Tuesday, 14 October 2008

CREW Literary Road Trip: South Wales Coalfield

During the CREW lunchtime meetings last semester, many of the students - and staff - suggested that we should visit 'literary sights of significance' in south Wales. Some of us wanted to see the physical landscapes of industry, de-industrialisation and post-industry we read of in the literature of the coalfield, others wanted to be able to locate the towns and villages where authors lived, and Daniel was rather determined that we should try and make it to 'Raymond Williams country', if only so that we could have a pint in the haunted Skirrid Inn. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, Pandy proved to be a little too far but we did succeed to literally - and indeed literary - map the south Wales coalfield.

In early (and rather appropriately drizzly) May, armed with a road atlas (which proved our downfall as we are certainly not geographers) autobiographies, novels, poetry anthologies, Meic Stevens's Literary Pilgrim, waterproofs, and a rather impressive people carrier, we set off to the coalfield.

The road-trip was punctuated by various literary landmarks and points of interest, marked on the interactive map below. At each stop we bemused and no doubt enlightened those who saw us as we piled out of the people carrier (complete with Gangster-rap-black-out-windows), gathered in a group, tried to identify landmarks or more often than not libraries, and read from a relevant text e.g. an Alun Lewis outside Aberdare library, Idris Davies outside his birthplace (opposite Rhymney library), a Dylan Thomas reading, interupted by a coal delivery, next to the Dr William Price monument in Llantrisant.

Cemeteries also proved to be a theme of the day, as the group had identified the Aberfan cemetery, the cholera cemetery above Rhymney, and the Jewish cemetrey outside Merthyr Tydfil as other places we would like to visit, despite us not being morbid souls. Aberfan in particular, proved a moving and poignant stop, even more so than we expected.

Highlights of the day included: -

:: Discovering that Gwyn Thomas' birthplace is opposite a chip shop (Perhaps the inspiration for 'Chekhov and Chips' )

:: The landscape surrounding Blaen(y)cwm, birthplace of, and insipration to, Ron Berry

:: Attempting to find the Welsh/ Yiddish headstone in the Jewish Cemetery near Cefn Coed y Cymmer (someone had been told by John Davies of its existence, but we failed to find it), while also rescuing some errant sheep.

:: Debating whether J.O. Francis's Merthyr birthplace was now Woolworths, Phones 4 U or a bakery, and deciding that Glyn Jones's birthplace was just the wrong side of Aldi for us to venture to.

:: Successfully locating the cholera cemetery above Rhymney, using the directions and descriptions provided in Chris Meredith's Shifts:

'The fat clouds thronged over the horizon and he could see the old view, ridge after ridge, distantly the tip of the big open cast above Merthyr. Nearer to him was the mound of Garn y Gors, below that, the mountain road, and a few hundred yards away, on the north shore of the pond, the cemeteries. [...] He opened his eyes. There were clouds. And when he looked down again, there. across a few dozen yards of coarse grass, was the cholera cemetery he had come to see'(Shifts, 160-61)

Who needs maps when you have psycho/cultural/literary geography?

View Larger Map (for more detail please click on the map, photos to follow)

1 comment:

Molly James said...

A couple of us did make it to Pandy, albeit a few weeks late... We took a morning out from the deluge that was the Hay Festival, (Welsh highlights - Gillian Clarke, Dannie Abse, Dai Smith), and negotiated a circuitous route through the beautiful Powys countryside, culminating in a pint at the Skirrid Inn. We also managed to take in Kilpeck Church (of Gillian Clarke fame)and marvel at the bizarre, Celtic Christian, sandstone gargoyles. A really nice morning, despite the ridiculous weather.