Posted in Stories for my Grandkids

Rambling Alone – Parc Cefn Onn.

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On a recent day out with my grandson, we found ourselves in Parc Cefn Onn. Parc Cefn Onn is 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 here can 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 am sure this is the steam which runs down through Llanishen woods where I played as a young child. Cardiff Council acquired the site in 1944. The streams, ponds, woodlands and other planting make this a rich haven for wildlife.

This was a place I visited regularly as a small child. We would walk across fields from the estate where we lived and enjoy this wonderful place, before walking home across the same fields. The journey home always seemed miles longer than the journey to Cefn Onn. When money was not too tight we would occasionally catch a train. We had a station in Llanishen and one stop up the line was Cefn Onn Halt. In those days catching a train meant only one thing – steam! I loved those old trains with a passion; who could fail to be stirred by the hissing monsters that travelled those shining steel lines.

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In the deeper recesses of my mind I can remember some trains we used to call a push and pullie. If I remember the train stayed at one end and the guards van had some kind of viewing cabin at the back. I must ask Mr. Google to help me see if my memories are correct.

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The station at Cefn Onn is hidden in a deep, dark; silent cutting and only accessible by foot and this tiny wayside stop was situated next to a one-mile long tunnel that took the railway under Caerphilly Mountain. 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). The down station platform was connected to the opposite platform (and Cefn Onn Parc) by a high wooden footbridge..

ImageLocal resident  Mike Slocombe, writing in October 2004 had these wonderful memories…

 

“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). 

Sadly, a thumping great motorway nearby has put paid to the tranquility of the scene, with the area now resonating to the endless roar of M4 traffic. 

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.”

ImageThis photograph was taken in the Autumn of 1984, looking down from the footbridge. By this time, the oil lamps had long gone and the only customer facilities provided on the bare platform was a short wooden bench.

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When I visited the park some months ago I came across the old bridge site – the bridge is long gone – and the path which led down to the old station platform. Having a puschair and a grandchild made it impossible to even think of battling down to the station. I made a promise to myself that I would return and stand again on the old station. Today was the day.

I left home and caught the train, stopping to buy my ticket at the newly installed ticket machine at Eastbrook station near my house.

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Even now the thrill of buying a train ticket is still the same. No more little cardboard ticket pushed into the stamping machine, but a bigger brighter one purchased with my plastic passport to paradise.

I had to change trains in Cardiff but it gave me a great opportunity to see the progress being made at Queen Street Station, which is being ‘modernised’. Sadly to me it looked much as it had done some weeks previous, although I am sure much as been done behind the scenes.

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I arrived at Lisvane and Thornhill Station, the station that replaced Cefn Onn Halt in good time and strolled up into the park, just a short walk of a couple of hundred yards. As I went underneath the M4 – a horrible blot on the landscape – I noticed a new mural had been painted on the motorway wall. It definitely improved the entrance to the park. Well done to all concerned.

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Soon I was lost in the peace and tranquility of this beautiful place. I could see my dad and mum walking with me, stopping to rest on one of the benches. They were incredible people… I miss them.

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The path leading to the station is halfway through the park. When the park was closed at the end of the day years ago, I guess the station was unusable, as there seems to be no other way in or out. I must find out if that was true.

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I was really excited as I made my way down to the station. The first part of the path was surprisingly clear, but lower down my legs were getting sting by the nettles. I battled on through the pain. At the bottom of the path there was a sharp turn right onto the top of the steps that led down to the platform. Here it was very overgrown and I had to force my way through branches and brambles and nettles whilst negotiating a number of steps. At the bottom another right-hand turn and some more thick branches and I was there!

 

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Magical.

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The platform itself was completely covered with ballast and the thick vegetation had almost reached the platform edge, but there was just enough room to walk safely along it. Michael Slocombe had it exactly right when he wrote about…

…. the secluded cutting was almost silent apart from the sound of a nearby brook, the wind in the trees and singing birds.

