Steam Gala at the Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway – Saturday 10 September 2022

I had such a lovely time at the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway in South Wales! I had been a member and volunteer there for many years until, around 10 years ago, I left as I had to focus on other things in my life at that time.

This is the first time since then I’ve paid a visit to the railway, and what a lovely day to visit! Not only was the weather glorious, but the Steam Gala was taking place with six different steam locomotives operating that day, including one of my favourite engines – a GWR Pannier Tank.

Not only was it lovely to smell the exhilharating combination of steam, coal smoke and engine oil, it was fab to see some people I’d not seen in 10 years.

It was also fantastic to see how much positive good work had been done in the intervening decade. The line has been extended, new station buildings erected, and the rolling stock was spruced up too. And seeing so many volunteers working in so many different roles, and so many youngsters too, was fantastic to see.

I spent a lot of the day chatting and catching up, as well as learning more about my digi-SLR. I even got some photos that I’m quite pleased with.

The landscape around the railway is very much an industrial one. There’s a branch line that curves round to Big Pit National Coal Museum. There’s plenty to do and see there including exhibitions, a shop and it’s even possible to take a trip underground to a coal seam in the cage that used to transport miners to the tunnels that led to the coal face. There are plenty of coal spoil heaps, or tips, around the area.

The mainline extends from the Whistle Inn to the north, down to Blaenavon High Level in the south. The main station, Furnace Sidings, is in between the two.

Furnace Sidings is named for the extensive ironworks that used to be in the area. Blaenavon Ironworks is a fantastic piece of industrial archeaology with blast furnaces and other structures of note preserved there.

The ironworks was crucial in developing the ability to use cheap low-grade, high-sulphur iron ores world wide. The basic iron process was developed by Sidney Gilchrist Thomas and Percy Gilchrist between 1877 and 1878.

The whole area around Blaneavon is a World Heritage Site, awarded by UNESCO for it’s importance to ‘the pre-eminence of South Wales as the world’s major producer or iron and coal in the 19th Century.’

Small though it currently is, the P&BR wends its way through this landscape, giving lovely views of the surrounding areas.

It was one of the delights of my visit to remember the rugged beauty of the landscape, all the more glorious in it’s late summer hues of gold, green and pinky-brown heather. I’ve never lost my love of trains, steam trains in particular, and my first visit to the P&BR was about the same time of year, but just before the end of August. I was then convinced to join as a member and the following weekend I spent a day helping to scrape the paint from an old carriage.

So, it was quite fitting I returned on a similar kind of day, at a similar time of year to renew my friendships, both with some of the railway people and friends of the railway, but also with the railway itself. Who knows what this will lead to … only time will tell!

National Botanic Gardens of Wales, Llanarthne

Today I paid a visit to the National Botanic Gardenof Wales (NGBW) in Llanarthne. My last visit there was over ten years ago now and it was interesting to see how it has changed.

The gatehouse is the same. You can just make out the inverted ‘pyramid’. this funnels rainwater from the roof and it’s mesmerising when it rains. Today was a mostly sunny and non-rainy day. It still makes an interesting and unique entrance to the garden, either when the weather sunny or raining.

My first trek was to the British Birds of Prey Centre. This has been added since my previous visit to NBGW. I was just in time to see an owl flying demonstration.

Bartok the Ural Owl

The first owl was a five month old Ural Owl called Bartok. He was amazing and loved to fly around. The picture is of him sitting on the bench in front of me. However, his handler did put him next to me a couple of times. I love their feather feet so much, and the rest of them too. Being able to see him swoop just over my head or in front of me was absolutely awesome!

Lily the Little Owl

Next up was Lily, a little owl. And she was little. She’d decided that she’d moult all her tail feathers at once; usually they moult just one or two at a time and let the new feathers grow back before they moult the next feather. Obviously Lily never got the owl post memo about that this year! So, she didn’t fly very far, but it was fascinating to watch her in action. She bobbed close to the ground, whereas Bartok glided above head height.

