Treasures amid the ruins of past lives.

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A passage from Leap the Wild Water;

We had reached the ruins of Hafod by then, and I remembered how, years ago, Morgan and I had played in this ruin as children. We’d ride over here on our ponies. Back then, there were still remnants of a roof and the outside walls were intact. We’d light a fire in the hearth, though the chimney was full of crow’s nests. Sian talked as we picked our way round the crumbled walls of the house, stepping over roof slates overgrown with weeds, and stooping to pick up bits of broken china cups and such.

A ‘ hafod’ was a summer dwelling or place. My earliest traced ancestors lived in a place called Hafodeidos. Its English translation conjures up an 18th century rural idyll – the summer place of the nightingales.

The name of Hafod has ancient origins, harking back to a way of living which was practiced by the early Welsh people. They lived according to a semi-nomadic system of transhumance. In summertime they lived in summer dwellings called ‘hafod’ which were situated up in the mountains. Their animals grazed on the rough mountain pasture while the family lived in the ‘hafod’, which was no more than a roughly built hut but served as adequate shelter through the summer months. They lived off the milk and cheese they acquired from the freely grazing cows and sheep. Loving to roam the Welsh mountains as I do, this seems to me to be the most idyllic of existences in summertime.

Only when winter drew near would the family make their way down the mountain to live in their winter dwelling. This was called a ‘handref’ and provided better shelter from winter weather while offering some protection for people and animals from the wolves which then roamed the Welsh countryside.

I failed to find anything but ruins of many of the homes of my ancestors. Long abandoned, due their remoteness or inaccessibility when transport became motorised. Many of the old tracks remain, now marked as bridle-paths or footpaths, when once they would have witnessed the weekly trundle of cartwheels, carrying the family to market or chapel.

If you walk anywhere in the Welsh countryside, you will still encounter the occasional ruin, tucked away on some remote hillside. Often, as in the photos above, the only thing still standing is the chimney wall, complete with beam-topped fireplace. Slate tiles litter the ground amidst the fallen stones, and the remains of broken china lie scattered about among nettles and grass; a cup-handle here, a shard of plate there. As I walk amid the ruins of long-since crumbled homes, I am always left wondering how many children were raised or died within that house; how many couples lived, loved and died between its walls?

That is the pull of old ruins, for they hint at the stories lost to history, leaving us writerly souls to fill the gaps with our imaginations. As I trample among them, I fancy I hear the sound of children’s laughter, and their footfalls chasing about boarded rooms that no longer exist. I imagine glimpses of petticoats, pinafores, waistcoats and breeches; always just around the corner, hidden from sight.

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A family of eighteen children were raised  in the house above, within living memory.

As a child I often played amid the ruins of an old chapel which lay a few fields away from our house. Its roof was gone but its walls remained, and it was said that the roof had been struck by lightning when the congregation were singing inside. The roof caught fire and the congregation fled. A Baptist chapel it was. They must have thought that God himself had finally come to smite them down for their sins…

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Opposite that chapel, was the ruins of what was once the chapel house. Damson trees grew behind what remained of its walls and we’d clamber up those trees in autumn, to harvest their purple fruit. There is nothing but grass and weeds to be seen there now. The earth has swallowed its remains and covered them over as if they had never been.

The same has happened to the cottages which were once said to exist below our old farmhouse. Not even a grass-smothered outline remains of one of them. Nature has gathered them all into her bosom, obliterating man’s attempts at permanence, and returned the fields to her beloved green.

The extraordinary is to be found beneath the ordinary. Within the lives of ordinary people, extraordinary stories can be found. Inscribed on ancient tombstones, between the lines of census entries, or beneath the scattered slates and stones; dig deep enough amid the ruins of the past and there is treasure to be found.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

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You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK

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