Very soon I heard the vibrations of the railway lines, which told me a train was approaching. Not wishing to alarm the driver of the train, by letting him see this funny little fat chap, apparently waiting for a train on a station that had closed when he was a little boy, I stepped back behind some branches while the train thundered by and disappeared into Caerphilly Tunnel.

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I spent some time here, talking photographs and just enjoying the tranquility of the beautiful little place – a disused station, forgotten by the world, missed I am sure by the hundreds of passengers on the trains that pass here every day.

I would have loved to cross the track to stand on the other platform, but that would have been breaking the law and I was not prepared to do that. Another time I would find access to the other side or ask Railtrack to rebuild the wooden bridge.

After a long while I reluctantly made my way up to the park again. It meant more stung legs but that was fine. I had achieved what I set out to do.

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At the top, rather than go home I decided to walk up into the park past the pond and see if the playing field was still there. In my childhood there was a teashop there and we would often buy a tray of tea and a glass of cordial, usually Vimto or sarsaparilla pop. Such happy bygone days!

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The field was still there but the teashop, like the station, long gone. The park was deserted apart from me, but I listened and could hear again the sound of children laughing and my brother and sister and I giggling as we rolled down the hill. I could hear my mum shouting at us to mind that we didn’t roll into the large pond, which lay at the bottom of the slope.

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I strolled back down through the park, got involved in some lovely conversations with folk walking their dogs. I walked passed the old summerhouse; I don’t really remember much about it though.

I also passed this little old man who was pushing lady in a wheelchair. Her body was badly twisted and her face was distorted. She was very badly disabled, my heart went out to her, but it was the love and compassion being shown to her by the little old chap, which almost took my breath away. He was so wonderful and obviously loved her very much. He spoke so gently and lovingly to her, patiently explaining the beauty of the place and the sounds of the birds and the babbling of the stream. Some people deserve medals.

I stopped on the way back near the ‘bottom pond’, a place I had never previously seen, despite many visits to the park. It seemed natural to pray here. I thanked God for my family – parents who loved me and gave me so many happy memories – my kids and grandkids, who had brought such happiness into my life. I thanked God for people like that little old chap I had just met who just make the world a better place. Then I thanked God for His beautiful creation, which we so often just take for granted.

That was a special time.

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As I reached the park gates I remembered that friends of mine used to live in an old cottage right next to the park. I turned left to see if the old cottage was still there.

Imagine my surprise when I saw that the old cottage was actually still there, but was now a beautiful pub/restaurant.

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It was a very hot day and so I wasted no time in ordering a beautiful ice cold drink and sat down underneath a large umbrella to reflect on a beautiful day in such a beautiful part of God’s creation.

I thought of other Ramblings Alone I could have, or even better maybe Ramblings with the lady of the house. I am sure she would love to have her legs stung and her arms scratched whilst visiting old derelict stations. I can think of fewer happier ways to spend a day. I will wait for the right moment and ask her… but if you are reading this, please don’t hold your breath!

 

 

Please also visit…

http://www.urban75.org/photos/wales/cefn_onn.html

for a fascinating piece by a man who shares my passion.

Posted in Musings

Adventures with Alfie Day 26

Alfie stayed overnight and somehow managed to sleep in my bed with the lady of the house, which meant I was banished to the princess bed in the nursery.

Somehow the good lady managed to oversleep a little and there was a good deal of rushing around and fluster this morning as we tried hard to get her into work at her allotted time.

Alfie and I drove home and looked forward to a relaxing breakfast before we began adventuring. As I walked through the hall, I looked at my reflection in the mirror and immediately wished I hadn’t. It wasn’t a pretty sight and I felt an immediate pang of sympathy for the dear lady of the house who has to face that awful sight every morning. Poor soul, it’s the thing that she sees first as she awakes from her slumbers. Alfie didn’t seem to mind, he was smiling as usual, so I decided to wash and prepare myself for the day after we had enjoyed breakfast together.