Allan the Barn Owl

The last owl flown today was Allan the Barn Owl. He was a real character and flew the way he wanted to from his perch back to his handler, sometimes landing where he wanted to. Barn owls are one of my favourites and it was a delight to see Allan fly.

Allan in flight

This very poor picture of Allan in flight was taken moments before he flew right at me and his wing feathers brushed against my hand holding my camera. That took my breath away in joy, delight and wonder.

Leaving the demonstration still smiling I made my way to the Birds of Prey centre. I always find it sad to see animals in cages, no matter how big they are. I know all the birds here are flown; I saw jesses on most of them, if not all of them. I don’t remember all the species they had there, but all were beautiful.

From there I walked towards the domed Great Glasshouse which houses a collection of plants from Australia, South Africa, California, the Mediterranean Basin, the Canary Islands and Chile. This is the largest collection of Mediterranean plants in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Great Glass house is also the largest single-span great glasshouse in the world, designed by Noman Foster and Partners. It sits like a raindrop on the landscape; you can make it out in the background of the above photograph.

I stopped at the cafe in the Great Glasshouse for a late lunch – Earl Grey Tea, black, and a rather delicious beetroot and onion sandwich. I took some time to write in my journal, sketch some flowers and put on some sunblock before wandering around the Glasshouse.

Inside a network of paths wind their way up and down through the various regions of the world. I took many, many photographs of flora and foliage. Many bees were seen busy gathering pollen and drinking nectar; the NBGW has many hives.

It was very warm in the glasshouse, so I was relieved to return to the cooler air of the outside world. I wandered up to the Physician’s Garden. Here I also saw some butterflies; however, they refused to stay still long enough for me to get a photo of them.

Finally, I wandered around the double walled garden and towards the Butterfly house. I didn’t go into the butterfly house on this visit. Maybe my next one.

On my way back to the gatehouse, I passed some fountains. One you’ve seen in the photograph of the glasshouse. Here are a pair of them and in the distance you can make out the roof of the gatehouse.

There are many water features around the garden. I love the sound of water. The gardens are able to stimulate most of our senses – smell, touch, sight and sound.

One of the textile pieces in Y Pot Blodyn Cafe

Taste is taken care of by the various cafes in the NBGW. I stopped in Y Pot Blodyn as I exited the garden. I was ready for another cup of tea! This time it was a traditional black tea, with milk. I also indulged myself in a scone with clotted cream and jam.

On the cafe wall were two textile pieces representing the plants found in the Great Glasshouse. They have been created by members of the Garden’s stitching group. Embroidery, needlefelting and felting along with crochet and knitting were evident.

I took over 170 photos today, many of which will be sources of inspiration for artwork from me I’m sure.

I know I will be returning there again. The autumn could be fun and I may be able to add photos of seeds, capsules and seed pods to my collection.

I also know that I didn’t visit every part of the Garden, so there’s more to explore on another visit.

Glyntaff Cemetery and Crematorium

I live not very far away from Glyntaff Cemetary and Crematorium. When I was 11 and 12 years of age, I used to walk too and from school through the cemetery as it was the shortest route to take

This walk never ‘freaked’ me out. Indeed, I often used to take my time on my way home to wander around. I was fascinated by the variety of gravestones, and also with the stories of the people they commemorated.

These wanderings laid the foundations for my life-long love of cemeteries. Not just the social history contained within them, but the peace and stillness and the wide variety of nature that is there.

I also like the relative lack of the living in cemeteries. I’m not good in ‘people-y’ places; I get anxious, panicked, and can become startled and hypervigilant. These are some of the delights of living with CPTSD.

Cemeteries are one of the few places I know I can visit and walk around without any anxiety or panic. Well, other than that worry that perhaps I shouldn’t be there. I do tend to forget, when I know I need to go for a walk or when I’m trying to convince myself that I need to go for a walk, that cemeteries are good places for me to go!

Today, I managed to convince myself that it would be good to take a walk in my local one, which is quite sizeable for sure. You can see an aerial photograph of it here –

This photo only shows part of the cemetery. It extends to the left.

