Little did I know at the start of the day what a lovely adventure awaited us. Alfie stayed overnight and the dear lady of the house slept in late so it was up to me to dress, feed and prepare the little man for the day ahead. We had a lovely time just doing things slowly and enjoying each other’s company. Alfie was playing so well, that I even thought at one time about staying home and just enjoying his company, but thought better of it and at just after 11.00am we were ready to go adventuring. We had thought to visit Caerphilly and Cefn Onn Park.
I think I have only visited the park once in the last quarter of a century, but it’s a place I remember with such fond affection from my childhood. We lived a couple of miles from the park in Llanishen and would regularly visit the park, which meant a long walk there and back up Heol Hir and across the fields. Now, sadly, the sprawling Thornhill Estate comes right to the park gate.
We caught the train from Eastbrook, but needed to change in Cardiff as our trains run only to Merthyr or Aberdare. It meant I had to ask Alfie to stay in his puschair.
We changed at Queen Street and I noticed the renovations are going ahead well.
I am not sure what they are doing but it certainly includes a new platform, where the disused Platform 1 used to be. Alfie loved looking at the diggers working away. I regularly used Queen Street station in the fifties and sixties and it was a grand station in those days.
As we left Queen Street we passed Heath High Level and Llanishen Stations, both very familiar to me, as I used to live halfway between both stations and caught the train from both many, many times when I was young.
I have loved trains with a passion ever since my earliest days. I have this amazing dream that one day I will be on a train and the driver will say to me…
‘Right, come on then sit here and take over!’ and I would sit in his seat and take control of the train. In the dream I would sit back, hands and feet on the controls and drive the train. The driver would tell me to take it up a couple of notches and I would build up the speed. I would drive through tunnels, across bridges, maybe taking it off the mainline up a branch line, looking out at all that was passing by. I would be wearing a drivers cap and high viz jacket, to the entire world, looking like a real driver. I would acknowledge the signals, wave at the signalmen who were guiding me safely on…
Sadly that will probably remain what it is – just an incredible dream. I don’t think such a dream could ever come true, but I will hold on to it, dreams are the magic of life.
Before Llanishen Station I caught a glimpse of my parents’ old home. We also passed The Court Field, where for many years I enjoyed the Whitsun treat with my old church. It sounds really quaint now, giving the kids a treat of a day out on a field for being good in Sunday school. Happy Days!
The guard had warned me that if I wanted to split my journey and get out at Thornhill it was best to do it on the way back, to keep the inspectors happy! So we sat on the train all the way to Caerphilly, it meant travelling through Caerphilly tunnel. Caerphilly Tunnel at just over a mile in length, is the longer of the two tunnels on the Valley network, the other is at Cogan. It was built by The Rhymney Railway Company. Seeking to build an alternative route to Cardiff Docks to rival that of the mighty Taff Vale Railway, the company was granted parliamentary permission to create a new line running from Caerphilly, through Llanishen to Cardiff. In order to do this, the company first had to blast its way through Caerphilly Mountain, creating a tunnel some one and a half miles in length. Unsurprisingly, in an age before health and safety of any kind, accidents were common, and a large incident inside the tunnel cost the lives of several of the railway “navvies”, some of whom were buried in St Isan’s churchyard in Llanishen. Alfie and I had visited Caerphilly before but coming by train took us to the ‘top end’ of town.
When we arrived in Caerphilly, we got off the train and we knew straight away that we were at the top end of town because we passed a garage called The Top of the Town Garage. All was well.
We were hoping to unearth some treasures and we soon passed a shop that the lady of the house would absolutely love. It was a kind of vintage shop, many of which are springing up all over the place these days.
I loved a plaque in the window and hoped it was true of my three beautiful grandkids and the lady of the house and me. It made me think again about the beautiful home she has made for her family. I am blessed to have such an incredible person as my wife and soul mate. I hope she knows how much she is loved.
I was deep in these thoughts when a sign caught my eye… Caerphilly Indoor Market.
Great… time to check out the faggots! It always seems strange to me that in a market you can always buy faggots. My old dad loved them and would often buy one if he was out and they never once reached home! He would nibble away at them until they were gone!
Caerphilly market was a huge disappointment, probably the worst market I had ever seen. I felt sorry for the few stallholders who were there, striving hard to make a living.
I wish them well. I don’t know what the future holds for them; perhaps I should have popped into Merlin’s Cupboard to find out!
As we came out of the market we passed a tacky Bargain Store, and I noticed that the shop was probably a Woolworth’s in a former life – the doors were a giveaway!
