Saturday, May 26, 2012

April in Aberdare

Entering Aberdare from the overpass near the train station

I had the day off on my April 28 birthday this year and it coinciding with a break in the rain (April on record as the rainiest U.K. April in 100 years), I jumped on a train for an hour's ride to the town of Aberdare in the Welsh Valleys.

Among Aberdare and area's claims to fame are that it is the birthplace of tour operator and friend Paul Harris; it holds a statue of the famous choral leader Griffith Rhys Jones, also known as Caradog; and the original members of the rock band the Stereophonics hailed from nearby Cwmaman. The town also holds a very fine little museum on the area's industrial heritage.

I was pleasantly surprised by Aberdare. Online the town looks like an unpromising destination, less desirable than Merthyr Tydfil, a scrappy Valley town which bravely keeps standing up against hard economic realities, not unlike the champion boxers which have hailed from there. More so than Merthyr, Aberdare is flourishing, filled with small, busy businesses and cafes and a townsfolk that carry on in that pleasant, joyous manner I find among the Welsh.

Live models 'on display' at a local bridal shop -- different models appeared later in the day

 A part of the town centre

I liked it a great deal and it is worth easy daytrips and a lovely train ride in the future.

I received two birthday phone calls from family while I was in Aberdare: one, from my brother Kevin, his wife Diane and my niece and nephew Sarah and Shawn, came in as I was on the train approaching the station, so it was fun to receive but difficult to hear patches as the train approached the platform. The second came later in the afternoon from my stepmother Flo in Florida as I was walking to the Visitor Centre in Aberdare Country Park, a walk that was unmarked in distance and took much longer than expected. But it was a pretty walk among moss-covered trees through a woods and I sat on an old log while I connected with her across the ocean.

Before the walk through the park I visited the Cynon Valley Museum and Gallery. Despite the often severe hardships endured by the Valleys peoples during the industrial revolution and often afterwards, both this museum and the one I visited in Merthyr, pointed out that subsistence farming, the life most people led before the industries came, was often as cruel and that many flocked toward industry to provide, hopefully but not necessarily, a better standard of life.

As Merthyr had its boxers, Aberdare had its cyclists, in the 1890s. Another intriguing glimpse of life in the Valleys, especially during the 1920s and Depression, was the appearance and flourishment of what were called 'jazz bands'. The photos on display at the museum reveal, mostly men and boys, dressed in outrageous Mardi Gras-style costumes, sometimes in black face even, wielding simple instruments like the kazoo.

At an intersection, 'Teeth' in front of me and to the left, below:

Apparently, a garbage bin under the sign a requisite as much as body parts

'my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils'

March in Bute Park
I'm a little backlogged with my posts. Here are a few pics from the lovely March we had here in Cardiff, with the bequiling daffodils, the national flower of Wales, covering the parks. The post title comes from the last lines of the poem by William Wordsworth, which you may or not remember from elementary school: I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud.

The yellow-gold of these bright ambassadors of spring surfaces in mid-February and lasts at least a month here. During the days of late winter they are a much-welcome gift of sunshine on the grey landscape. On days when the clouds disappear their beauty is doubled. I spent an idyllic March afternoon reading among the flowers in Bute Park.