Now, for a little history…

The cemetery in Glyntaff, Pontypridd, South Wales, UK was opened in 1924. It was the sixteenth to open in Great Britain, but for almost thirty years it was the only crematorium serving the whole of Wales.

Its crematorium is the oldest in Wales. Also, it has links with Dr William Price (1800-1893), who lived in Pontypridd and was actively involved in getting cremation legalised as a way of disposal of the dead.

Following the death of his son Iesu Grist in 1884, he followed his Druidic beliefs. He refused to bury the body; instead, he conducted his own cremation service on a mountain near his home in Llantrisant.

The police intervened, believing cremation to be illegal. Dr Price faced a court hearing. During this hearing, he argued that while the law did not say cremation was legal, it didn’t say it was illegal.

The judge agreed with Dr Price and freed him. This case set a precedent that led to the Cremation Act of 1902. It was under this act that Glyntaff Crematorium was opened.

My first stop – the columbarium.

I was so happy to see that the columbarium is, at last, reopened. I used to look in there on my walks home from school from time to time. It fascinated me. The last time I went to the cemetery, the columbarium was closed. I’m so glad that it has been repaired and reopened.

A columbarium is a room or building that has niches and shelves where urns can be stored. Sometimes photographs, flowers or other tributes to or personal belongings of the deceased are left with the urn or memorial plaque.

The one in Glyntaff is a building that is separate to the crematorium but is nearby. You can walk through the columbarium to and from the rose garden. It is a symmetrical building with two wings leading off the entrance hall. Each of these wings has three sections with lovely mosaic floors.

The west wing houses urns, drawers with ashes and tributes/belongings in, as well as memorial plaques. The east side has plaques on the walls.

I had a lovely look around there, and I want to go back sometime soon and look again. It’s going to take many visits to look at all the memorials and so on that are there.

My wander around the cemetery

It took me a good 40 minutes to stroll around the old part of the cemetery. Also, I didn’t walk every single roadway that I could. To the south of this section, there’s another part of the cemetery that is almost as big. I saved that for another day. Today it was quite sunny and humid, so I appreciated the shade cast by the trees in the old part of the cemetery.

The diversity of styles of gravestones is fascinating. I also find the symbolism used on headstones interesting, particularly those of the Victorian era. Little stories about the family are contained within those symbols.

Every time I visit, I notice different headstones. But there’s also the variety of nature too. It’s high summer here, so the grass is mostly sere. Also, I visited during the middle of the day; the wildlife was, quite sensibly, resting. Still, a few butterflies were fluttering around. I also had a chuckle at the jackdaws playing around some graves.

Dr Who and Glyntaff Cemetery

You can find out from which parts of the cemetery were used in Dr Who and Torchwood.

To Hay (on Wye) and back again

Angela Hay on Wye 11 Oct 2018
Market place, Hay on Wye

Today, I took a little jaunt to Hay on Wye.

I wanted to drive through the Brecon Beacons as summer turns to autumn. I needed to visit Bartrum’s, the stationers in Hay on Wye and to have a bit of a walk around.

Typically, after a couple of days of gloriously sunny autumn days, I decide to go on a wander on a day where the skies were leaden and rain was threatening.

However, the sullen grey backdrop of the sky helped the autumnal colours to shine against it, especially on the way home. The colours of nature had changed with the rain. Reds were clearly apparent in the brown reeds at the foot of the mountains. Water darkened the bark on the trees so the glorious colours of autumn seemed more vibrant. Wet foliage always seems brighter in colour.

I cursed myself for not being able to take photos as I drive, and there was nowhere to stop safely so I could take quick snaps of the glories of autumn.

I travelled the A470 between Merthyr and Pontypridd on Tuesday, and the change in colours of the trees and the land was noticeable indeed.

More trees seemed to be crowned with their autumn gold. There are more fiery flashes of trees resplendent in their autumn finery. The brown bracken and reeds on the hills had more red, magenta and purple tinges to it than just a few days before.