We ate outside as we were enjoying a spell of unusually warm weather. We had fun and with Alfie well fed and the morning paper read I was ready to face the day. I took Alfie down to feed the fish in our pond and the sound of the gusset of his nappy scraping along the ground reminded me that in the rush of the morning, we had not changed him. I made him my first priority and made the fish wait.

When we were all done and dusted, we made our way off on today’s adventure.

First we had to call into Hebron Hall to take lunch to the lady of the house. Sadly she was not about, but we chatted with her colleagues before moving on. Today we had decided on visiting Porthkerry Park.

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Porthkerry Park is a large, public country park on the coast of Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales It has fields, extensive woodland and nature trails, cliff-top pathways, a pebble-stone beach and a small golf course. With the combination of green areas and the coastal location, the park is a popular destination for local primary schools taking their pupils on trips to study nature.

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The most spectacular structure in the park is a massive railway viaduct. It is made of stone and has 13 arched spans of 50 feet and three of 45 feet; it stands 110 feet high and dominates the little valley that leads to the beach. There were problems due to subsidence in 1896 but this was not disclosed to the Board of Trade inspector who approved the structure.

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The line opened on 1st December 1897, but disaster struck on 10th January the following year when one of the piers slipped and that part of the line was closed at once. A loop line was made 2½ miles to the north, around Porthkerry Rectory, and this was used while the line was repaired.

The line reopened for goods trains on 8th January 1900, and for passenger trains on 9th April. The problem was due to a combination of insufficient foundations, unsuitable cement and poor workmanship.

The Barry-Bridgend passenger service finished on 13 June 1964 as part of theBeeching cuts but passenger trains on the eastern part of the line fromCardiff to Barry continued, and the western section continued to be used by through passenger trains between Cardiff and Bridgend when the main line was closed. This still frequently happens at night and on Sundays and train operators ran empty coaching stock and empty mail trains via this route to retain train crews.

However, with traffic increasing to Cardiff International Airport, the Local Government transport consortium SWIFT also identified the potential for reopening the Vale of Glamorgan line. The Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend Borough Councils to the Welsh Assembly Government promoted the scheme in August 1999. After agreeing funding, track upgrading and signalling works commenced in June 2004 with: 3.5 miles (5.6 km) of new track laid; 6.5 miles (10.5 km) of track upgraded; 15000 tonnes of ballast used; three new section signals were installed together with three distant signals and one repeater signal required by the curved approach to Llantwit Major Station. Final planning permission for the new stations and interchanges at Rhoose, Cardiff International Airport and Llantwit Major was granted in 2004 and from October 2004 the line was closed daily between Bridgend and Aberthaw or Barry for the station construction, with goods traffic passing at night. At Bridgend, the Barry Bay was re-laid and a new platform face built.  The Vale of Glamorgan Council was responsible for the construction of the interchanges at Rhoose, Cardiff International Airport and Llantwit Major. Network Rail spent £15m and the Vale of Glamorgan Council £2m making a grand total of £17m for the whole project.

The official opening was performed by Andrew Davies AM, Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Economic Development and Transport, on 10 June 2005. The section of line between Barry and Bridgend reopened for passenger services on 12 June, the first day of that year’s summer timetable.

So, the line is very much in use today.

Interestingly, in 1944 military vehicles were gathered in Porthkerry Park, and in June 1944 twenty-one ships left Barry Docks for France, filled with troops, vehicles and equipment for the Normandy landings.

We drove down through Barry and entered the park via ‘Fishponds Hill’ just off Park Road; we then went down a steep, wooded hill alongside the Nant Talwg valley. At the bottom of the hill are ‘the fishponds’, and a small car park. Further along, the road bends under the railway line, and then continues west along the main field past Nightingale Cottage towards the viaduct. The park warden lives in this idyllic little dwelling.

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The main car park is just before the viaduct, along with the shop, toilets, ‘Pitch and Putt’ golf, and children’s playground.

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I noticed Alfie had dozed off to sleep on the journey and so I parked underneath some oak trees switched off the engine and listened to Test Match Special on the radio… my idea of heaven – a beautiful day out with Alfie, the shade of some oak trees, a pleasant sea breeze blowing gently through the car and The First Ashes Test.

