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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Full time, husband, father and grandfather.

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