Wednesday 15 July 2015

The Edge of the World

The edge of the world was marked by the sea on once side and the mountains on the other. Just below the hills, on the old turnpike road, lay Tre-Taliesin, supposedly the home of Taliesin, in legend the greatest bard that Wales has ever know. Tre-Taliesin was a tiny village – most of the cottages were 19th century miner’s dwellings. But, even if it was named by some 18th century cleric, somehow the location seemed right, and there was originally a cottage there called the house of the bard. …

Tuesday 7 July 2015


The village of Borth was tiny and fixed in an ancient Welsh landscape. It perched precariously on a narrow shingle bank on the edge of Cardigan Bay. Behind it was the huge marsh of Cors Fochno, but it faced the ever-present sea.
Centuries ago Borth had been a cluster of fishermens’ cottages at the south end of the beach. Just north of the cottages the Afon Leri flowed into the sea at Aber Leri. But the longshore drift of Cardigan Bay built up the shingle bank and Aber Leri gradually moved almost three miles north. Eventually the river was diverted to flow into the River Dyfi East of Ynys Las.
By the 19th century a single street ran south to north on the shingle bank. Either side of the road tiny fishermens’ cottages became interspersed with Victorian houses. The older buildings often had Welsh names, as if they had grown out of the landscape. But the names of some were exotic. They were the names of far-away places visited by Borth sailors, or the ships on which they sailed: Arequipa, Bel-Air, Dovey Belle, Gleanor, Amity, and Sabrina. The bones of those houses had sea-salt in them and nothing changes: Alan, son of Aran and Eileen Morris of Bel-Air went to sea at the age of 16.
The Railway Station stood back from the main street. The railway arrived from Machynlleth in 1864. It brought first the navvies, then the tourists, though never in the numbers hoped for. The line ran between the shingle bank on which the village was built and the Cors Fochno. Some melancholy donkeys grazed on the waste ground beside the line. They had an old bath-tub for a drinking trough.
A few dark public houses crouched shamefacedly, hopelessly outnumbered by nonconformist chapels.  The names of the pubs betrayed their genesis: The Railway Inn, The Victoria Inn, and encouragingly, The Friendship Inn. Half way along the village was the Grand Hotel, built optimistically near the railway station.
The chapels seemed dour, especially in Winter. To me they seemed utilitarian, uncompromising, unwelcoming. When the village was young there must have been a chapel for every family, each haggling over the minutiae of Biblical interpretation or Sunday practice. Behind the village on Ynys Fergi, a rocky island in the marsh, was the Victorian church of St Matthew. Somehow, on its little hill it seemed both psychologically and physically a bit nearer to the sun. On Sunday the faithful would straggle across the railway line for the service, summoned by a single, strident bell.