk, and of course the Gavenny.
For those unfamiliar with the Welsh language, place names starting with ‘Aber’ represent the ‘mouth of the river’ so Abergavenny becomes the mouth of the river Gavenny – simple really. And whilst I’m on a bit of a Welsh teaching kick, here’s another one: a place name starting with ‘Llan’ means a church followed by the name of the saint. Don’t forget though the saint’s name will also be in Welsh so their translation into English may not be obvious.
The town, as with everywhere at the moment, is challenged by the need to ensure shopping and visiting is safe to do so, and consequently there are fewer people about. Either because local amenities are closed, or because some shops have decided not to reopen; the effect is noticeable. Nevertheless this is a very clean and well cared for town which prides itself with its local heritage and its renowned international food festival.
I return to Abergavenny at the end of my tour to Wales, and pay a visit to the Sugarloaf Vineyards. As its name suggests, it’s on the foothills of the Sugar Loaf mountain, where Welsh wines have been produced for a number of years. The view from their recently built dining area is spectacular, and on an autumnal afternoon, you can enjoy this view of The Blorange whilst listening to the babbling brook that runs alongside the vineyard. This was a perfect end to a perfect visit to Wales.
Places we visited
Westonbirt Arboretum: I know! I know, not in Wales, but we did visit here whilst staying in Abergavenny. Just a short hop back into England over the old (original) Severn Bridge. This is my preferred route over the Severn instead of going over the recently renamed Prince of Wales Bridge, because you have an excellent view up and down the estuary, and no two journeys over the bridge are the same: the scenery changing with the tides and time of day.
Booking is required ahead of visiting, but that’s the new normal now in order to control the flow and number of visitors. Managed by Forestry England since 1956, the National Arboretum was originally created over 200 years ago by the wealthy Victorian landowner, Robert Holford; an ambitious man with a passion for the natural world!
With over 600 acres of woodland, it’s impossible to enjoy all the arboretum has to offer in one visit. Indeed, even if you could, you’d want to return during the changing seasons to see nature’s beauty at its best.
We visit with family, and as is my want, with camera in hand, I’m often trailing behind their steady walking pace. This is because I’ll have found some interesting natural occurrences that I want to capture in the best possible way. Maybe I should write a separate feature of my visit here as I have many gloriously coloured woodland shots to share.
It’s difficult to choose, and that’s always my dilemma when I select my ‘Picture of the Day’. Sometimes the picture selects itself, and other times I ponder over a short selection and decide which one best represents my memories of the day.
Tredegar House & Park: The house is managed by the National Trust, and as members, subject to booking, we had free access to the house and it’s ground. Although the house is currently closed whilst safe arrangements to reopen it are being considered, the grounds and surrounding buildings are well worth a visit. As indeed are the surrounding parkland and lake which are managed by the local council.
The House’s history is steeped in early Welsh politics, the industrial age and the class divide between the landed gentry and its tenants. But later in the 19th Century, this changed with land being given away and a more lenient rent position for the tenants.
To the side of the main house, the stables are a magnificent building and walking through you get a sense of the owner’s love and passion for their horses, and their history in tragic war time circumstances. The scale needs to be seen to understand how much the owners cared for their horses.
Equally, the enclosed gardens give a strong sense of calmness and seclusion with a few carefully planted trees providing opportunities for quiet contemplation.
The surrounding park, once part of the landed estate of Tredegar House, consists of several prominent features within its 90 acre surroundings. Noticeably are the giant redwood trees (Sequoioideae) that skirt one side of the bird-filled lake and it’s boathouse. It was nice and reassuring to see that where large groups had gathered, they did so in a socially distant manner.
Cross Hands: en route to Aberystwyth, down the M4 and A48 to Carmarthen. And then up a well trodden twisted route that I’ve journeyed many many times over the years. I stop briefly at what is a relatively small village, now largely by-passed. But in my childhood days, it was a frequent stopping point to visit my father’s family.
I have fond memories as a child of meeting great aunts and their extended families here in my grandmother’s birthplace. She was one of 9 children, and although some died very young, relations would always come out and greet us with open hearts, open arms and a kitchen full of cake…
The purpose of stopping here was to visit my grandmother’s grave. She died in 1988, and each time I drove through the village, I always felt a pang of guilt for not stopping by to remember her. So I decided to change that today.
The village looks pretty much the same, although houses have been renovated and modernised. The ‘family’ home is no longer part of the family, and is itself being refurbished. But there remains one unchanged building: Tabor Baptist Chapel – my grandmother’s final resting place, interred with her husband who died some 47 years earlier.
