Saturday, January 24, 2009

A place with a view

As the weather seemed set fair for the day, we drove up to the top of Caerphilly Mountain, donned our boots and headed east along the ridgeway for a brisk woodland walk through Wern Ddu before lunch. The trees are all bare and there's hardly a sign of precocious growth. Last autumn's leaves lie, mixed with mud and the grass is pale, without vigour. We see and hear more birds in our garden at breakfast each day than were evident out here in the countryside - probably because there's more food accessible to them down where we are.

This is familiar terrain from my youth, and Boy Scout treks. It's a lot more pleasant now that it was some fifty years ago, when the collieries in the lower reach of the Rhymney Valley were still active, spilling out their pollution into land, water and air. I grew up in this Valley, and its now green familarity comforts me. The flat terrain of Cardiff's flood plain, and our green corner of Cathays Park I find disconcerting, because I cannot immediately lift up 'mine eyes unto the hills'. I long to live again in a place with a high green skyline, fields and forests to contemplate.

After lunch in Caerphilly, at my insistence we drove through Llanbradach up to Ystrad Mynach, where I grew up, looking at them with the eyes of potential settlers. It's all so much cleaner than when I left home in 1964. Ystrad Mynach looks as if it has evolved without any unifying planning vision. It doesn't even look decently higgledy-piggledy like a Greek village. Some of its shops have been smartened up, some empty commercial spaces have been filled in with houses. The triangle of shopping streets and houses at the centre of the village could look so much better than it does. It's not that it lacks prosperity like so many of the Valleys do. It lacks an aesthetic with any regard for the circle of surrounding hilltops. I have happy memories of growing up in and around this village. It's hard to imagine finding a place there now that I'd be happy to call home. Often I wonder, will we ever find somewhere we're both happy to spend our latter years? For me, it has to be a place with a view.

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