I felt quite sad that some trees have already lost their leaves, missing out on joining in the great, colourful celebration of the turning of the seasons and another productive year.

There’s more changes to come and I hope I’ll find the courage to visit Westonbirt Arboretum this year to wander through the woods in their autumn beauty.

I also enjoyed seeing the clouds forming mantles around the heads of the mountains of the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains. There’s something mystical, secretive about it, and a lot of power in the strong winds today and the eddying and swirling in the low clouds was particularly visible today.

One particular highlight of the day was when a red kite swooped in front of my car, turned and returned in the direction it had come from. Seeing them close up always takes my breath away!

When I got to Hay, I popped quickly into Satori to have a look at their pretties (crystals, jewellery) and did pick up a piece of hypersthene to add to my collection.

Angela Porter Lunch Hay on Wye 11 Oct 2018
Oscar’s Bistro, Hay on Wye

My next stop was Bartrum’s for a look around. I do have a bit of a thing for stationery. I did restrain myself from visiting the downstairs area of the shop where they have soooooooooo many beautiful fountain pens. I did have a good look around the upstairs section where there are pens and pencils, notebooks and sketchbooks. They have a huge selection of Moleskine and Leuchturrm notebooks, as well as other brands, along with all kinds of other stationery supplies. They do have a small selection of sketchbooks and I picked up a 25cm x 25cm Blue Acorn sketchbook (I’d forgotten to pack a sketchbook to take with me).

After that, it was time for lunch and I thought I’d revisit Oscar’s Bistro.

Liz and I went there before our trip oop t’Dales and we had a pleasant lunch in nice surroundings.

Today, I had a big pot of tea all to myself and for lunch I ordered a veggie burger with cheese and some chips. I forgot to ask them to leave out the bread bun, which I left anyways (my preference, I’m sometimes not in the mood for bread). The veggie burger was delicious. They make them themselves and I could detect mashed swede, parsnip, leek, onions carrots in my burger. They were beautifully seasoned and not at all bland, unlike so many commercial vegetable burgers.

The chips were lovely; hand-cut, still had the skin on (which I like), and golden and crisp, freshly cooked.

I did say that I would’ve been more than happy with two veggie burgers (no bun) a scattering of chips and some salad.

The time I was there with Liz, I had a vegetable curry and it was delicious too. A little spicy heat but not so much that you couldn’t taste the other spices or the veggies.

It really is a lovely little place!

I sat there and made some notes about my thoughts on my drive there and started drawing my illustration for Inktober 2018 day 12 (the prompt is ‘whale’) in the sketchbook I’d bought in Bartrum’s. Well, I mean, you just gotta try out a new sketchbook!

Once I’d finished my pot of tea (which was also lovely and much needed), I planned on a wander around Hay, but as I took the quick pic of Oscar’s it started to rain, and the heaven’s opened as I took a pic of the market.

On my way back to the car I stumbled upon a little shop called The Thoughtful Gardener and I just had to have a wander.

As well as pretty flower pots and cards and so on, they had a range of soap, scented candles, room fragrances and skin creams made by themselves.

I had a sniff of some of the soaps and creams and ended up with a pot of Wild Mint balm which is deliciously minty and the tiniest bit softens/smooths the skin. I’ve tried it on the touch of very dry skin I have on my forehead to see if it’ll help. I couldn’t resist some soap ‘flavoured’ with patchouli, and delicately done too.

I’ll certainly be visiting The Thoughtful Gardener again!

I had thought to wend my way towards Hereford, maybe visit Kilpeck before returning home, but the dark, dark glowering clouds suggested I should think otherwise. So, I made my way back home, driving through strong winds, heavy rain and the start of the rush hour traffic!

Oh, strong winds – that reminds me, flurries of autumn leaves were fun to drive through! Far nicer than snow as far as I’m concerned.

A little jaunt to Neath

Approximately once a week I have an appointment in Neath. I enjoy driving, but today I wished there were places on the way there and back I could pull over and snap a few piccies of nature.

The places I could pull over and stop were places where I lost the view I wanted to catpure.

