I am lucky to live less than five minutes away from the car park, yet in the last ten years I have only visited Cwmorthin a handful of times.
Couple of years ago, the message boards of AditNow had been afire for five minutes because a new group had sprung up: "Cofio Cwmorthin Remembered". They were an informal bunch of like-minded folk who wished to conserve and study the cwm. People as far away as Birmingham got very opinionated. Footpaths were mooted, and interpretation boards.
There was a modest grant awarded to the group and some people had definite ideas on how that should be spent. The like-minded folk of Cofio Cwmorthin just got on with doing good things like conserving crumbling structures, making proper archaeological studies- and publishing what they had found on the web.
I still didn't visit. The last time, it was a Sunday and I remembered that the place was crawling with folk in co-ordinated walking gear, camo-clad mine explorers and off-road trail bikers. There was no peace, as the two strokers tore up the silence like an unacceptable ransom offer. There were children, too, with their parents- enjoying the paths and exploring the old miner's houses, eating sandwiches and drinking pop. That last bit made me smile. Perhaps this old curmudgeon wasn't entirely turned to stone after all.
There's some good literature out there about the place. Jan Fortune, John Davies and the late Gwyn Thomas have all written poems about the cwm, evoking various interpretations and feelings. Every one of them left me with a particular image that resonated. There's Graham Isherwood's masterwork about the quarry and Lewis and Denton's magnum opus about Rhosydd, both as rare as hen's teeth, but worth selling the family silver for. Celia Hancock and M.J.T. Lewis have written a small but powerful history of Conglog Slate Quarry, at the end of the cwm. Then there's the excellent Cofio Cwmorthin website.
So, one chill morning in the depths of winter, I took my camera out for a walk up there, thinking to take some shots in the bright unseasonal sunlight. There was nobody about. Just a few ravens and a farm dog freelancing up on the hill. Since then, I have been returning two or three times a week in different weather conditions, making up for ignoring the place, turning it into something of a project. Because there's no half measures with me, either I'm not interested, or I'm all over it.
Anyway, for the next year or so, interspersed with normal transmissions (and there are a lot of those, if I can just get round to finishing them) there will be articles and photos about various features of Cwmorthin. A modest attempt, for better (or more likely worse), to document the place.
Cwmorthin sits like a drop of sunlit dew in a morning spider's web , a magical hanging valley above Tan y Grisiau; deserted of human habitation but not of memories. Two-strokers run out of fuel eventually, or get bored and go home. Mine explorers eventually stop shouting and dive underground. Everyone has the right to enjoy the place and find whatever it means to them.
Gwyn Thomas called it a "cup of loneliness". John Davies thought it "hung, cracked in Blaenau's draughty rafters" while to Jan Fortune, the "winds whined hymns that haunt the Sheepfold still..."
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