Adventures with Alfie Day 17

Alfie’s dad and mum wanted a day in London to round off their Easter break… this was encouraging news, as it meant I got to look after Alfie even though it was a school holiday.

He stayed overnight which was great although it meant the lady of the house once again deserting the marital bed to look after him in the nursery. I am sure the sacrifice was worth it.

The house was busy this morning with Aunt Bes being picked up early to join the excursion to London. The lady of the house gave Alfie a drink early on but Alfie wasn’t that keen on his breakfast, I don’t think he was feeling that great, but the prospect of a day adventuring was something to look forward to.

We had decided to visit Merthyr Tydfil today. The guidebooks tell me that…

 

A warm Welsh welcome awaits you in Merthyr Tydfil.

 

Merthyr Tydfil is supposed to be one of the most historically fascinating and beautiful regions of Wales and is ideally placed between Brecon Beacons National Park and Cardiff the Welsh capital.

A fifth of the County Borough lies within the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Merthyr Tydfil boasts some dramatic and breathtaking scenery. As one of the towns forming the Heads of the Valleys, Merthyr Tydfil is rich in culture, landscape and scenery. Once the Iron capital of the world, Merthyr Tydfil breathes life into its history with attractions such as Cyfarthfa Park, Joseph Parry’s cottage and The Brecon Mountain Railway.

Local tradition holds that a girl called Tydfil, daughter of a local chieftain named Brychan was an early local convert to Christianity and was pursued and murdered by a band of marauding Picts and Saxons while traveling to Hafod Tanglwys in Aberfan, a local farm that is still occupied to this day. The girl was considered a martyr after her death in approximately 480AD. “Merthyr” translates to “Martyr” in English and  tradition holds that, when the town was founded, the name was chosen in her honour. A church was eventually built on the traditional site of her burial

Taking the train from outside my door to Merthyr, non-stop is something I have always wanted to do and today was as good a day as any. It was still quite cold so Alfie and I had to wrap up warm. The good news was that I was able to use the new pushchair, Easyjet had ruined our other one – the garish pink one, on the way back from Disneyland Paris a couple of weeks ago and had sent us a new one – a top of the range Maclaren, I half expected Lewis Hamilton to be driving it when it came, so I felt really good on its maiden journey. It came equipped with suspension and a seat I could recline and it was easy to fold with one hand.

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We set off from Eastbrook shortly after 10.00 am and didn’t have long to wait. We were fortunate to find a seat with a table so we took our coats off and settled down to enjoy the journey. Alfie was great and looked out at everything going by. I was reminded of the poem I had learned in school…

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,

Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;

And charging along like troops in a battle

All through the meadows the horses and cattle:

All of the sights of the hill and the plain

Fly as thick as driving rain;

And ever again, in the wink of an eye,

Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,

All by himself and gathering brambles;

Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;

And here is the green for stringing the daisies!

Here is a cart runaway in the road

Lumping along with man and load;

And here is a mill, and there is a river:

Each a glimpse and gone forever!

I think Robert Louis Stephenson wrote it – I prefer it to Treasure Island anyway. I think you are supposed to read in in the rhythm of a train belting over the tracks.

The journey was so interesting, into Cardiff then branch off after Queen Street Station, which is undergoing renovation to Cathays, Llandaff, Radyr, Taffs Well and then up the Taff Valley to Pontypridd then on up to Merthyr. Near Taffs Well we passed Castell Coch – the fairy castle which always interests visitors to our home.

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The journey took and hour and a quarter and we both loved it. The track follows the river Taff virtually all the way. It’s the river that gives all true Welshmen the name Taffy – although I am sure it should only apply to those of us who live near this great river. It rises as two rivers in the Brecon Beacons — the Taf Fechan and the Taf Fawr — before joining to form the River Taff north of Merthyr Tydfil.

There was a huge weir just after Radyr Station with a massive tree, stuck in the middle. Crowds of kids were playing nearby.

