Thursday, October 29, 2015

welsh pilgrimage…

When they first got married, my parents rented part of a house in Handsworth, Birmingham from a Welsh lady named Ella Northwood. This lady became a great family friend and my brother and I subsequently came to know her as “Auntie Ella”. My parents later bought the house (for £300!), but our association with Ella remained for the rest of her lifetime.
Ella came from the small Welsh village of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in Powys and I well remember visiting her there on a fairly regular basis during my childhood.
Well, yesterday I decided to drive to Llanrhaeadr on a day-long mini-pilgrimage. Moira and I have visited perhaps only two or three times together over the course of the last 40 years or so (staying overnight at a guest house on one occasion), but the last time I was there was over 15 years ago, in 2000, with my brother Alan - just a few months after my mother’s death the previous August.
It was very strange walking through the village again after such a long time. Many things hardly seemed to have changed at all and yet, of course, everything HAD changed.
As a child, when we first visited Ella, we used to stay in the tiny home of her mother and father, Mr and Mrs Howell at the top of Park Street. Ella's parents both worked for the Post Office. Her father drove a post van; her mother was a postwoman and her WALKING round in the hills and valleys of rural mid-Wales was an incredible 17 miles a day! I probably first knew her when she was in her late fifties (but I always felt she looked much older?) and she certainly continued her daily round until she retired. I remember her as being thin and wiry, and that she walked with a slight stoop (something to do with carrying mailbags perhaps?), but obviously VERY fit!
Ella eventually rented a house at the bottom of Park Street, where we used to stay quite frequently in my youth – but it’s now in an awful state (huge screen at the front, plus large tarpaulin hanging across half of the front facade, plus a disintegrating roof etc etc). Apparently, according to the woman in the newsagents, it’s been like that “for several years”.
So sad.
One of the main highlights of our stays used to involve visits to the impressive Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall (about 4 miles out of the village) – one of the “Seven Wonders of Wales”, with a total drop of over 70metres (in three stages – the largest about 40m).
As you might imagine, my trip yesterday triggered lots of different memories, including the following (thankfully, my brilliant brother Alan has been able to clarify a few of the details – he’s a bit like our mother when it comes to such things, thank goodness!):
* I can well remember the small living room and the range at Mrs Howell’s house – and the iron (literally iron!) she used to heat up on the range!
* When I was about 10, I recall giving Mrs Howell a small drawing of the waterfall (quite detailed I seem to remember) and she kept it on the wall next to the range.
* At about the same time, I also remember once finding a “Roman spear head”(!) somewhere in one of the field beside the waterfall (ok, I admit I WAS slightly embarrassed when someone pointed out that it was from the top of some old railings!).
* We used to play cricket on the severely-sloping field at the back of the Howell’s house and tennis (of sorts) on the village tennis court at the back of The Wynnstay Arms Hotel.
* I recall taking part in the village carnival (in 1964?) vaguely dressed as one of the Beatles and carrying a small plastic guitar!
* I can certainly recall the steam trains at the near-by station (and subsequently seeing their rotting carcasses following the Beeching cuts of the mid-1960s).
As I walked through the village yesterday, I realised that I’ve known Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant (and the land around the waterfall) for over 60 years (blimey!). They remain amongst my fondest childhood memories.
I wonder how many more times I will get to see these places?
Photo: Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall.
PS: Ella's husband, Charlie, died towards the end of the war (this information is ALL down to Alan!). He was born Robert Charles Northwood 28/04/15 in Cleobury Mortimer and educated there, but ultimately joined Birmingham Police. Married Ella Howell (nurse at Birmingham Infirmary - Dudley Road Hospital) 05/08/39. Enlisted Royal Artillery 15/10/42. Their son Roger (Charles Roger) was born 04/06/44. Lieutenant 292521 'Charlie' Northwood died from injuries 27/11/44 and is buried at Venray Cemetery Netherlands. Like so many war stories, all very sad.
PPS: photo link on facebook to Llandraeadr-ym-Mochnant/Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall album.


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