"Rhiw in the 1970's"

by

Peter Hall

Our first visit to Rhiw as a family was in the August of 1970, together with my parents and my brother Andrew we stayed at Tyín Rhos. For the first time in my life, at the age of 12 I was an explorer. Having been brought up in one of the quieter suburbs of Manchester, I was no stranger to the countryside as both parents had a love of rural scenery, but I was tugging to get free of the apron strings, and Rhiw was deemed a safe enough place for me to try my hand at exploring a little. My Mother has always said that when I went missing she would just look around for the nearest gang of workmen, there I would be chatting and sharing a cup of tea from the billy can with road gangs from every utility company. Here in Wales I didnít change, brought up to be polite I would greet everyone I met, and then precede to talk the hind legs off a donkey, just as I had in Manchester. Always inquisitive I watched what everyone was doing in the lanes, fields and farmyards and over the smithy door too. Unleashed upon a different world I walked everywhere, Mynydd Rhiw, Porth Ysgo around the winding lanes and often to Aberdaron then over the hills and far away.

The following year we stayed in Pencaerau farmhouse, the Jones family who farmed there then would move into the back of the house in summer and let the main part to holidaymakers like us. This was my first farm holiday and the Jonesís didnít know what hit them. Huw the son was (and still is) a few years older than me, but I attached myself to him and followed like an orphan lamb. Once I had got the hang of the routine I was to be found there waiting for them in the morning to help bring in the cows for milking. The cows all six of them; were milked by hand, a milking machine was fitted, but as there were now only a few cows cleaning the machine after milking would have taken longer than the milking itself. Will Hughes the uncle of Huw taught me how hand milking was done, and once given what must have been the most placid cow on earth I was off, squatting on a three legged stool with a milk pale between my knees I almost filled my first bucket of milk (I think it was the smallest bucket they had). The smell of fresh milk first thing in the morning mixed with the stale breath of the cow and a steaming cowpat really set me up for breakfast!  Two weeks just wasnít enough for me (I doubt all on the farm felt the same) and with some little pestering from me our parents booked us in for the following August, 50 weeks couldnít have taken longer to pass. We didnít know but 1972 was to be our last holiday as a family, the fortnight was sheer bliss, the weather almost endless sunshine and I carried on where I had left off the previous year.  One evening Andrew and I walked off down to Porth Ysgo, we really loved it down there, climbing the huge boulders, rock pooling and sitting watching the ever changing colours as the sun sank majestically behind one of the blackest clouds we had ever seen. Within minuets it was pouring with rain, we sheltered under the edge of one of the big rocks but the incoming tide drove us back, as we got to the bottom of the steps we were met by our father who had come to find us, what he had to say wasnít masked enough by the crash of the thunder and the lightening didnít supply the only strikes that night. When we got back to the farm we were like drowned rats, it was all a bit of a blur after that Mum fussing and Dad; well cussing.  Andrew took the brunt of it, well Andy I must say as my older brother you should have known better, tut tut! Once again the repeat booking was made for August 1973, but that June Dad died, he had been ill for most of my life and seven years to the day after his first heart attack he had his last. Due to our changed position Mum rang Mrs Jones to cancel the holiday, Mrs Jones understood but wouldnít have it all Mums way, and after some negotiation it was decided that I would go alone and stay with them for the entire summer holidays. Huw, Tom and Willís hearts must have sunk, but they never showed it to me at least.

