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South Wales book tour such fun and a great welcome in the hillside

I am in reminiscent mood, looking back at some of my lovely talks over the years in the absence of not being able to give any in 2019 because of the rules and regulations surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. During this month (October) in 2013 - a long time ago now it seems- there certainly was a welcome in the hillside for me ( and my husband) when I undertook a short library book tour in South Wales. It kicked off at Abertridwr, was followed by a talk at Pontarddulais, then Bridgend and finally Neath.

Read about the various places, I visited, and their history.

My South Wales book tour kicked off in Abertridwr at the library

Pauline Rowson outside Abertridwr Library, South Wales
Abertridwr is a village in the borough of Caerphilly, Wales in the Aber Valley. The English translation is ‘The Meeting Place of Three Streams’. I gave my talk to a small but very enthusiastic audience.

Abertridwr is the birth place of ‘Sion Cent’ in the 14th Century, one of the foremost Welsh poets of his era, a distinguished theologian and scholar but also reputedly a sorcerer and a wizard. The area, like many villages and towns in South Wales, though is best known for its more recent history that of a thriving coal mining community within the South Wales coalfield, now long since vanished.

The Windsor Colliery in Abertridwr once provided work for hundreds of people but with its closure and those in neighbouring villages, and the subsequent economic decline, the area has suffered considerably, not unlike where my father's family come from, Six Bells, Abertillery in the Ebbw Fach Valley.

Now, above this rich resource of coal in Abertridwr, is a new housing development. Great efforts are being made to regenerate the area of Abertridwr and neighbouring Senghenydd, the latter of which suffered major pit disasters in 1901 and 1913 when respectively 81 and 440 men lost their lives and devastated the lives of many families. The Senghenydd explosion is the worse disaster in the history of British coal mining. My grandfather's pit, Six Bells, also experienced a disaster in 1960 when an explosion claimed the lives of 45 miners including that of my uncle.

Pauline Rowson explaining how she writes her crime novels What was once the railway track serving the pits and taking the coal to the docks in Cardiff and Newport is now a delightful walk and cycle route. And of course there are the mountains to climb. If I'd had more time I would visited the Heritage Museum at Senghenydd, which although largely devoted to commemorating the Senghenydd explosions also documents the wider history of the Valley, including the Windsor Colliery, the sporting achievements of local residents, the old shops and buildings, memories of community events and the community’s involvement in the World Wars.

Following in the footsteps of Dylan Thomas at Pontarddulais

Pauline Rowson at Pontarddulais LibraryThe second stop on my book tour of South Wales was at Pontarddulais, a town situated just under ten miles to the north west of the Swansea City. Pontarddulais in English is translated as Bridge on the Dulais, with Dulais meaning black stream, probably on account of its journey through the coal measures.

In the early 1800s Pontarddulais was a busy and prosperous place with two mills and two factories powered by the River Dulais. The path to industrialisation began in 1839 with the arrival of the railway when the Llanelli Dock Company built a line to transport anthracite coal from the Amman Valley to Llanelli. In 1866, a new line was built connecting Pontarddulais with Swansea and from 1872 to 1910 Pontarddulais was transformed from a rural settlement into an industrial community when six tinplate works were established. The population expanded greatly during this period, as workers flocked into the area to find work in the tinplate industry.

Then in 1950 a new and modern tinplate works was built in nearby Trostre and Felindre and rendered the old works in Pontardulais obsolete. The local works were taken over by other enterprises and redeveloped as light industry but many jobs were lost and the light industry gradually began deserting Pontarddulais in the latter half of the twentieth century, transforming the community into a dormitory village according to the information on Wikipedia.

Pauline Rowson at Pontarddulais Library, South WalesI saw no evidence of this though on my arrival, or indeed from the group who attended my evening talk. Pontarddulais looked and felt like a small town on the up.

Some well-known literary figures have associations with Pontarddulais, including Edward Thomas and Dylan Thomas, who had several aunts and uncles in the town. So I was in good company both figuratively speaking and literally.

Rocks, sand, surf and a man walking a ferret

Pauline Rowson - taking a coffee break in PorthcawlIt started with a coffee and a lovely walk along the delightful seafront in Porthcawl (town by the sea) where I picked up some amusing and interesting ideas for characters and possible locations for a crime novel.

A new small marina is being built - mmm wonder if DI Andy Horton ought to sail in there, or perhaps my 1950s Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Ryga will be called in to solve a baffling crime. He might even see the man walking a ferret...

Bobby the Porthcawl Ferret Yes, this can only happen in Wales and I'm allowed to say that because I am half Welsh. Bobby, the ferret, was an enchanting creature although I avoided getting too close in case he decided to take a snipe at me with his very sharp teeth.

I liked Porthcawl, it had some great walks, friendly, chatty people (as they all seem to be in South Wales) and a touch of off-beat humour and eccentricity. It even provided a dramatic thunderstorm and a torrential downpour to add to its air of mystery and there are some great places to put a body in a crime novel.

Pauline Rowson at Pyle Life Centre, Bridgend After the heavens decided to open up and a spot of light lunch in the Bakerboy cafe in the small centre of Porthcawl it was off to the Pyle Life Centre Library, Bridgend to give a talk. I didn't think anyone would show up given the torrential rain but perhaps they're more used to that kind of weather in Wales than we are in the south because I was so very wrong. Almost forty people turned out to hear me talk about my crime novels and crime writing.

Finally sharing the secrets of crime writing at Neath Library

Pauline Rowson at Neath Library
The town of Neath is situated in the principal area of Neath Port Talbot located on the River Neath. It was a market town that expanded with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century with the new manufacturing industries of iron, steel and tinplate. But just as with the other towns in the valleys of South Wales, it suffered from the decline of those industries, and the economic downturn in recent years. There is however a thriving library community and a magnificent Public Library building opposite Victoria Gardens, laid out in 1897.

Pauline Rowson at Neath Library Here I met with many interesting and friendly readers who were offered tea, biscuits and chocolates on arrival. I talked about my crime novels, answered some searching questions and signed copies of my crime novels after my talk.

The Neath area is teeming with history. There are Bronze-Age burial chambers and Iron-Age hill forts nearby and the Romans constructed a fort at what is now Neath Abbey in the first century AD. With the Norman Conquest of Glamorgan Sir Richard de Granville defeated the local Welsh Lords and established a timber motte and bailey castle near Neath Abbey in 1129. This was later destroyed by the native Welsh Lords. A second castle was erected on the east bank of the River Neath - the site of the present castle. Intermittent warfare between the Welsh and the Normans continued for the next 150 years but peaceful conditions from the 14th century onwards allowed the village to develop and for commerce to expand. A river bridge was erected in 1320, trade flourished and regular markets were held.

To this day there is a market and fair attracting Traders from the UK and Europe for the four day event in September around the streets of Neath Town Centre.

Pauline Rowson chatting to readers at Neath Library I didn't get much chance to explore Neath and I didn't see it in the daylight something that I will remedy next time on my travels. Covid - 19 permitting!

My thanks to the lovely people of Wales.


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OCTOBER 7TH, 2020 @ 6:31:16 BST

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