Tuesday 6 August 2013

Home to Wales

I'm sorry once again for the delay in posting. I have a lot on my mind at the moment. I'm struggling with anxiety about my PhD; unable to work for fear that nothing I write will ever be good enough (my lack of improvement on the theory side of things in the last year is really getting to me). I'm worried that with the job market the way it is in academia, my PhD is fairly pointless, and that even if I can get a job in academia it may not be what I really want (I'm not sure that all of the networking, politicking, constant struggle for grants is for me, and although I love my research I'm not sure I'll still love it when I'm working a 70 hour week with teaching and admin). I'm having some counselling for the anxiety and then I may take a leave of absence whilst I work out what I really want to do.

Anyway, I'm sure none of you want to hear about my personal struggles and angst. You'd much rather see the photos I took when I went home to Wales right?

I went back to the village where my grandmother was born, where my mum spent her childhood holidays, a place I have only seen a few times in my life, and yet it feels like home; more than this sprawling city in many ways. As soon as I cross the border; follow the road which climbs up the Brecon Beacons and see the valleys spread out before me, my heart starts to sing. 'This is where you soul belongs' it says to me, 'This land is in your blood', 'You are made from the coal seams in the earth, the grass upon the hills and the wide open skies', and I want to rejoice.

It is a home-coming tinged with sadness though; the villages which nestle at the bottom of these valleys were built here for one reason only; the coal that lies beneath them. The mines have been closed for half a century or more and these ones bustling communities have a half forgotten air. Their rural beauty is marred by the slow decay of time and poverty. The people here have always been poor, but they were self-suficient and hard-working, now most of those left are old or must commute to Cardiff daily to find work. The few young people left here do not remember the mining past or respect it's history.

Now I only return to the village for funerals; as my nana's brothers and sisters who remained here dwindle. This visit was for the last such funeral, my grandmother is now the only sibling left of 13. I worry that I'll never see this place again, never have cause to visit, and walk down the streets where old ladies smile at my cheekbones and know what family I'm from.

Some things do not change. The views are still breath-taking; the valley sides are steep, the hills sparsely wooded with scars of land-slips showing dark against the green, a reminder of the fragility of the balance between man and mountain.

The sheep are still here and the wild mountain ponies; this is their land too and they thrive despite the hard slopes and uncertain weather.

Wildlife has returned as people have migrated; much of the slope above the village is a nature reserve now, with pools of clear water reflecting the hills, until the reflections are broken by the wings of a myriad of waterfowl.

Above the village, fenced off from the attentions of the sheep and horses, there are 2 graveyards where monuments to mine officials and others of local importance rise out of the long grass covered in lichen; the air here is clean now, no longer choked with coal-dust and smoke. Be wary; there are many hollows where the finally resting places of ordinary folk are marked only by wild flowers. Before you reach the main cemetery, there is a small, lonely group of memorials. This is the cholera graveyard; victims of the outbreak were buried here together, away from the rest of the villagers. Cholera was greatly feared and thought to be spread through 'bad air', deeming this precaution necessary.

The village cemetery is larger, with modern stones as well as old ones, their black granite gleaming in the sun. Some of my family are here; although not Auntie Iris I came to say goodbye to; her ashes are drifting on the breeze above the mountains, laughing in her soft warm voice, smelling of hugs and welsh cakes.

I make a promise myself; to return next year, to stay longer, sit upon the hills, sink my toes into the long grass and breathe in the sweet air of the valleys.


  1. ;3, I love the pretty ponies,and the cute sheep xD

  2. Lovely post. I hope that faith in the future soon will return to this village.

  3. I have Welsh heritage, and I really want to go to Wales one day, to see the ponies, the birds, wander in the hills. I feel like it is a place that calls to me!