Adventures in Wales. A Magic Childhood, the old Farm and Tregrwg Castle (Tregruk on Channel 4)

The entrance arch to Llangibby Castle
The entrance arch to Llangibby Castle
Inside one of the ruined towers
Inside one of the ruined towers
Detail of one of the rooms
Detail of one of the rooms

Nostalgic look at Childhood

The Springtime of My Life

The most memorable happenings in my early life did not concern birthday gatherings, because my birthday being Christmas eve was not celebrated but squashed in with Christmas itself. It did not concern passing exams which I did with consummate ease, it concerned being out in the open air on farms, mountains, beaches and waterways.

My first impressions of life were formed on the South Wales Beaches, Saundersfoot, Tenby, Horton and other glorious places, windswept, sandy, rocky and with a backdrop of stupendous cliffs plunging down to sandy beaches, rich with rock pools and squawking bird life. My mother had knitted a little woolen pink striped bathing suit which stretched as I entered the sea and rubbed against my legs as I walked. As a toddler the sheer terror of walking along the Quayside filled me with dread,looking down at the oily water twelve feet below with fishing boats bobbing up and down on the tide. I remember the joy of running through the fields from the farmhouse where we stayed to get to the beach below.

My brothers and I patrolled the rock pools marveling at the sea anemones blennies and shrimp encapsulated in their own little universe. We fished and swam and rode the beach ponies. If I was really lucky the pony man would let me ride a pony back to his gypsy caravan on the cliff top. We clattered along the narrow lanes through hedgetops dripping with pink and golden Honeysuckle with a scent so thick you could almost taste it.

We lived in a little village just outside Cardiff, the Capital of Wales. The view from upstairs was of rounded mountains and wooded valleys. Hayfields next to the house draped over the hills leading to the Rhymney river. It ran black and menacing, thick with coal dust through dark green tunnels of Alder, Birch and willow, wild flowers tumbled down its banks and in Summer the scent of Balsam wafted through the air. We visited friends on neighboring farms and rode Jenny the donkey through lanes spangled with celendines, cuckoo pint, primroses and purple Ladies Smocks.

As we got older we were allowed to catch the bus to Llangybi to visit the farm of my Uncle Fred, Tregrwg Farm in Llangibby. The farm was magical, cider apple orchards engulfed it in a froth of pale pink, fragrant blossoms in the Spring and in the Autumn the tiny sour apples were tumbled into an old stone cider press. A patient old horse was harnessed to the press and as it turned golden cider ran out. Later the pigs were let out to feast on the aftermath until they stumbled about, quite tipsy with their bounty and quite sated.

At lunch, everyone trooped into the low beamed farmhouse kitchen. There, two long scrubbed tables were set for the meal , one for the family and one for the workers but the food was the same. In winter a big open log fire warmed the cosy room. The privy was at the bottom of the garden guarded by an elderflower bush to keep the witches at bay, it also served to discourage flies. It was a two seater with round wooden lids to cover the holes leading down to the duck pond. We didn’t mind the ducks but seeing geese looking up at you was pretty scary. The radio times was cut into squares and hung on a nail in the corner, no soft tissue here! The geese lived in a stone walled pen with steps down to the pond with a fox proof house in the corner.

The Kitchen garden at the farm was outside the back door and about the size of a tennis court. It was crammed with produce, carrots with tall feathery leaves juxtaposed beets, Pole beans, peas and a mosaic of onions. We would hide in the pea rows and pop the sweet peas into our mouths giggling as we did it. Sometimes the mole catcher would visit and we would come across a barbed wire fence used as a washing line strung with the little fur suits destined to make moleskin trousers. The kennels and stables of the old Llangybi Hunt were on the farm and my Sunday treat was to be popped up on the back of the yellow pony and be taken down to the kennels to watch the kennel man chop up dead cows to feed the black and tan hounds. Not a pleasant sight, but interesting.

