Tuesday, June 5, 2012

RIP Tommy Jones

An obelisk marks the spot where Tommy Jones' body was found
After weeks of walking in the peaceful Black Mountains, the twin peaks of Pen y Fan and Corn Du on a Bank Holiday Monday came as a bit of a culture shock.

The Brecon Beacons National Park might span 519 square miles but yesterday there were only two summits that people wanted to conquer. 

The heavily eroded trails might have resembled school walking buses, but no amount of ‘traffic’ can diminish the magnificence of these mountains (the highest in South Wales).

Tommy was trying to reach Cwm-llych when he vanished
Our descent from Corn Du also gave me the opportunity to reflect once more on the tragic story of five-year-old Tommy Jones, who died on the ridge above Llyn Cwm-Ilwch (where a memorial stone now stands) after going missing on August 4th 1900.

The story has haunted me since I first heard it twenty years ago. My daughters were roughly Tommy’s age and I could barely bring myself to think about the terror that small boy must have felt, lost and alone in the blackness of the mountains.

A tragedy like the one that befell Tommy’s family would never happen today.

Tommy had been walking to Cwm-llych with his father but was allowed to run ahead with an older cousin; refusing to cross a stream, he tried unsuccessfully to retrace his steps alone.

A hundred years later, our risk-averse society means that few children are allowed to venture to the local park without supervision, let alone wander around in the countryside, or god forbid, up a mountain.

When I grew up, in the sixties and early seventies, the widely held view seemed to be that parents were there to guide their children but not to control their every move. As for entertaining us, a trip to the local cinema or swimming baths was as exciting as it got.

This meant that during the long summer holidays we children had to entertain ourselves – and without spending money (in our terraced street there wasn’t much around). We were lucky back then; there were pockets of wasteland that hadn’t been ‘developed’ where we could play and build dens, an adventure playground a short walk away at Somerton and exciting (if dangerous) playground equipment like the Witch’s Hat and the Cradle.

As we got older and willing to walk further afield for our entertainment, the long-closed Bulmore Lido became popular and if we experienced the call of the sea, there was our very own coast path a few miles away at Goldcliff. 

Goldcliff at low tide - Newport's own 'sandy' coast
Fishing in nearby reens was another favourite; in those days, they were all teeming with wildlife – tadpoles, minnows, elvers, ‘flatfish’, newts, pond skaters. No self-respecting child of the late sixties could fail to be fascinated with the life cycle of a frog.

We walked for hours with nothing to sustain us but the odd tiptop (bought for pennies in the ubiquitous local shop). I can’t recall our parents being particularly concerned if we disappeared for the whole day, which was just as well as we rarely had any idea where we were going.

This was rambling in the true sense – but without the maps, rucksacks, sandwiches or water bottles.

The odd calamity – my sister once lost a shoe between the boulders at Goldcliff and I’ve still got a scar on my thumb from slicing it open in the local reen – and one awful tragedy – a boy from our street was crushed by a paper bale – certainly didn’t deter us from pursuing future adventures.

Halcyon days, unfortunately unlikely to be experienced by the majority of today’s children.

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