A Reminiscent Walk

by David Nurse October. 03, 2020 379 views

Almost 20 years ago I moved away from the small mining village where I spent most of my life growing up and raising my family. For some time now I have been wanting to go back and revisit some of the places I remember. A few weeks ago I decided that the time had come and I would like to go on a walk that I did many times while growing up to see what had changed in the 25 years + since I walked this track.

From the main "Garw Valley" there are many smaller valleys leading off and the one I took was from the lower village of Pontycymer.

I walked a familiar course to this scene.

What you can see here is very different from the scene I remember as this small waterfall would have been part of a feeder reservoir which was one of the main water supplies to the colliery.

In my youth, the area was completely surrounded by an 18ft high fence and was inaccessible to all but the very daring.

Unfortunately, it does not have good memories for me as when I was a teenager a youth just a year or two older than I was drowned here.

Climbing up from the small river floor I could look back on the village that I know so well.

This scene is very beautiful now and is as I remember however The small green patch at the bottom of the image, now a rugby field which also occasionally plays hosts to fetes and is enjoyed by all, I can remember being built. It was built on the local refuse tip and when I moved to Ponycymmer as a young boy I had many adventures here playing on the tip and sharing the experience not only with my friends but also the large population of rats that lived off the refuse that was tipped there.

As I moved up this valley I could see the clean river which we often dammed with stones and pieces of turf so that we were able to swim in the river during the summer months. I recall that however hot the air temperature got the river was always freezing cold.

Generally speaking, the water here was clean unlike the "Garw River" that flowed down the main valley. This was known as "The Black River" as it appeared black due to all the coal particles that would have been carried in it from the colliery washery further up the valley a by-product of the coal being washed.

I remember if you put your had in the water it would come out dark and speckled in this fine coal dust as the dust did not seem to get dissolved in the water.

The pool that we build was clean and fresh except for a couple of times a year when the river would have been dammed further up the river by the local farmer who would have "Dipped" his large flock of hill sheep in it. Luckily for us, no nasty chemicals were used to dip sheep back then.

One of the main things I was keen to see on this walk was an old boiler tank I believe was from some sort of steam engine that I remember being cast aside and left alongside the river.

After taking a small detour from the main path I could bearly see the path that I and many of my friends regularly took. It was really well overgrown now and I could bearly make it out. I guess with the advent of video games and mobile phones not so many venture up here anymore if indeed anybody does.

I did manage to find the pathway and also the boilers. Or should I say boiler? I could only find one but I am sure the other one is here somewhere in the undergrowth.

The second of the milestones that I wanted to see I know was not going to be well hidden and I know the path from the boilers to it, as it was just up the stream. It was this waterfall. It is not very big but looked very nice in the summer sun.

Moving further up the valley I then got onto the path that I know would take me on my next part of this journey.

The path we called "The Dram Road".

The Dram Road is a path cut into the hillside and was used to carry coal from the mine out of the valley before the main railway line was installed. This would have been a small gauge line and it's path I was told was across one side of the river to the other. The path can be seen between the heather and orange bracken on the other side and came onto the path I was on.

On the other side of the river, there are small outcrops that the sheep use now for some cover. An old man told me that these were where local colliers came to dig out coal for their own use during the hard times of the 1926 general strike.

During my walk along "The Dram Road" it dawned on my that I had never seen evidence, other than the boilers, of the rails of the track along this pathway, so today I paid a lot of attention to try and find this.

I was almost at the end of the track before finally, I found buried in the pathway an old piece of rail and also a sleeper which was lying in the undergrowth.

As I looked back to Pontycymmer I could see many familiar landmarks, one of which is the cemetery to the right-hand side of this image. It reminded me of a movie that was shot here called "Very Annie Mary" as some of the scenes in the movie were shot here.

Of course, the farming of the valley goes back even further than the mining.

I remember well that two of the local farmers could often be seen rounding up their sheep on horseback in the early 70's just like the cowboys in the western movies, but somehow a flock of sheep, however large, did not have the same impact as a heard of cows.

Even the old-time farmers have now left the valley hills and mountains.

I remember in the early days of satellite TV being asked to visit one of these farms as the farmer intermittently lost his picture. When I got to the farmhouse I could not see any dish on the wall. When I enquired about this I was told "Gary put it over there". Looking "over there" I could see the dish mounted on a large tree. It turned out that in Autumn winter and spring when the tree was quite bare the picture was fine but of course in the summer the tree was full of leaves and then his signal disappeared. It still makes my chuckle today. But I digress.

The farmer's life was also a hard one and quite a few years ago, one of the farmers, possibly that last of the old-time farmers, a bachelor, did not have any offspring to pass on his farm to and sold it. The later days of this historic moment was documented in a BBC 6 part series called "The Last Days At Fforchwen""

Some of it should still be available on youtube here. It is a moving tale, sometimes very funny and often sad of a man who only knew farming having to face retirement and moving from the only home he ever knew.