Near the farm was the castle of Tregrwg known in English as Llangibby Castle high on a hill over looking the river Usk Only the circular keep and an old tower remained. In the autumn it was a picture clad in pink and orange spindle trees (euphorbia) set in the gorgeous bronze of the beech trees all round it. Just recently BBC Channel 4 carried out an archeological dig in and around the castle. They discovered an ancient entrance complete with portcullis. Nothing much besides an old fourteenth century arrow head was found. It was concluded that after the 17 century the castle was turned into a pleasure garden or "Pleasance" I can't think of a more beautiful place to have a pleasure garden.

Leading down to the river was an avenue of exotic trees, Catalpa, the Indian bean tree, acacias and unusual species of Maple. Mushrooms as big as dinner plates popped up in the Autumn through the damp grass. Kingfishers darted through the willows at the waters edge. It was a glorious site to behold. My brothers and I used little nets to try to catch the quick silver fish which we caught, inspected then released.

These days in the Spring of my life formed indelible impressions that are with me still. It taught me that simple pleasures are best and trawling the Malls is not the way to satisfaction.

Saundersfoot Beach

This is me and my best friend Deirdre on the beach making sand castles. I was three years old and wearing the pink bathing suit my Mother knitted for me. It is an unusual photograph as this is one of the most popular beaches in South Wales and we are the only people on it. The reason is that it was during WW ll and nobody else was about.

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Comments 27 comments

Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 7 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

Beautiful, I think everyone wishes we had grown up like that! Can't believe you know all the names of those flowers and plants. That's somnething the mall generation can't understand.


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

Thank you so much for your kind comment and the fan mail. I read that poem and I'm even more flattered! I used to know every plant bird and animal in Britain before i left 15 yrs ago. Mainly thanks to the Girl Scout movement. Now I'm reborn and learning all the American ones. I have the beautiful Sierras to roam but recently my son moved to Citrus Heights and a completely new scenario is unfolding for me.

Have fun I enjoy your writing too.

Incidentally do you have the flying fortress (B17) with you? We saw it at Truckee and they said next stop Sacramento. those were brave boys!! I thought I might write about as the experience of going up inside that killing machine was pretty powerful


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 7 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

It's a small world, I live in Carmichael. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the B17 here at Sac International, but I only work weekends. I would guess they might park it at Mather or McClellan. If I hear anything, I'll get you in touch with them :-)


Kelsey Tallis profile image

Kelsey Tallis 7 years ago from USA-Ohio

A lovely, idyllic piece of writing. What a wonderful place to grow up! I grew up on a farm that included corn and grass fields, a small stream, and an apple orchard. It was wonderful to be able to walk just a short distance from my house to the stream or back in the woods where the orchard was. There were horses that roamed free in the orchard as well. I remember when I was a child one followed me back to the gate snuffling at the back of my neck the whole time, I was terrified he would bite me! (But he didn't)

I spent a day in Cardiff many years ago when I was in the UK on a university study tour and I wish I could have spent more time there...

I was rather intirigued by the privy you described, oddly enough. Are witches frequently attracted to them that they need to be protected from them? I love folklore and I've heard of various trees and plants that are considered protective but I'd never heard of witch-infested privies before, lol! A privy over a duck pond seems a bit odd as well... I've used privies (or outhouses) before and only had to worry about spiders and bugs (obviously), but geese seem an very odd thing indeed to worry about when using a privy!


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

It was the weirdest privy I have ever had the pleasure (?) of using.  It was very practical as it never needed emptying! It was also very frustrating as the squares of radio times only allowed you to read half a sentence at a time. I expect it was very spooky at night as it was quite a way from the house beyond the vegetable patch using only a candle for light. Elder bushes also keep flies away. Another anti witch tree is the Rowan or Mountain Ash. The cottage I lived in later in life in England had a Rowan right next to the back door. One day my son was digging an underground den there and he found a pewter spoon with a cluster of snail shells. I was told that the thought was that the snails would spread the wealth. Interesting eh?

Thanks for the fan mail.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

What an enchanting childhood! (Well, all except the privy part.) A friend's ancestors were from Llanhilleth, Caerleon, Chepstow, and Abersychan. All connected to coal mining, so I had no idea any part of Wales was so "magical".


