Merthyr Mawr, with its sand dunes, and Ogmore, with its rock pools and small caves cut into the rocky cliff bordering the beach, were my favourites. I used to love sliding down the sand dunes on an old tin tray, a bit like sledging on snow, but without the loss of feeling in fingers and toes due to the freezing cold conditions.
I also had immense fun exploring the rock pools and tiny caves at Ogmore. Here I would enter my own little world, unaware of the time passing, watching the strong waves lash against the jagged rocks on which I stood above the sea, the water surging into the rock pools, creating small waterfalls as the tide retreated before once again smashing against the rocks and overfilling the rock pools, inhabited by crabs, limpets and jelly fish, all over again.
As I write this I begin to understand where my deep love of nature and solitude comes from. My two brothers are much older than me and had already left home by the time I was eight or nine, so they very rarely accompanied us on these Sunday afternoon trips, and so I got used to being alone and entertaining myself, while my parents sat on the beach sipping hot tea poured from the thermos flask they had packed before setting out.
Sometimes we would head north from Cardiff along the A470 towards Merthyr Tydfil and the South Wales Valleys. Somewhere along that route my father would select different narrow country roads that wound their way up into the immensely beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park. Then he we would park the car somewhere, and we would go for a walk along the banks of a crystal clear stream or river, or up the side of one of the hills, stopping to admire the breathtaking views, which for me, surpass anything created by man. I could sit for hours watching the birds that flew by, or listening to the sound of the water gushing and stumbling over the rocks as it hurtled towards the sea to the South.
Sometimes we would be able to watch one of the sheep farmers working with his dogs, using different sounds to separately guide each dog as they worked together to gather and move the flock of sheep to the chosen location. I hope these rural traditions never die out. Imagine the sheep being controlled by computers instead of dogs, very boring! Even though I am now a vegetarian and don’t agree with the slaughter of animals, I still find it so beautiful to see that link, that completely personal bond, between the farmer and his dogs. There used to be a television programme on the BBC called, One Man and His Dog, where sheep farmers would compete against each other, guiding a small flock of sheep around a predetermined course. The trial was timed and the winner was the one who did it the fastest.
You can watch these two videos to understand how the farmer and dogs work together.–
Not far from Merthyr Tydfil, is the village of Aberfan, a small mining village in Merthyr Vale. The village is known sadly, for a heartbreaking disaster which happened on the 21st of October 1966. At 09:15 in the morning, a colliery spoil tip started to slide down the hill towards the village. It engulfed the local school, Pantglas Junior School, and some nearby houses, killing 116 children and 28 adults. The children had just returned to their classrooms from the morning assembly where they had been singing the hymn, All Things Bright and Beautiful.
My father was a Station Officer in the Cardiff City Fire Service at the time, and I remember him driving up to Aberfan and volunteering to help recover the bodies of those who tragically died. After 11:00am that morning, nobody was dug out alive. I was just nine years old at the time, and attending Whitchurch High School in Cardiff, but I still clearly remember watching the sorrowful event unfold on the television news. The photo at the top of this blog post is of the cementary at Aberfan
You can read about the disater in more detail here; http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/aberfandisaster.htm
My father must have seen some terrible things during his lifetime as he was also a soldier in the Second World War, and took part in the Normandy landings on D-Day. I still have his medal.
Colombia also suffered a similar disaster, though of much greater magnitude. On the 13th of November 1985, the Nevado del Ruiz stratovolcano erupted shortly after 9:00pm, sending thirty-five million metric tons of erupted material down the mountains, moving at approximately forty miles per hour. The material hit the town of Armero at 11:30pm and completely wiped out the town, killing more than 20,000 of its almost 29,000 inhabitants. People were also killed in some other towns in the surrounding area bringing the overall death toll to 23,000. A young girl called Omayra Sánchez Garzón, who was thirteen, was found alive, trapped in the rubble of her home, but rescuers failed to free her and after sixty hours she died where she was. She became internationally famous when a photograph taken of her before she died was published amid much controversy.
If there is a moral to this post, then it must be that we can wonder at the beauty of nature, but we must also respect it.