We went on down through the High Street and as I was crossing the road by Specsavers I saw something that made me rub my eyes in disbelief!
A visit to a Wimpy is normally the highlight of my visits to Lesotho and South Africa, I didn’t know any Wimpy existed in the UK any more and here was one in the quaint little valley town of Caerphilly. Wimpy was the original ‘McDonalds’ for my friends and me as were were growing up. It was our initiation into the world of burgers. We HAD to go in.
The welcome we had was outstanding! This lovely lady rushed over to help me through the door with the pushchair, fussed over getting me a high chair and even told me it was better if I took the tray off it as it fitted better under the table without it. Alfie and I settled in quickly. Coats were discarded and we set about eating. I had made Alfie’s lunch before we came and when I asked if it was alright to eat it in the café, I was told in no uncertain terms that it was fine. The menu was brought and lunch ordered. I was in heaven. A Wimpy in Caerphilly! The older lady and a younger one chatted and fussed and made me feel like I was royalty. They promised to read this account of our day and if they do…ladies you were wonderful, my only regret was you opted out of the photographs. I was invited back any time and was instructed to bring the lady of the house and the rest of the family. I am tempted to, but I am not sure if the Wimpy Menu manages to align itself too well with the Slimming World Fat Girls Club guidelines for health living.
Unusually I had a meal and a dessert – the Rocky Road Sundae was on special offer!
We left totally happy and browsed around the top end of town and even managed to explore the lower end of town around Morrison’s. We went in every charity shop and I can tell you that the good folk of Caerphilly do not send many quality goods to the charity shops. I had no pickings at all today. Never mind, there will be other days, other charity shops and other bargains.
Going to the lower end of town meant passing the castle and the statue of Tommy Cooper, the comedy legend who was born here.
I walked past Glanmor’s, new shop and then further down to the old one. Alfie had fallen asleep, so I didn’t matter that Glanmores don’t provide high chairs. I looked in at the white table cloths and the waitresses, I could have sneaked for a cup of tea and a custard slice or some of the advertised lamb cawl, but I thought of the Wimpy, patted my belly affectionately, and walked past.
We strolled back to the station, past innumerable betting shops and amusements shops and waited for the train to take us to the next stage of our adventure, Cefn Onn Park. I looked at the darkening skies, it seemed like rain was on the way.
As I approached Caerphilly Station I noticed that years ago it would have been a much grander affair.
One of the old bridges had now been incorporated into the car park and the old track bed filled in. Sometimes I wish I could turn back time and see how things were, but I would always have to turn it back again to allow me again to enjoy these incredible days with my grandchildren.
I almost stayed on the train, but as we arrived at Lisvane and Thornhill we took the plunge and jumped off. I was expecting a long walk, but soon realised the station was almost at the park entrance.
We ventured in!
Parc Cefn Onn a country park on the northern fringes of Cardiff. It contains a truly magnificent collection of native and exotic trees set within an intimate valley. Visitors enjoy the stunning scenery and the calm, relaxing atmosphere.
The park was originally designed some 90 years ago taking advantage of the gentle valley containing the Nant Fawr stream. I think this is the same stream that runs through the woods where I used to play as a boy!
Cardiff Council acquired the site in 1944 and continued to invest in this great asset to the city. A car park and good path network are now provided.
The streams, ponds, woodlands and other planting make this a rich haven for wildlife. Visitors regularly return to enjoy the park in different seasons. Sadly, a thumping great motorway nearby has put paid to the tranquility of the scene around the entrance with the area now resonating to the endless roar of M4 traffic.
However it didn’t take long to walk through the park and leave the traffic noise behind.
Despite being April the park showed few signs of the outset of Spring. Trees loomed large overhead like skeletons against the darkening skies. There were though one or two signs that the long winter was ending.
Before long the rain started. We made a dash for the cover of some larger evergreen trees and avoided the worst of it. True adventurers don’t let a bit of rain deter them.
Alfie woke up, as usual, with a big grin on his face – he’s such an incredible little fellow.
As we sheltered, I realised we were at the part of the park where there is a fence which separates the two parts of the park. It was here you could walk across a massive wooden footbridge, which connected the two parts of the old Cefn Onn station. Well, I call it a station but in reality it was no more than a Halt. It was too small to take a whole train and in the latter years of its life passengers were asked to sit in a particular section of the train to avoid stepping into thin air as you got off.
I noticed on the upward journey that the old wooden bridge is no more, but the massive stone support columns still stand majestically in the cutting where the old station used to be.
In the background to this picture you can see the tall columns…but the bridge is no more!
