Friday, April 19, 2013

Living in Rhiwderin

Tredegar Street - a vehicle free zone
Sadly, we can sometimes be in such haste to go off exploring new places that we don’t pause to appreciate the beauty on our own doorstep.

I spent most of my younger life lamenting the misfortune of being born in Newport, South Wales. I grew up in a Victorian terraced street on the east side of town, where I passionately loathed the steel industry and its accompanying grime, the concrete monstrosity of a town centre and the fast-flowing river which exposed banks of rich alluvial silt (or put bluntly, mud) at every low tide. Mostly, I hated Newport for what my younger self perceived as its complete lack of natural beauty.  

I could never shake off the feeling I’d drawn the short straw where my birthplace was concerned; a belief further compounded when, at twenty, I went to work in a hotel on the stunningly beautiful Isles of Scilly (and later mainland Cornwall). Returning from that first halcyon summer on St Mary’s, I travelled in the back of a taxi from Newport station to Corporation Road and sobbed such bitter tears the driver thought I’d come home for a funeral.

Home towns have a propensity for doing that… pulling you back time and time again, seemingly against your will. I’d lived somewhere else, somewhere pretty and clean. I was back, albeit temporarily on that occasion, and I detested Newport more than ever.

As I’ve grown older, the passionate loathing of my youth has developed into something of a love-hate relationship with Newport (which finally gained city status in 2002 after many years of trying). It’s lovely to live in the same locality as your family and long-time friends, to have a pretty good idea where everything is, to witness constant change but be able to remember how things used to be. And nowadays, of course, there’s the wonderfully sociable parkrun at Tredegar House to look forward to every Saturday.

The odd cow has grazed on this green 
In many ways, I’ve made my peace with Newport. Oh, it’ll never feature on one of those ‘most desirable places to live’ lists and I still hate the slimy mud on the riverbanks, but nowadays I’m not actively planning my escape.  The main reason for this massive change of heart is our move to Rhiwderin on the outskirts of the city, six years ago.

I often refer to the village as Newport’s ‘last outpost’ but that’s not strictly true because the 19 or so houses of Lower Machen, a mile farther along the A468, actually mark the very western edge of the city (confusingly, Machen itself lies within Caerphilly county borough but that’s bureaucracy for you).

The original Rhiwderin village was located directly opposite the level crossing, however newer developments – Springfield, Rhiwderin Heights and, most recently, Taylor Wimpey’s controversial Gerddi Rhiwderyn – have seen the village expand dramatically in all directions.

Our own little abode is located in the wonderfully quaint Tredegar Street, which, together with a few outlying farms and cottages, was pretty much the full extent of the village in the late 1800s. 

Our stone-fronted houses were built to house workers at the adjacent Garth Tinplate works (it closed about the time of the First World War and the site has long since been occupied by modern housing).

The Tabernacle Church was built in 1884
What makes Tredegar Street really unique is that the road is closed to vehicles.

And yes, you did read that right. Our street is probably the only terrace in Newport without bumper to bumper cars lining the kerb. Vehicular access is not completely banned but is limited to deliveries and the emergency services. The rest of the time, a heavy chain at the lower end of the street spans the distance between pavements and keeps it blissfully devoid of traffic.

It's quite normal to sit and watch the world go by in our street
The absence of cars means that residents and hikers generally walk up and down in the middle of the road. Stretches of pavement have been transformed into lawns and gardens; there are bird tables, potted plants and benches where locals sit on sunny days chatting and watching the world go by.

In the school holidays, children ride up and down on their bikes and play games in the street. It’s all wonderfully reminiscent of my own childhood in the 1960s before the rapid increase in car ownership put paid to enjoying terraced streets as playgrounds.

For such a small place, Rhiwderin has a lot going for it. For a start, it’s not a commuter village – deadly silent and deserted during office hours – but a living, breathing community full of friendly faces and boasting great facilities.

How many villages still have their own PO?
There’s the post office, run by Jackie, Howard and their son Rhys, which doubles as a corner shop and a very reasonably-priced off licence. 

Every Christmas Eve, Jackie throws a party in the shop where you can find locals drinking wine and munching sausage rolls between the toilet rolls.

Then there’s Rhiwderin Community Centre, which dates back to 1877 when it was built as the village school. Sadly, the school closed in 1986 but the building continues to play a central role in village life, hosting activities such as Women’s Institute meetings, indoor bowls, karate, a Meithrin playgroup and regular quiz nights.

The community centre was built as a school
A few metres away is Rhiwderin Village Hall, a single-storey prefabricated building which is used for regular craft fairs, dog training and guinea pig shows (no, I didn’t know people actually showed guinea pigs until we moved here!). The Tabernacle Church holds regular services, plus weekly slimming classes for the more weight-conscious members of the congregation.

We have a small children’s play area, a gurgling stream and a fair number of allotments, which were relocated two years ago after the original hundred-year-old site was sold to a housing developer. We have freshly painted white lines at our junctions and only a month ago, a rather nice new bus stop arrived in the village ‘square’!
Garfield is one of Rhiwderin's best known characters
If you fancy a beer, there’s a public house, the Rhiwderin Inn, in the village as well as several others, namely the Friendly Fox and the Ruperra Arms, just a short staggering distance away.

And of course there’s Garfield… the swaggering, ginger Tom who is everybody’s friend. Oh yes, it’s all here in Rhiwderin.

But what Harri and I enjoy most about living here is our proximity to the Welsh countryside.  

The 27-mile Sirhowy Valley Walk runs straight past our garden gate and when the urge to go hiking strikes, we can head towards the hills, wander along the river in the stunning Rhymney Valley or plan walking routes that involve passing our local castles.

Ruperra Castle was destroyed by fire
Ruperra Castle, now sadly dilapidated and out of bounds to visitors, was once home to one of the most powerful men in Wales. The impressive and immense medieval Caerphilly Castle occupies around 30 acres and is the second largest castle  in Britain. And for romantics, there is Castell Coch, a 19th century Gothic revival castle built on the remains of a genuine 13th century fortification.

Yes, there's plenty to keep the avid hiker happy in this part of the world.

Newport will never be my spiritual home. But if I avoid town centre and the River Usk and focus on the beauty around me, on the sheep grazing high above Rhiwderin and the wooded mountains and meandering footpaths beyond, it’s not so difficult to convince myself I’m living somewhere entirely different.

P.S. Rhiwderin is a Welsh place name which roughly translates as ‘bird hill’.

Update: The South Wales Argus (our local daily) featured Rhiwderin in a Now and Then feature.

It takes us five minutes to reach open countryside

1 comment:

  1. OMG Garfield is soooo cute I love him and he is famous in Rhiwderyn post office because he is an amazing and adorable super cool lion cat!!!!!!! oh and rhewderin is nice to !!!


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