Alfie didn’t sleep for long though and after a few overs he woke up, so we soon began to make our way through the park and down to the beach, it’s probably the quietest beach in the Barry area.

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We had such a great time here, Alfie sat on the pebbles playing with them and throwing them as hard and as far as he could – about six inches – he really enjoyed throwing things without getting told off!

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He sat on the beach for ages, looking out pensively at the water. It seemed so peaceful and calm with the hot sun shimmering on its peaceful surface. Yet it hid a dangerous side. Days before the same stretch of water had claimed the life of a young teenage girl on holiday from Scotland. Life is cruel and hard sometimes. My thoughts are with the family of Hollie McClymont.

I reflected too on how wonderful my adventures with Alfie had been.

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This is probably the last time we will have a Friday together just the two of us. I thought back on how much Alfie had grown since Adventures Day 1, I remembered the number of different places we had visited. I thanked God for the privilege that this was. Alfie was His gift to our family. I look forward to new Adventures with the lady of the house and the Angel Millie after the summer holidays.

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I was kind of wishing we had brought a picnic with us. There were two very old ladies having a wonderful time just near us, tucking in to a large lunch in a very civilised way. I was really pleased for them that they were having such a good time. I felt hungry all of a sudden.

Alfie and I ambled back to the car as we had arranged to meet Millie in Barry in the early afternoon. On the way back we played in the long grass. I soon had Alfie chuckling, fascinated by grass that was taller than him!

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We stopped by a stream to look for fish and we were mad we had not brought a net, as we could have easily added to the fish we have in our pond at home. I don’t know what they were, tiddlers, minnows or sticklebacks, but they fascinated Alfie.

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We got back to the car and drove into Gibbonsdown.

Gibbonsdown, colloquially known as ‘Gibby’, is a housing estate situated in the northeast area of Barry. The area has gained a bad image over the years because of deprivation, quality of the area and crime such as vandalism, violence, drugs and theft. However, things are changing for the good and the council has installed a ‘Splashpad’ for families to enjoy. It is a wonderful thing,… not a pool, but more like a water playground with fountains and water jets to amuse the kids. I overheard some of the young mums talking in school when I dropped Princess Mia off the other day and I was determined to go.

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Mia and Millie’s parents had been the day before and we agreed to meet up after hearing their recommendation.

We parked the car and strolled across and we were amazed at how good it was. Millie came prepared in her swimming costume but Alfie was going in in his T-shirt and shorts. Millie had been unsure the day before and was much braver today. Alfie was just… unsure!

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After a while he got used to it – and it took some getting used to if you are just a little kid – and was soon happily playing in the gentler fountains. It was such a great way to spend a hot sunny day. We had such fun!

A big well done and thanks you to the Vale of Glamorgan Council for giving the area such a good facility. We loved it.

We drove home a little damp, but very happy and played for a while before Alfie’s mum collected him.

As I sat in our garden and watched the little lad, I though how funny it had been that each little adventure together had been so enjoyable and so much fun. In my mind I thanked Alfie’s dad and mum for trusting him with me and me with him!!

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We have begun to build a bond that will last forever, grandfather and grandson, an old man and a young boy…  who will be friends… forever!

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Posted in Family

He ain’t heavy he’s my brother…

Ramblings of a retired teacher

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Love Me Now
If you are ever going to love me,
Love me now, while I can know
The sweet and tender feelings
That from true affection flow.

Love me now
While I am living.
Do not wait until I’m gone
And then have it chiseled in marble,
Sweet words on ice-cold stone.

If you have tender thoughts of me,
Please tell me now.
If you wait until I am sleeping,
Never to awaken,
There will be death between us,
And I won’t hear you then.

So if you love me, even a little bit,
Let me know while I am living,
So I can treasure it.

Robert Paul Moreno

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another…
My brother

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In 1924, the first editor of Kiwanis Magazine, Roe Fulkerson, wrote of an encounter with “a spindly and physically weak lad” carrying…

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