Ah! My home from birth until I left at 29. The place where I grew up, free from parental constraints; free to wander and explore in the days when this was considered normal. The only caveat was from mam…’if you’re going out, be home by tea time!’… A pleasure I was able to pass on to my children when we returned frequently, and I’m pleased that they have the same fond memories of the town as I do.
A town that became popular during the Victorian era as the railway arrived which brought visitors in abundance from the Midlands. And now a University Town that has captivated most of those who have studied here.
There are many popular and enjoyable things to do, such as: a walk up Constitution HIll – the home of the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway, a funicular railway that gives unprecedented views of the coast (the first of three ends of the lines); a walk up Pen Dinas, a Hill Fort overlooking the sea; walking the 1.5 mile long promenade (prom) from the harbour (now reclassified as a marina) in the south to ‘kicking the bar’ in the north. And let’s not forget the castle ruins, where as a child, I spent many a happy hour playing hide and seek.
My return home this time was partly a personal visit to reacquaint with school friends with whom I’d been conversing throughout lockdown via Zoom. The restrictions in Wales meant we had to meet outside, with suitable socially distant precautions in place.
I have to admit the weekly chats have been a helpful distraction during the height of lockdown as they gave a sense of purpose and a focus each week; not to mention the opportunity to relive shared memories – and how interesting when we pool our individual recollections, it makes for a far more colourful and complete story of our day to day lives as children, teenagers and young adults.
So as I spent a few days in my hometown, I couldn’t resist wandering around with my ‘endoftheline’ camera in tow and selecting a few memories to share with you.
The town’s main station which serves as the end destination for the Cambrian Coast Line is now a little dilapidated, but a walk through it’s remaining platform and rustic ironmongery helps you appreciate its historic charm.
The town’s railway line had partly survived the Beeching cuts in the early 1960’s, and calls for it’s full closure in the late 20th Century due to declining travellers. But for many a holiday maker and student, it’s a lifeline that now sees trains fit to burst. Such is the line’s popularity that a new station, just east of the town in Bow Street is being built to encourage commuters to travel into town from outlying areas.
The final of the three stations, adjacent to the main line, is the narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway which travels to and from the remote village of Devil’s Bridge. A ride on this railway offers a beautifully scenic view of the river Rheidol valley and an opportunity to explore the waterfalls in Devil’s Bridge. Sadly, the service is currently closed due to Covid restrictions.
Over the years I have seen the town encourage responsible bathing through the inauguration of the Aberystwyth Surf Life Saving Club in the early 1960’s. In fact I had several school friends who were involved in its development in the mid 1970’s and it was pleasing to see that it is still going strong today.
The prom is the jewel in the town’s crown as it’s a natural gathering point for everyone. And I recall, particularly on Bank Holidays, the prom would be littered with motorbikes and their enthusiastic bikers who had journeyed out for the day to enjoy the sea air. This wasn’t to everyone’s taste as bikers had a rather dark reputation in the 1960’s and 70’s. But I’m pleased the town has embraced their arrival by providing a dedicated parking area for them on the prom. It’s quite a spectacle when the cordoned area is crammed with all makes and types of bikes.
As a child, I spent most summer holidays on the beach. Whilst it was an easy and cheap pastime, it was nevertheless a happy time; always shared with family who’d stay with us for the holidays, and school friends who’d join ‘our crowd’ under the prom wall overlooking the north bay. My uncle would spend hours and hours on the rocky outcrops as the tide uncovered their barnacle riddled ridges and share with us his skills at netting prawns, catching edible crabs and the occasional lobster. Tea time was always a delight when we would have the day’s fresh catch served up.
…oh timeless memories…
Picture of the Day
But the main purpose of my return home was to share memories of mam’s life with cousins who joined us to spread her ashes on a secluded part of a local river. This is the river Rheidol at a quiet and isolated spot near Capel Bangor, and it is Mam’s final resting place.
Why here? When my father, a keen fisherman, died over 18 years ago, we decided it would be fitting to return him to the river he once fished. We laughed at the time as one of his sayings to our children, his grandchildren would be ‘when I was living in China…’ as a preamble to a story to entertain them with. Of course he had never been to China, but we thought this could be the start of his new journey to get there.
My brother and I agreed that it would be fitting to reunite our parents here…
Why not visit my Instagram page to see some other selected pictures of Aberystwyth