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.
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.
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..
“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.”
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
for a fascinating piece by a man who shares my passion.