The quar­ry­man’s daugh­ter

Walk in among grassy hills and open slate quar­ries of Snow­do­nia, which in­spired Kate Roberts’ in­flu­en­tial short sto­ries, nov­els and lit­er­ary jour­nals, says Julie Bro­minicks

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents -

Kate Roberts’ Rhos­gad­fan, Snow­do­nia

Acold from cloaks cloudthe the hills swirls chapel,and down­the slagheaps, the brightly coloured play­ground and the grey stone and peb­bledash houses. The roads are empty, and the school quiet, its roof ripped off by Storm Bar­bara.

This is Rhos­gad­fan, where Kate Roberts spent her child­hood on the slopes of Moel Try­fan and Moel Smytho, and which is the set­ting for her early nov­els in­clud­ing Feet in Chains and Tea in the Heather

Sud­denly the cool cloud dis­solves. The sea glit­ters, skylarks rise over the moors, chil­dren laugh on the swings and the moun­tains are re­vealed.

Kate Roberts was liv­ing in Cardiff when she be­gan writ­ing, and these nov­els are suf­fused with ‘hi­raeth’ – long­ing; for child­hood, home­land and her brother who was killed in the Sec­ond World War.

From a per­spec­tive granted by dis­tance and time, she de­scribes a life lived on the land, when pans were scoured with grit and fires kin­dled with heather. She re­veals the bru­tal poverty and of­ten wry ten­sions of a slate-quar­ry­ing hill com­mu­nity in her novel One Bright Morn­ing. “Fears for her brothers hov­ered in the air be­tween them like gnat-clouds on a warm sum­mer’s day.”

But through her char­ac­ters’ hon­esty and strife, their fam­ily

bonds and the care they take in small tasks – the cut­ting of bread, the feed­ing of hens – she shows the dig­nity of the quar­ry­men and women who worked in the small­hold­ings.

Dis­cover the land­scape – both its bleak­ness and its light – that in­spired Kate Roberts with this nine-mile walk.


Be­gin at Cae’r Gors, Kate Roberts’ child­hood home and now a her­itage cen­tre. Tours can be ar­ranged prior to your visit. Head north along the nar­row road.


At the view­point, see Holy­head Moun­tain drift­ing on the mist above An­gle­sey, and the Eifl range glow­er­ing over the Llyn Penin­sula – to Roberts, a dis­tant land, an­other com­mu­nity. Leave the road to climb the hill.


It was in the heather-clad

Moel Smytho that Begw, the young pro­tag­o­nist of Tea in

the Heather, pic­nicked with her fear­some friend Win­nie. Con­tinue on to join the pil­grim trail, keep­ing the large mixed wood­land on your left.


At a dip and stunted hawthorn grove, take the un­marked track straight up Mynydd Mawr, care­ful of the pre­cip­i­tous drop into Craig Cwm Du. Cloud de­scends swiftly.


The sum­mit of­fers views of Snowdon and the Nantlle Ridge. Look out for pere­grines as you re­join the path, head­ing south-west to skirt a reser­voir.


Slagheaps in­di­cate the quar­ries where Kate’s fa­ther and her char­ac­ters toiled and talked pol­i­tics and union. Moel Try­fan is still worked, though less than it once was, bear­ing 36,000 tons of slate a year.


“Cat­tle, pigs and hens can­not wait for grief. They have to be fed” (One Bright Morn­ing). Find your way through the slate-works. In Roberts’ time, these would have sup­ported live­stock and veg­eta­bles, but now shel­ter gorse and molinia.


Back in Rhos­gad­fan, sheep graze the foot­ball field and the chapel is closed. Flow­ers grow where cows were milked, and school­child­ren are whisked home in cars. But the sound of by­gone laugh­ter fills the air, and wash­ing still flaps on the lines.

Teacher, novelist and Plaid Cymru ac­tivist, Kate Roberts (1891-1985) wrote about poverty, iden­tity, com­mu­nity and fam­ily life in ru­ral Wales.

“An ele­phan­tine of a moun­tain with its trunk in Rhyd Ddu and be­yond it is Snow­do­nia,” wrote Kate Roberts in Y Lon Wen (The White Lane) – the wa­ter­body of Llyn Cwellyn (pic­tured) sits be­neath the peak of Mynydd Mawr in north-west Snow­do­nia

BE­LOW Kate Roberts’ child­hood home – now a her­itage cen­tre – was used as a class­room while the roof of the lo­cal school was be­ing re­paired

Julie Bro­minicks is a Snow­do­nia-based land­scape writer.

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