In which The Author goes off-piste
Earlier this week, faced with cloudless blue skies and frost-covered pavements, I decided to head into the unknown realm which I described last time with the words Here be Dragons.
Cwmdare sits in a side valley running roughly east-west, surrounded by dramatic and beautiful hillsides. It starts at Broncynon Terrace, on the hillside above Aberdare College. The main road climbs steeply to the ‘square’, and then levels out before petering out at the entrance to the Dare Valley Country Park. It’s a fairly compact village with a primary school, a single shop/post office and a pub clustered around the square. There’s an active chapel opposite the school, a disused chapel on Bwllfa Road, a ‘Free Mission’ halfway up the hill, and a small Anglican church in Queen Street. More or less opposite the mission hall are a recreation ground and a children’s playground, adjacent to the miners’ welfare club. All vestiges of the industry which brought Cwmdare into being are, unsurprisingly, long gone.
This comparatively small community grew up in stages, and can be divided (more or less) into four parts.
Old Cwmdare is the area centred on the square; the main road is lined with houses, and there are a few terraces branching off to either side. This is where the majority of the original housing stock can be found. The houses break off abruptly near the bus turning circle at the entrance to the country park.
The road runs on to the tiny hamlet of Bwllfa Dare, where several coal mines once blighted the landscape. A steep terrace of neat cottages, a couple of detached houses, and a rambling farm mark the limits of human habitation. Beyond this point there is nothing but wilderness and wind turbines, as I noted in ‘Up Around the Bend
New Cwmdare consists of Maesgwyn and the neighbouring streets, and the smaller estate more or less opposite. Maesgwyn is a large postwar council estate built on a former farm of the same name, on the northern side of the main road. The rest of the council housing (to judge from my limited knowledge of the area) is a more modern mixture of flats and maisonettes.
That leaves New New Cwmdare. And that’s where the fun starts.
New New Cwmdare is a large development of substantial private houses to the west of Broncynon Terrace, which has been steadily growing over the last three decades or so. On the western edge it’s bounded by The Ridings, a long road skirting the country park. The southern road into The Ridings is a continuation of Hazel Drive in Landare; at the other end it curves around and meets Heol Brynnau, in the heart of the development. It’s hard to tell where Cwmdare ends and Landare begins, in fact. Luckily for me, there’s nothing worth photographing for my Vanishing Valleys project, so I don’t have to draw an arbitrary line between the two.
It’s not an area I’m especially familiar with. Pam’s parents live in one of the side streets. Janice and Glyn used to live nearby, back in the days of the Youth Entertainment Society. I’ve been to their houses several times. My friend Brian J. lived a bit further up, but don’t ask me to find his house again. The only time I went there was in his car, and we were chatting the whole time, so I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings.
My first real exploration of New New Cwmdare happened several years ago, completely by accident. I was in Aberdare one Sunday when Janice rang me to see if I was going to the extra rehearsal we’d arranged. (Fortunately for the audience I wasn’t performing, but I was helping backstage, so I needed to work on the running order with the kids.) I jumped on the bus, travelled through a mystifying maze for about fifteen minutes, and jumped off when we – eventually – got to Broncynon Terrace. As soon as I recognised the houses I realised it was time to bale out. I decided to walk home when we called it a day. One adventure is enough for a Sunday afternoon.
This week I found myself in New New Cwmdare again – this time, by choice. I’d already delivered a substantial number of Plaid Cymru papers in Landare; well, the parts I was reasonably familiar with, anyway. With a couple of bundles left over from Saturday’s assault on Cwmbach, I decided to press on in Aberdare West.
On Monday afternoon I walked from town through the country park. I circled the bottom lake, climbed a steep path which Shanara and I discovered a few years ago, and emerged at the corner of The Ridings and The Dell. My heart sank when I saw the former houses were numbered over 100. This was going to be a nightmare.
I did the dozen or so houses at the end of The Ridings, then dropped down into The Dell. Ten houses – easy stuff. Then I walked to Lakeside and my heart sank. No fewer than forty-six bloody houses are squeezed into this little portion of the map, all detached, all with small driveways, and all with their own quirky letterbox arrangements. As the name suggests, they overlook the bottom lake – although it would be more accurate to say they encroach upon it.