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As we neared Merthyr, we passed Quakers Yard station. I never really got that name – Quakers Yard is a village just passed Abercynon. I noticed though that the station sign is Mynwent Y Crynwyr. ‘Mynwent’ means graveyard in English so it seems like this place was a burial ground for Quakers…Hmmm… I must look further into this and have a bowl of porridge while I do so!

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As we approached Merthyr there was still snow on top of the mountains. I was pensive and thought of the hundreds of thousands of coal trucks that had travelled down this line over many years. Coal had made Cardiff the great city it is today. Now, part of the line is just a single track, with a train running every half hour. It is all so different these days. I looked at the mountains, now green and beautiful whereas when I was a bit younger the South Wales Valleys were bleak, dirty, depressing places full of coal tips. If you look closely, you can see some of the hills are coal tips, which have been landscaped and are now green and pleasant.  As we passed Aberfan I remembered that awful tragedy and how my brother and I went up to help in the rescue effort. It was a heartbreaking scene and my sixteenth birthday, October 21st 1966. I have much to share with Alfie, Mia and Millie when they are old enough to understand.

We arrived in Merthyr at about 11.30 am and I was pleased to have made the trip and even more pleased that the train ran right into the heart of the town. Alfie had been brilliant and had communicated well with all the passengers around him.

Merthyr is a typical valley town… busy and friendly – but no M & S or other important store, but to my delight a great selection of charity shops – even more than Penarth!

In the first one – a PDSA shop, I came across a real treasure – a ‘leather look’ flat cap or ‘Dai cap’ as my dad always called them. I felt like the bees knees, although after about fifteen minutes my head began to itch a little…

Alfie had dropped off to sleep as we got off the train so missed out on many of these delights. Merthyr was a friendly little place, it was cold but not as cold as the last few weeks, maybe Spring is eventually on the way.

I found my way to the Indoor market, which had a range of stalls; it reminded me a bit of Pontypridd market, but the faggots were even more tempting here!

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Merthyr seems to have been a big place for boxers and the town contains two statues to two famous boxers, Howard Winston and Johnny Owen.

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I remember the night Johnny Owen died, it was so very sad; he died in the ring, or just after the fight. I worked part time in Merthyr at the time, helping my brother out. He was manager of Merthyr Motor Auctions. The money came in handy when I was a struggling young teacher, looking back the lady of the house, Kate and Gaz hated me going.

I had a cup of coffee and some toast in a little café by the station.

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When Alfie woke up I took him around the town again just to have a look. He loved it and smiled at everyone he passed.

Merthyr is a Fair-trade town…good for everyone involved in setting that up.

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On the way home Alfie sat in the seat like a contented little old man all the way home, although at one time I thought we might not make it. Just before Ynysowen (Merthyr Vale) Station, the train was travelling quite fast when there was an enormous BANG! A few of the people around us screamed and a little girl near us burst out crying. At almost the same time we passed a train coming the other way. The train ground to a halt very quickly indeed. I had to hold Alfie to stop him being shot forward. We all looked around not knowing what to think. The train was still for a few minutes before crawling into the station. When it did, the driver and the guard got out and inspected the train all around and underneath and made several calls on their phones. After a long wait we set off again and when the guard came to see our tickets, he told us that the train had hit a door which had been left lying on the tracks, probably left by vandals. That could have been very serious.

Juts near Llandaff Station, we passed a derelict building my brother used to go to when he worked for some kind of charity – I must ask him what that was. I remember sleeping in the building on some occasions.

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The rest of the journey was uneventful and we arrived home tired but happy after a lovely adventure in the town named after a young lady who died too young.

I will remember too the words on Johnny Owen’s statue..

The measure of a man is not the number of years he has lived…it is in the way he has lived them.

Wise words for us all.

1 Comment

  1. Brilliant again, Roger. Thanks for the history lesson – you always come up with details we didn’t know about.

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