Turning around the side of the hill The village of Blaengarw comes into view. This village was at the top of the valley and while Pontycymmer had the Ffaldau colliery, Blaengarw had the Ocean Colliery.

All remnants of the colliery have now gone and the land has been redeveloped with a small lake and good pathways for the peoples leisure time.

It is a very peaceful place but the tranquillity hides the Blood sweat and toil that was mining in the first part of the last century.

I remember the Ffaldau colliery and the Ocean colliery being combined and then closed.

It was a bitter blow to the valley because even in the 1970s and 1980s the work was hard labour.

I did not work in the colliery but many of the schoolmates when they left school did.

I remember vividly being in the local workingmen's clubs midweek and there would be just a handful of us there until the colliery afternoon shift came to an end. Within an hour the bar would be full of these work hardened men their eyes dark with coal dust that the showers could not remove and the blue scars that they had from cuts underground being engrained in coal.

Despite doing a dangerous job in a dangerous place I only remember them as happy go lucky people.

There is a sculpture where the mine was. It is a moving scene of a fallen Pit Pony being attended to by a young man while to miners carry on working.

Despite the work still being hard, by the time the colliery closed for good in 1983 the miners were at least earning a decent living from their work so it was a great blow to the area when the end finally came. There were many hard-working loyal face-workers who would never earn such good wages again and the valley people would have to adapt to a new future.

To those of you still here, I apologise for this post being so long but once I got started writing I could not stop. I hope you enjoyed my ramblings and I promise the next few posts will be of a more reasonable length.

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There are 14 comments , add yours!
G B 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Your narration added an element of intimacy that only a person who reminisces fondly of a place they grew up around can carry...Thank you for the wonderful photos and stories that came with them!!

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
David Nurse Replied to G B 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Your are welcome and thak you for your comments.

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
Gethin Thomas 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Great post, thanks for doing it. As for the black river, that probably ended up in the Taff. I used to row at school in Cardiff and we had to go to some rowing club on the Taff this would have been about 75/76. It was black and completely lifeless and I had sheer terror every week when we had to go, that I would fall in. Whenever we turned up and the river was flooded I was so relieved as we couldn't go out. I am sitting at my desk now and in front of me is an old wooden desk tidy. On it in gold letters are the words. Agent for THE OCEAN Accident and Guarantee Corp. Ltd. This survives in the family because my Great Grandmother lived in Blaengwynfi and they were all connected to the colliery in some way. My Grandmother worked at the Coop, Great Great Grandfather the librarian in the Workmen's Hall.

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
David Nurse Replied to Gethin Thomas 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Thanks for your comments. "Our black river" joined with the Ogmore river and then down to Ogmore-by-Sea but there were many valleys that washed the remenents of this black gold down to the sea.
The taff was bad back then being downstream of many of rivers like ours.
Different story now of course with the fish and wildlife returning, thankfully.

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
Sri V 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Lovely pictures and a wonderful narration to go with it. Enjoyed every bit of it grinning

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
David Nurse Replied to Sri V 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Thank You

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
Adrian Morris 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Great pictures. Great story.
I was born and brought up in a mining village in Northumberland. My father and most of my male relations were miners. In the early 1970s the remaining inhabitants were moved to a newly built estate in a nearby town and the village was largely destroyed. Now only four houses remain. I get very nostalgic about this country's mining heritage. Your posting has had a great emotional effect on me. Thank you.

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
David Nurse Replied to Adrian Morris 1 month, 4 weeks ago

It's a shame about your village. This "modern history" did not have a second thought given to it in the 70's and 80's. The buildings were just ripped up and destroyed. I must say that this area is now much better looking but the atmosphere is just not the same. I wonder what the miners of earlier time would say now. I suspect they would be very happy that the valley is now blooming but dismayed that workers now have to travel so far for work.

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
Jeff Damron 1 month, 4 weeks ago

An excellent essay in photos and words.  I grew up in a coal mining town in the US and am always fascinated by the similarities and differences in these places.  Thanks for sharing this.

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
David Nurse Replied to Jeff Damron 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Thank you for your comments. I am happy you enjoyed the story.

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
Brian Scott 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Loved it David, the photos and the story, the story made it all the more interesting and poignant. As a Scot and incomer, I can't get enough of the history, the remains, both recent and ancient. The Senghedydd memorial and Penalta stones made the Welsh mining story very real and sad. Thank you for sharing.

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
David Nurse Replied to Brian Scott 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Your welcome. Every now and again I remember the stories I was told of the valley by the old miners. Generally when they opened up after a few beers in the workingmen's clubs. Sadly many stories will now be lost forever and with the structures also disappearing the sculptures and information boards at least tries to make people aware of the history. Too often it takes visitors to take an interest for people to appreciate what's around them.

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
John Durham 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Never too long for such a moving and heartfelt reminiscence - and such an personal touch to what is, often, rather dry regional history. Thanks, David.

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
David Nurse Replied to John Durham 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Thank you for your comments

1 month, 4 weeks ago Edited
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