 

Over the Summer I tried to help with every job the men were doing, moving sheep, carting hay and for hour upon hour I would sit on the mudguard of Huwís fergi as it chugged round and round the pasture land cutting thistles. All around was everything I would ever want, it simply didnít matter what the weather was ďthis was the lifeĒ. The following year I was back again, Tom Jones his son Huw and Tomís brother in law Will Hughes taught me many of my first lessons in farming, I calved my first cow with Will behind the metal barn at Pencaerau. In the house Nel Jones was assisted by Dorothy her daughter, meal times were regular as the farm jobs they were moulded around. There were Great breakfasts, the aromas of which, met you on the small lane from the farmyard to the house after milking.  I sat with my back to the wall under the window, and feasted like never before, as there is nothing quite like country air for developing your appetite. All the while the family chatted about who knows what, as I understood hardly a word of Welsh, but I was never left out as their attention inevitably turned to educating me, I can still remember a few words but seldom have the opportunity to use them. Over one end of the table hung one of those brass plaques with a prayer on them; this one carried the Lords prayer in Welsh, and always shone like the sun. Chapel was very important to them and Sunday was observed with joy, they attended Pisgah in Rhiw and Tom, Nel and Will are all buried there now.  The noon meal on work days was light as working on a full stomach can be rather uncomfortable, prior to PM milking was afternoon tea, bread and jam with lashings of tea always hot from the Aga. Diner was after all had been milked, checked and fed for the night. Much of the food was home made; a particular favourite was Mrs Jonesís fish cakes, which I can still taste when I think of them even now. Still a strong contender for the very best food I have ever eaten was Bara Brith, which if I remember, translates as Speckled bread, this does no justice to a cake which lures me back time after time, when I eat it now I always think of those happy days at Pencaerau and the very special people I met there.

"Peter at the back on the right"

Siop Pencaerau was a real relic of a bygone age; I mean that in a most affectionate way. From the second you opened the door and that brass bell on its coil spring announced your entry, you were transported back to an age when shops were magical places. Today all is on view to tempt you to part with your money, but shops from this era had dark wooden draws and shelves from floor to ceiling loaded with what you needed, no what the shopkeeper was trying to sell you. Those were the dying days of that shop I didnít know it then, what a terrible shame it has gone. They did a roaring trade in Lemon bonbons with me, but that obviously wasnít enough to keep them going, I did try my best.

One day I walked back from Ysgo to find a semicircle of straw bales arranged in the farmyard, I went and sat on the bank behind the pond, I watched as first one then another man entered the yard and sat upon a bale until there were a dozen or more. I was mystified as to the purpose of this gathering, then all was made clear to me as each man in his turn had his hair cut, not just a haircutting day but a social occasion. Bryncir market day was also an adventure for me; Tom, Will and Huw had packed as many fat lambs into the Green Morris van as it could hold. Huw drove and I sat in the passenger seat as the sheep turned the van into a mobile sauna, boy sheep can sweat! Even with the windows open phew!!

On arrival at Brincir everyone knew everyone (except me), I wish I had a pound for every Green Morris van that was sold to the farmers of Gwynedd back then. Everyone was very friendly to me, even though my city clothes and bushy hair set me apart somewhat. One week there were a family from Bristol staying in the farmhouse, two parents and two lovely daughters, Helen and Julie. One day I borrowed Willís trusty bike upon which he would fetch the cows up the lane. I cycled down to Ysgo and left the bike where Ian the farmer showed me to put it behind one of the sheds for safekeeping. Upon my arrival at the foot of the steps, I found the girls and their parents already there, soon I had introduced myself and we went climbing on the rocks and paddling in the pools. The older of the girls I think was Julie she had lovely long hair and I was besotted.  So besotted was I that I plain forgot all about the bike and walked back to the farm. Next morning no bike! Will walked down to Ysgo and Ian showed him where it was, I must have got up late that morning as I arrived in the yard at the same time as a rather red faced Will who didnít speak to me, well not in English anyway; possibly for the best! Soon it was all forgiven but not forgotten, they have all enjoyed embarrassing me by bringing it up from time to time over the years. 

What did Rhiw and Pencaerau give me? Well it was some of the happiest summers of my life, a second family who cared for me when life went upside down for a while, and who are still some of my dearest friends. But most of all staying with the Jones family gave me an insight into a different life, a life which changed mine, after this all I ever wanted to do was work with cattle. Fortunately for me that is exactly what I have been doing for the last 30 years, as a cowman on a dairy farm.

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Thanks to Peter for this great article. 

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