We ventured out to see if we could see anything of the old bridge or the magical little station, now left to ruin. A large metal fence barred our way, but I could look through at where the bridge was.
As we walked back towards the park, I noticed an overgrown path, sloping down and remembered this was the old path to the station.
I longed to explore it and stand again on the small platform of Cefn Onn Halt, but I looked at the new pushchair, and then looked at the path, overgrown with brambles and logs and looking decidedly muddy. Into my mind came the smiling face of the lady of the house. She has yet to use the new pushchair and the thought of me taking it home, covered in mud and snagged with brambles was too much and I knelt down next to Alfie and told him that this was an adventure I must tackle alone and on another day.
Do you know how to keep the lady of the house smiling?
I came across a lovely website when I got home, written by a fellow adventurer, here is an extract….
‘Hidden in a deep, dark, and silent cutting and only accessible by foot, this tiny wayside stop was situated next to a one-mile long tunnel that took the railway under Caerphilly Mountain. The Rhymney Railway built the railway line in 1871 to provide a direct link into Cardiff for their 1858 Rhymney to Caerphilly line. During the construction of the 2,000-yard tunnel, many Irish navvies came to the district. Such was the suspicion that Fenians (a secret Irish nationalist group) were lurking in their fold, that in October 1861, the group staying in Llanishen were guarded all night by armed police who expected insurrection. Cefn Onn Halt was opened by the Great Western Railway to serve the 160-acre wooded area known as Cefn-Onn Country Park (curiously, the halt was known as ‘Cefn On Halt’ until British Rail returned the missing letter ‘n’ back in the 1960s).
Created by Llanishen resident Mr. Prosser, a former Manager of the Old Taff Vale Railway, the woodland valley park offers a rich selection of flora including beds of azaleas and rhododendrons, several varieties of magnolias, oaks and Acers, Chinese Witch Hazel), flowering Mahonias, bamboo, conifers and unusual evergreens like Nothofagus, Eucalyptus niphophila (Snow Gum).
I regularly used the halt to commute to work in the late 70s and, latterly, found the station a convenient starting point for long, solitary walks up Cefn Onn Ridge and Caerphilly Mountain. Waiting for the train was always a pleasant experience, as the secluded cutting was almost silent apart from the sound of a nearby brook, the wind in the trees and singing birds. The imminent arrival of a train was always an exciting moment – you’d hear the distant rumble of the train entering the northern portal of the tunnel, with a deep ‘whooshing’ sound getting louder and louder before the train burst into the daylight, just 20m from your platform. At this point you had to manically wave your arms around to get the driver to stop (a mission I was not always successful at). The station closed on Saturday, 27th September 1986, with a new station – and acres of new housing – springing up nearby. Closure was initially scheduled for March that year, but was delayed after an objection was received from one person. So the trains no longer stop at little Cefn Onn halt, and the tranquility of this once-obscure area has been lost forever. This is my little tribute to this lost station.’ (*)
I can’t wait to go there myself…soon, very soon.
The rain came on heavier so Alfie and I went back to shelter under the evergreens. Some pretty young mums who had brought their little darlings and their dogs into the park for some fresh air soon joined us. We exchanged pleasantries and they made a fuss of Alfie before moving on. They didn’t make a fuss of me, but that was fine – I was deep in my thoughts of when I could come back and plough through the unknown and find the long lost treasure of Cefn Onn Halt.
As the rain eased off we made our way up to the pond, the final destination of today’s adventure.
I found it… it looked so much smaller than it did when I was a little kid… but just being there was enough. We used to pass the pond and climb a steep slope which led to a grassy field next to the gold course. There was a cafe there and we would buy a tray of tea on a hot summer’s day.
The falling rain meant our stay was a short one. It was time to go home.
We made our way thoughtfully back, through the park, under the M4 and back to the station. I thought how modern and unromantic this one was. As we neared the station I noticed the old road and bridge stood beside the new one. It is now unused but a reminder of how this little country area has changed over the years.
We only had a short wait before boarding the train for our journey home. As we left Llanishen Station, we passed my parents’ old house again and I remembered the sacrifices they had made to make my childhood so idyllic and I whispered quietly “Thank you.”
Alfie played quietly with my phone on the journey home, it is frightening how good he is already at unlocking it, but he hasn’t learnt my password yet but busily tried all the numbers!
I looked down at Alfie and promised that I too would do my best to ensure that he and the Princess Mia and the little angel we call Millie would have a childhood filled with wonderful memories. It’s a big challenge, but it’s a challenge I accept.
Alfie smiled… today had been a good day!