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

Dear JamaGenee The whole of Wales is magical, have a look at my Welsh hubs. Thanks for the kind comment. In fact the coal mining areas have all been cleaned up now.

PS the privy part was fun, the subject of many dares, obviously more hazardous for the boys!


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

Girl, this was one fascinating read! I tell you this would make a great series you could bundle together into a really good book! Write about special days of "place" like this one or days of what you gained as an awareness of life. String them all together and poof! Instant book! :) (Someone tell the witches...) You have a marvelous ability to observe AND write well about it!


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

Wow, Denny that is praise indeed from your goodself. Great idea about the book, though I have to say my earnings are up to 0.86 today!


shibashake profile image

shibashake 7 years ago

You capture the magic of your childhood very well. The visuals really remind me of Bridge to Terabithia. Would have been fun to grow up in such a place - it was much more difficult to build up magical fantasies living in a city :)


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

Thank you for your comment and the fan mail, I haven't really left Wales as I visit when I can. I share a little cottage with my brother. I have been truly blessed in life with wonderful places to live and I can see them in my mind when I go to sleep.


Denis H. White, Jr. 7 years ago

Every child should be so lucky! A gifted adult with the ability and talent to remember and share her memories in a way so as to put the reader there with her. I felt as though I was the best friend remembering the same treasures.


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

TThanks, Denis. I appreciate the comments and your kind words. It was a wonderful place to grow up.


AEvans profile image

AEvans 7 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

What captivating memories and at least you were able to enjoy the beach without a mass of people. Beautiful pics. :)


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

Thanks for dropping by AEvans, This is the land of your fathers.


Mountain Blossoms profile image

Mountain Blossoms 7 years ago from SE Thailand

........oh, you've taken me back again Gypsy Willow! even to the tale of the privvy! And my poor Grandad never had any runner beans or peas on the side away from the house, my brother and I used to sneak there and eat til we were full! You really are an inspiration and thank you so much for writing these. I wonder if you've ever read any of Ralph Whitlocks books? He used to have a radio programme too but is books are beautiful.


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

Hi Mountain Blossom. Thanks for the comment and your memories of your childhood. I haven't read Ralph Whitlock's books but I will check them out at the library next time I go. There's nothing like peas straight out of the pod, is there?


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 7 years ago from United States

I must confess I can't relate to much of this, though I grew up quite rural. A farm in Colorado is a bit different than what you describe!

Still, this was absolutely charming. Thanks for pointing me to it.


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

Hi Joy, Glad you enjoyed it. Have you written about your childhood. I would love to read about a farm in Colorado.


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

Great hub again. I also have wonderful childhood memories of Saundersfoot.


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

It is a great place isn't it? Did yo notie that the beach was empty? The pic was taken in war time. I went to Saundersfoot and Tenby last year, still great! Thanks for dropping by.


rmcrayne profile image

rmcrayne 5 years ago from San Antonio Texas

GW I have put a link capsule in my Wales Castles hubs and included several of your hubs.


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

Thank you so much rmcrayne, that was very kind of you. Hope you enjoyed the hub. Welsh castles are so magical aren't they?


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 5 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

It was an innocent time back then, Thanks for sharing your memories


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

Thanks Ethel, they were magical times, especially when we had our own castle ruin to play in.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 4 years ago from Chicago

What a cool old castle!

I have been to Tenby. I loved it there.

Your Hub is outstanding. I especially enjoyed this little section:

"The privy was at the bottom of the garden guarded by an elderflower bush to keep the witches at bay, it also served to discourage flies. It was a two seater with round wooden lids to cover the holes leading down to the duck pond. We didn’t mind the ducks but seeing geese looking up at you was pretty scary. The radio times was cut into squares and hung on a nail in the corner, no soft tissue here!"

What days those were!

The last photograph is great, of you and your best friend Deirdre on the beach making sand castles.

Priceless memories. Thank you for sharing.


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 4 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand Author

Thanks for visiting my old childhood haunts. The memories are as fresh as the days we lived them. Tenby is a great seaside town. I visit there regularly as it is quite close to the family cottage at Dinas Cross which I also wrote about. The pleasure is mine.

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