I’m sure they’re lovely houses inside, and (of course) the views from the bedrooms/patios/conservatories must be stunning. Personally, I wouldn’t choose to live in that area, even I could afford to.
In common with most of these new developments, there are absolutely no amenities – no shop, pub, school, social centre, play area, or anything else that helps to build a functioning community. As with Landare, to which these new houses form the extension on the extension, it’s a mere dormitory. (There are hourly buses in each direction throughout the daytime six days a week, but nothing early in the morning, after 6.00 p.m., or on Sundays. Even if I wanted to re-enact my magical mystery tour, I couldn’t.) I’d like to imagine a thriving culture of gardening clubs, walking groups, bridge fours and wife-swapping parties, but I get the impression that everyone spends their time simply watching whatever crap is on TV. It’s not my idea of a neighbourhood, thank you very much.
I didn’t have enough papers to do the whole of The Ridings, and the light was starting to fail. I decided to quit while I was ahead. I did Oakwood Court, and then found a short cut into Linden Crescent. From there I dropped down to Hazel Drive (the only part of the original Landare I hadn’t touched so far), and made my way home. At least I had an idea of where to go on Tuesday.
Tuesday morning was also stunning, so I armed myself with a fresh bundle of papers and set off at about 11.00. I took a handy short cut through Park Lane, skirted the edge of Cae Pugh (Pugh’s Field), and emerged just below Camelia Close. From there it’s a short walk to Cherry Court, which was as far as I’d got on Sunday evening. Unknown territory lay beyond.
I made sure there was no more Cherry Court hiding anywhere, and then tried to find a short cut into Ashbourne Court. According to the updated street map I’d found online, they back onto one another, but without a connecting road. The street map seems to be designed exclusively for motorists, though – there are no footpaths marked on it.
Because I grew up in the vicinity, I know every back lane, gully, trip, and rat run in Trecynon and the Gadlys, That local knowledge speeds things up tremendously. I can nip from one street to the next without doubling back too often. I can’t say the same about Landare. I thought I’d found one handy short cut, but it ended at a brick wall. I did find a little flight of steps into Camelia Close, and from there a path between two houses led me to one end of Ashbourne Court. Result!
While I was walking from house to house, I met a pleasant lady who was spreading salt on her driveway. I handed her a paper and we chatted for a minute. She told me I’d missed a short cut from Cherry Court – which I’d suspected was there – and I made a mental note for next time.
Ashbourne Court turned out to be a shallow U-shape at the top of Maple Drive. I’d passed the end of Maple Drive the previous day, and didn’t like the look of it. It’s quite a steep hill, and in the gathering twilight I couldn’t tell how far it extended. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were only seven houses in the whole street. Rowan Court, branching off to one side, is only five houses. I was on a roll!
There are only thirteen houses in Linden Crescent. The footpath took me back to the bottom of The Ridings, and I was in business again.
It turns out that the little cluster of houses at the top end was one of several clusters strung out along the road. Numbers 1 to 39 are in a cul-de-sac on one side; numbers 40 to 84 are in a cul-de-sac on the other side, and there are more pockets and loops further up. As I’d come to expect by this stage, there’s even a cul-de-sac off a cul-de-sac: The Oaks branches off one branch of The Ridings. The postman was doing his rounds, too. We crossed paths three times along that stretch, and I realised I’d also passed him in Cherry Court when I was starting my journey. I didn’t envy him – I was merely putting a paper through every door. He had to make sure the letters went through the correct door. (He had a van, mind you. That’s cheating in my book.)
I decided to leave the rest of the new part until reinforcements arrived. I’d made a sizable dent in two hundred papers, and there’s no point in breaking off mid-street. Instead, I split Old Cwmdare into manageable chunks and tackled it on Wednesday and Thursday (after David dropped another bundle in on Wednesday night).
On my way back from Bwllfa Dare on Thursday, out of curiosity, I decided to take the footpath running alongside the school, As I’d feared, it led me straight into the labyrinth. I don’t know what route I took from one side to the other, but dead reckoning enabled me to arrive at the Welsh School within about five minutes. From there, it was – quite literally – downhill all the way to town.
Today we’re meeting mob-handed again, to tackle Maesgwyn and the estate opposite, and finish off the rest of New New Cwmdare. If I haven’t posted anything else by Thursday, please send out the search parties. Wish us luck …