So, instead of pictures, I’ll try to use my words to paint a picture of my journey.

My route was from Pontypridd, up the A470, past Merthyr Tudful to join the A465 which I then followed until I reached Neath.

Along the way I get to see the mountain tops of the Taff valley. They currently look like a rich tapestry of abstract patterns in a rich russet tinged with purple, dull yellow-greens and straw-yellow.

The trees that line much of the road are no longer the uniform green of summer. There’s flashes of yellow, brown, orange, magenta and purple along the way that break that unformity up. Rowans and hawthorn are so bedecked with berries that they already appear bright red-orange and red in colour.

Traces of morning mist lingered about the trees beside the A465 in the Vale of Neath, and low cloud wreathed the moutain tops to the east. Definitely an autumnal view.

I got the sense that nature is trying on her new wardrobe, working out what looks best in different places, what colours work well together.

I feel the anticipation of seeing nature in all her glorious, majestic, blazing autumnal colours in the coming days and weeks. All to celebrate the end of the year’s harvest, the warm, glowing colours clothe the world like a snuggly quilt laid down to help it ease into it’s winter slumber.

The colours also act as a memory to remind us in the cold, dark, bare days of winter the world will wake up once again.


The Old Barn Tea Rooms, Ponsticill

This photo of The Old Barn Tea Room is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Not all journeys involve a lot of travel. We often forget to visit or mention places of interest that are close to home. We think they’re ordinary, uninteresting, familiar, but to others they may be of great interest.

Today was one of those days where a short trip was taken, around 25 miles in total.

I needed some time with Liz to sort out details of our journeying around the Yorkshire Dales, so we decided to meet up for lunch and went to the Old Barn Tea Rooms at Ponsticill, Merthyr Tydfil.

The drive there was lovely, in bright, golden autumn sunshine along tree-lined country lanes once we left the main roads. Part of the trip was along the edge of the huge Ponsticill Reservoir and we had tantalising glimpses of the water through the trees that lined the road.

A little earlier in our journey, we’d driven over the road that goes along the damn that holds back the water that forms the reservoir; I always feel a little nervy as my mind worries that the dam may fail with me in a car on it. There was a fab view of the water treatment works from this road, however; something that can fascinate a pair of retired science teachers!

The Old Barn Tea Room is, as the name says, in an old converted barn. The decor is simple and charming, in fitting with a tea room in the countryside

We were greeted as we entered the door and given a menu and asked to choose a table and someone would be over soon to take our order.

As a vegetarian I was heartened that there were some interesting choices for me. When our waitress came to take our order I inquired about the fresh, home-made soup and was told it was carrot and parsnip, so I plumped for that along with a hummus and roasted vegetable sandwich along with a pot of Assam tea.

Later on, I indulged in a slice of lemon cake, which was very light and had just enough lemony yummy-ness to make it totally delicious.

Liz went for their lighter afternoon tea and she had half a tuna sandwich, a plain scone with cream and jam and Welsh cake. She had a cafetiere of coffee.

There was a group of three men there, one of whom played the harmonica from time to time and the others sang softly. That was rather nice and atmospheric.

We were not rushed at all during our visit, which was great as I needed Liz to help me name the places I took photographs of as well as mentally retracing the tyre-tracks of our daily journeys around the Dales.

I even managed to do a little knitting as we finished off our second pot of tea or cafetiere.

It really was a lovely setting for a tea room, off the beaten track, set in the countryside and today it was nicely quiet.

My sat nav took us on a slightly different route back home. We had a fantastic view of the face of a quarry, the old limestone streaked with dark grey and flashes of white.

As we made our way back along the A470 we passed Trago Mills opposite the Cyfarthfa Retail Park. Liz said it was on her list to visit out of curiosity. I asked her if she wanted to pop in and had the time to. She said, ‘why not!’. So we did.

We both ended up with more knitting yarn and we had a wander around completely perplexed by it all. However, we can both say we’ve been there.

I will be making more posts about our Yorkshire trip, once I get it all sorted out in my head (and with the photo labeling and editing too).