Thursday, 10 April 2008

Song of the Earth

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Yesterday was the second part of my birthday celebrations. I have been reading Alexander Cordell's wonderful novels recently, which tell of the Industrial Revolution here in Wales. If you have never read any of his novels, look them out. His "Rape of the Fair Country" is a masterpiece of lyrical writing and a cracking good story too. That is set in Merthyr Tydfil, where I went last week, to visit the Cyfarthfa Museum, once home of the Crawshays, Ironmasters of Cyfarthfa.

Yesterday we took Tour Two of "Cordell Country", and visited the Neath valley, where the River Nedd winds its way and the canal and the main road up to the Heads of the Valleys road keep it company. We explored Aberdulais Falls first. This spectacular gorge has been home to a succession of industries, beginning with a copper smelting works in 1584. By 1830 a tin-plate works had been built, and the tall chimney and some of the walls still remain. There was also a Grist Mill here in the 18th C (earliest reference to it is 1765) and two millstones which were used to grind the barley, are on display beside the path. There are wonderful views of the river and falls, and of course, I took plenty of photos. There is a gigantic watermill which harnesses the water of the River Dulais to provide electricity for the site.

The falls looked different once, as the following pictures show and explain:

Then we crossed underneath the road, beside the river, where a digger on caterpillar tracks was clearing away storm debris from the last flood, plenty of firewood there!

We followed the guidance of the Cordell Country booklet, and found the tiny lock and keeper's cottage which was home to Mari Mortymer and her daughter Rhiannon in "Song of the Earth". It was barely 12 or 14 feet square, with a door on the lock-side and a door between two windows looking along the canal, which was barely the width of the canal barge at this point, and is now bricked in, and silted up, with Bullrushes still swaying and the sharp spikes of what will be Yellow Irises poking up through the muddy water.

The canal ran along this low bridge, with the aqueduct behind it. Behind the lock keeper's cottage and opening towards the aqueduct, were the usual near-the-canal lime kilns, level with the roadway at the top, so the lime could be tipped into them.

The lock-gates are lurching and akimbo, with the machinery rusting.

We walked on, to the Aberdulais Basin, at the jointure of the Neath and Tennant Canals. Here the little hump-backed Skew Bridge (Pont Garn) crossed the line of the canal into the basin.

Rather than pursue the entire trail, as we had made a late start, we drove a little way to visit the Cefn Coed Colliery Museum near Crynant.

My grandfather used to be a miner in the Welsh valleys (and his brother was one there all his life) and I wanted to find out what it was like down a mine. We passed the modern equipment - gigantic boilers, etc, and in the final building, where the winding-gear was for this pit, half a mile deep, we found an excellent display of photographs and read the story of mining in Wales. There were lots of photos of pit ponies too, with their knees bulging with bursal enlargements from strain and falling on their knees, no doubt. Reading about conditions, it was no surprise that my grandfather had walked into Newport and joined the Army in 1912.


Leanne said...

I,m glad yuo had a good birthday jennie! :-) Leanne x

solsticedreamer said...

i loved reading this post thank you. my irish ancestors moved to south wales at the time of the famine so i am hoping to visit soon and do some research. your photos make me want to go right now!

Bovey Belle said...

SD - If you can get hold of any of the Alexander Cordell books, they give a real insight into how life was for the workforce in the Welsh valleys from 1840s onwards. I'm afraid the Irish immigrants had rather a hard time of things here too.

If you check out, that gives lots of information. I have some excellent planned walks of Cordell Country - they may send you them if you ask nicely.

arlene said...

Jennie...another great blog. I think I have finally figured out how to leave comments.

MammyT said...

What a wonderful birthday week you have had. Gorgeous photos, as usual. That original Dyllais Cascade must have been an awesome sight,judging from the artwork.