Y Cwm (The Valley)
“In all my childhood I never once played down in the cwm. I used to watch the other children as they all went in, everyone from our street went down there, but I just stood there at the edge. I wouldn’t follow, I was too scared. I remember I went in a little bit once, but not too far, I could still see the edge, then I ran out again. My brother used to tell me all these scary stories. I was absolutely petrified. I just couldn’t go down there, not even now”. Dawn McKey
At the foot of the Gwendraeth valley, only yards away from the bottom of our street, stood what the people of Tumble called the ‘Cwm’. Translated this means Valley, however to us kids, the Cwm was a woodland, and the name given to every woodland beyond. Comprising many parts, the Cwm was fronted by a children’s playground with swings, slides and a climbing frame; a small football field and a large perplexing concrete circle, which still feels misplaced, part of a science fiction narrative.
The Cwm itself, a vast wooded area that goes forever deep, to us, the children of the Broncs, was Neverland. A place of wonder, magic, colour and sound. A place where we could disappear, for hours and hours, days upon end. And we did. Sheltered from troubles that lie beyond. Here we sought adventure, and it was here we found it in abundance. In its muddy banks and winding rivers, its rooted paths and thickened trash. The Cwm was mysterious. It was alluring, enchanting even, and always it drew us in.
Long before the advancement and powerful lure of modern technology. Way before the explosion of the gaming industry; besides the ascendancy of cinema and film, all we had was the Cwm. A place where our imaginations spiraled in the reverberation of that, we took from the moving picture and its sustained influence. Here we built dens, tree houses, hides and pathways, villages with jails, and wooden churches. This is where we hid, where we seeked, and fought our rivals. Played fox and hounds, and truth or dare. Where we sharpened sticks, made slings and spears, and bows and arrows. Built dams, rafts, boats and island's. Here our imaginations were free. In its rivers. Its bendes, and its climbing trees. And it was here we left our mark, and where its mark was left on us.
“It's difficult to put into words I guess, but the Cwm was our playground, and a huge part of us growing up. You could wander in and spend hours there, just exploring. We did all kinds of crazy shit back then though, like setting wheels on fire and jumping over them before they exploded, or spraying our arms with lynx and setting them on fire pretending we were some kind of stunt men. I can remember us once hanging upside down from a tree in ‘Flints Corner’ pretending we were the Lost Boys (vampires). And the Wars we used to have. We did normal stuff too, though. Like, walk the length of that river catching ‘pen-y-bola’ fish in jam jars. I remember my sister falling into the tadpole pond one time. She stood on a stone to reach that bit further, but the stone was loose and she went in head first. So funny. As much as we used to scare each other with tales of ‘Dai Woods’, it was still a safe haven for us. Like a creche of our time”. Craig Hughes (Xennial ‘79)
For most the cwm was an adventureland, to a lot of us it was an assault course, like that of the Krypton Factor or Challenge Anneka (without Anneka). For some it was a haven, an escape, or a place to hide and there was definitely plenty of room to do just that, even from ourselves. For others it was simply a shortcut, or a ‘gateway’ to better places, or sometimes not-so-better places, like school for example, which would only lead us back to the cwm. A place of refuge from that which tried to bludgeon our minds. This was a place that showed us that there were more ways than one to learn the lessons that life had to offer.
For many however, the Cwm after dark, especially, was a place to be feared, and some would say for good reason. For at night, when darkness loomed, it became a different place, a place that boasted stories of ghosts, cults, and horrid beasts. One of which was a legend known as ‘Dai twig’ (that is David Twig when translated. And, yes, as in a leafy twig or small branch). Also known as Dai Woods. Who could only be described as a horror, a myth, or quite simply the bogeyman. With long wooden fingers. Who haunts your dreams, and leaves the lingering smell of burned wood.
“There are so many stories to be told about the Cwm. I saw Dai Twig there on more than one occasion. The most memorable was the time Richard Mudd and I were playing with a boomerang in his back garden. I can't remember what time it was exactly, but it was getting a bit too dark to see. I think I threw the boomerang towards the Cwm and lost sight of it, obviously we went after it. God help me if I went home without it. Next thing, Richard’s dog came flying past us across the football pitch, down the bank, and started barking and growling at the trees. Again onwards we marched wondering what all the fuss was about. As we stared down the bank two red eyes appeared just beyond the treeline you can guess the rest”. Darrel McKee (Xennial ‘80)
But not all was dark, for once, and for most, we made it what it was. Every inch. And every nook. We covered every part from end to end, and ten times over. Naming every single spot from North to South. From Rhos y Deri all the way to Field Three. There was Smokers Corner. Barry’s tree. The tip, the bridge, and then the island. The Arche, black mountain, and Robinsons field. Fox corner, the pipe, the rockery, and also the nest. And right at the end, at the edge of the woods, this to us was ‘the end of the world’. We made millions of paths to-and-fro, and as the trash thickened and consumed our tracks, we continued forth and made a million more.
Until one day. The years grew short, and its children fled. Lost to the reach of the undergrowth the Cwm grew quiet. A lonely place now. No park, no keeper. No posts, no bench. No dens. No paths, No smoking spots. No longer can you hear the older kids drinking on the banks, or running to it’s pitch. No longer a circle with wooden ramps. No tents, no fires, no sleepless nights. No games. No laughs. No fights. No spitting rage. No nothing. Gone. And one day, when it’s green grass is filled with promised houses. And it's a fancy name. We will remember it by it’s given name. The Cwm. Our Cwm.
“I don’t think kids have the freedom we had, anymore. We were always out on wild adventures. We spent all our time in the Cwm doing all these crazy things. Reliving scenes from films like the Goonies. Building dens, and traps and stuff like that. Rolling in grass and mud. We didn’t have the internet, and I’m glad we didn’t”. We might even be the last of our kind. Or the last that place will ever see. Lee Owen (Xennial ’77)