The village abandoned
ON THE surface it’s just a wooded walk along a secluded stretch of hillside but look more closely and the signs are there.
How many footpaths are this broad and have pavements on either side?
Look more closely and you will see steps leading up through a gap in the stone walls, disappearing into a sea of bramblechoked undergrowth, a stretch of rusting wrought iron railings and a stranded gatepost with no gate to cradle.
Now and then, crumbling, ivy-clad retaining walls peek out at you and the odd fragment of a building leaves you in no doubt – people once lived here. In fact, this was the once the heart of a thriving community, marked on some older maps as Pantyfynnon.
Today, Google Maps doesn’t register it at all.
The fear now, as Neath Port Talbot council orders the evacuation of further houses in the neighbouring village, is that history is repeating itself.
The forgotten village branched off Graig Road, which runs between Godrergraig and Ystalyfera, and was once part of the main highway between Swansea and Brecon... until the mountain had its say in the matter.
Go back half a century and children would be playing in the street, smoke would rise from the chimneys of rows of houses and men would till the now wild soil and plant seeds in their vegetable gardens.
One person who knows this only too well is Rosalyn Davies, who grew up in the area before Mynydd Allt Y Grug, dubbed “the Moving Mountain”, started to slide into it.
She said: “There was a whole community here; this was my home and always will be my home. There must have been around 100 houses lost in all. It’s an awful thing; you not only lose a house, you lose a home. I had happy times here; it was a fabulous place to grow up as a child.
“When I walk along today memories come flooding back but at least they are happy memories. It is also very sad as well. We lost a community. People scattered. Today it’s a ghost village; It’s quite eerie, as I remember it as it was. It’s sad, so very sad. It was a very happy community. Very close-knitted.”
Memories resurfaced for Mrs Davies following the most recent landslip in the area which saw families ordered to leave their homes for their own safety. A demolition order has been served on one of 10 houses affected in Cyfyng Road, Panteg, a neighbouring area which has seen four separate landslip events in the last 12 months.
The majority of the properties to the northwest of the road have been abandoned and or demolished due to the series of landslides that have hit the area in the last 60 years. Surveys are being carried out to see whether a further 150 homes could be affected.
Mrs Davies said she knew the feeling only too well as it happened to her family not once but twice.
She said: “When I was eight or nine, we lived in Church Road and I can remember the mountain coming down.”
It was the first major landslide to hit the area in living memory.
The 69-year-old added: “I can remember hearing a noise and walking out the front door and seeing a double decker bus reversing back down the hill and all the mud was coming to meet it.
“We were fortunate that we didn’t have a gate in the wall at the back of our garden, next door wasn’t so lucky and it went right through the house. It took a long time to clean it all up; the road was closed for quite a while.”
Not wanting to remain in the shadow of the landslide, the family moved a short distance to Graig Road but the mountain, it would appear, followed them.
Mrs Davies said: “A few years later we moved to a bungalow on Graig Road but we eventually had to move out again because there were huge cracks in the road. When we started hearing the mountain move in the night we thought it’s time for us to go. It broke my heart having to move but you could hear what sounded like fine stones trickling down the mountainside. It wasn’t good.
“I was quite scared but, being a little girl, it was also quite an adventure.”
The inevitable landslide which ultimately led to the closure of the road came in 1960.
Walking around the area now, Mrs Davies, who has been a local councillor for many years, points out the ghosts of demolished buildings – the Bird in the Hand public house, then The Golden Lion and “opposite was the Workingmen’s Club”.
Next “there was a little Pentecostal church, Peniel, on the mountainside above and over there was the billiard hall”.
A butchers, a fish and chip shop and a shop “that made its own ice cream and ice lollies where we went for the gossip” and rows of forgotten houses where the excited shouts of long gone childhood friends still float in the air for Mrs Davies.
She said: “When it happened the people were scattered everywhere – some were sent down to Trebanos, which was a long way in those days – and they never came back to the area. I lost quite a lot of school friends because they moved away. They had to move; they didn’t have a choice.”
The way ahead becomes blocked to any vehicles with a wall that resembles a WWII tank trap.
“This was once the main road from Swansea to Brecon. When the mountain came down and there were huge cracks in the road, they stopped the buses. What they used to do was; a bus came as far as the Cilbrwyn public house and you had to walk across to where there was another bus waiting.
“It was still the only road until the bypass was built on the valley floor. It’s been there over 50 years and is still called the new road.”
Other memories come back, the gravity of which still make her shudder.
“I remember one woman, Gwynneth, had been preparing food in the kitchen and she walked into the living room and, by the time she went back in the kitchen, the mountain had come down and into it.”
She passed the site of the former home of the Ystalyfera Public Band and another memory tumbles out.
“I remember them telling me that the window frames in The Bird in the Hand were all off kilter and you couldn’t throw a straight a dart because the floor was sloping so much.”
And when she reached another she says: “In 1965, on a Sunday afternoon, Lewis Jenkins and his family were told to move out; they had only just left the house and it collapsed into the ground and buried a council lorry in the process. It’s still down there somewhere today.
“My sister and her fiance were out walking lower down the valley and they actually saw the house disappear.”
Mercifully, no-one was killed during the landslides but an uncle of Mrs Davies’ was injured... indirectly as a consequence.
“They had to check the main water pipe, it came from Cray and supplied Swansea, and a number of trenches were dug.
“My uncle had been in the pub and when it came
The row of houses in Godrergraig affected by the landslide earlier this year
Councillor Rosalyn Davies
Abandoned homes bookend the terrace of Ty Bolars, Craig Road, Godrergraig