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