Wednesday, 7 December 2016

How green is my Valley now!

Yesterday's carol service for the whole of Tredegarville school was the last occasion of this term for children to worship in St German's. There'll be no more 'class Masses' until mid January when Spring term gets under way. Eight of the regulars were there for the  midweek celebration of the Eucharist this morning, eastward facing in the Lady Chapel. Afterwards I chatted with people in the day centre for a while before heading back home for lunch. 

The rest of the day was uneventful and pretty inactive, apart from a brisk walk to Tesco's after preparing supper. Clare was out rehearsing for her Sunday concert until after eight. After eating together, I watched the first of a documentary series being re-run on BBC Four, about the river Taff and its post industrial regeneration. It's a superb series, part of which I have seen before. It was lovely to hear people being interviewed who spoke with the unique local accent in the area where I grew up. The 21st century story of the river's revival as a natural habitat, after half a century of ecological death by industrial pollution, is such a positive story for our time.

As I was growing up the state of the river, with its banks of alien silt from deep underground, brought to the surface and distributed throughout river systems due to ubiquitous coal mining washeries, was part of my earliest memories of outdoor play. I remember my mother's anxious warning, not to go near 'that black brook' which flowed off the mountainside through Ystrad Mynach, down to the river Rhymney on the floor of our valley. Coal dust, however you acquired it, made your clothes very dirty, so heaven help you if you fell into the river. Now the tributaries and the main valley rivers are alive again with healthy vegetation, birds and fish. The grief of elders who lived through the heyday of mining regretting the environmental cost has been turned to joy and pride.

At the end of my first year in University, I had a summer internship in the local National Coal Board science lab on the edge of our village. One of my tasks was to accompany a member of staff who toured streams and rivers in the area collecting water samples. These were then subjected to routine tests for toxins from coal tips, to monitor the impact of coal waste dumping. I think this was where my interest in the environment really began. In those days, when the pits were still producing coal and dumping waste incessantly, the valleys were bleak places, made ugly by industry. 

I went off to University in Bristol, and found an urban environment with clean countryside not too far away much more appealing. So, I grew in determination not to return to the valleys of my birth. Even so, I did return to Cardiff to train for ministry, and served my first curacy in Caerphilly, in a mining housing estate, though, mercifully in a setting where hillsides were green and free of coal tips. Then, ministry took me to one urban area after another for thirty years. Only in the past fourteen years since returning to serve in Britain, has the transformation of the environment after the closure of the pits made a strong impression on me. I watched this evening's programme with great pride and joy, as so much of the landscape it portrayed is now familiar.

It leaves me wondering. Natural beauty was such an important element of my experience of young life, despite the industrialisation of the valleys. Had the landscape not been despoiled when I was growing up, would I have been less tempted to escape and seek a new way of life and new experiences elsewhere?

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly, I was born and grew up in Salford, Ewan McColl's dirty old town. Family holidays to a miners' cottage above Ullswater, followed by hiking holidays around the Lake District, the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales with my YHA card awakened something within me, an apart from a couple of years in London straight after university, I have spent the rest of my life in or on the edge of open country.