Saturday 27 June 2015

Cantre’r Gwaelod

“Come on, boy!”  My parents always called me ‘boy’; my given name was reserved for disciplinary use. I struggled through wet sand and shallow pools, but the surf seemed miles away. At Spring tides low-water was low indeed and the beach by Cae’r Ffynnon was perhaps half a mile wide.

The waterlogged sand and still water reflected the sky, but out towards the sea the bright vision was punctuated with black shadows. There were dozens of them. The soft sand made walking hard work, but eventually I reached the first black shadow. It was an ancient tree-stump, black with salt and age. Sea weed and limpets clung to its base.  Looking around I could see that the stump was one of dozens, and yet more lay beneath the waves.  My father explained:
“It’s a sunken forest. Long ago all the land here was above the waves. It was called Cantre’r Gwaelod, the Low Hundred. The chief town was called Caer Gwyddno, for Gwyddno Garanhir, Gwyddno Longshanks was the King. There were a hundred farmsteads and sixteen villages. But the waters started to rise, so Gwyddno made a great dyke to keep the water out. There was a gate in the dyke to let ships in and out at low tide, and the king appointed one of his men, Seithennyn, to shut the gate. But one night Seithennyn was busy courting the King’s beautiful daughter and he had too much to drink. He forgot to shut the gate. The water came in and all the land was flooded.”
I looked on with awe, and tried to imagine the forest as it once had been.
“Come on, boy!” he said, “The tide’s coming in now. We better run in case it catches us.”
Suddenly I was filled with terror. I imagined the sea pouring over the land. I was running, running towards the high ground. But the sand was soft, the ground was waterlogged, my legs were leaden. I sensed the sea getting close and closer. Panting and out of breath we reached the shingle bank by the road. I turned round. The sea was placid, and still hundreds of yards away. We laughed out loud with unfeigned joy. But as we turned to leave I sensed the water was approaching with a new sense of menace.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Un, dwy, tatws ac wy

“Un, dwy, tatws ac wy, 
Tair, pedair, cynffon pryf genwair,
Pump ar fy mhen, llygoden fach wen,
Chwech ar fy ‘nhrwyn, llysywen mewn brwyn,
Saith, wyth, malwod yn llwyth,
Naw, deg, dyma llond ceg!”

One, two, tatties and egg,
Three, four, a family of worms,
Five on my head, little white mice,
Six on my nose, eels in rushes,
Seven, eight, snails in tribes,
Nine, ten, here’s a full mouth!

Friday 12 June 2015

Sand Dunes

Cae’r Ffynnon lay on the unfashionable north side of the north end of North Parade, Borth. To the south lay the seaside village of Borth, to the west a shingle bank provided inadequate protection from the sea, east was the marsh of Cors Fochno, drained by the Afon Leri, and to the north were the great sand dunes of Ynys Las. 

In those days laughter and tears were free; everything else was rationed. That included parental blessings. My father’s parents rejoiced that their son John had survived the war, found a lovely bride, reclaimed the place at university that Hitler had denied him, and that the happy pair had brought forth a son.

However, my mother’s parents were aghast that their daughter Freda had joined the army, married a soldier, moved to an altogether inaccessible and probably uncivilized part of mid-Wales and then, with no discernable income, roof, or prospects, started a family.  The young parents were frequently and roundly chided for their irresponsibility. Visits to that parental home were tense and tearful.
But back in Wales things were different. Alone with her child the young mother could be young again. The pram would be pushed to the sand dunes of Ynys Las. Panting with youthful energy she would tow it to the top and there soak in the sun-bright view and forget the past. The blue sky reflected in blue waters. A fresh breeze off the sea dried her tears. The sea itself called. She listened to the music of wind and wave and sang secret songs to the beckoning ocean. Soon the coach built pram was careering down the dunes towards the sea in a shower of sand and laughter, and the carefree joy of young motherhood.

Monday 8 June 2015

Cae’r Ffynnon

In the back-alley, lean-to cottage of Cae’r Ffynnon: ‘field of the fountain’, the young mother screamed with horror. In the hallway the coach-built pram with its precious cargo of new-born wonder, rocked gently as sea-water swirled about its brightly-spoked wheels. From Cardigan Bay the wind plucked at the eaves. Waves were breaking over the shingle bank in front of the house and tugging at its foundations. From birth the child knew the tension between land and sea. 

With every wave another surge of salt water came under the door. The locks rattled under the onslaught of the storm. The sandy lane outside, often waterlogged, was now an inlet of the sea. Air bricks (essential, of course, for the healthy circulation of post-war air) spouted water into the tiny kitchen. The girl splashed to the pram, where her son Michael gurgled with pleasure, keeping time with the waves that rocked it. She seized the carefree lad and clutched him close, splashing to the stairs. “Ach-y-fi!” she cried, “Cae’r Ffynnon indeed!”