Heolgerrig : the rocky road. More pot-holes nowadays, though when you reach the very top the tarmac gives way to a rubbled lane all the way down the other, Cynon, side to Abernant.
   Heolgerrig. Mentioned only once in Mario Basini's book 'Real Merthyr' and then in the context of a Welsh-speaking football team playing on The Bont.
  Once Pen-yr-Heolgerrig : more accurate, as the road rises steeply from the town.
   It's a place where many of the old people spoke Welsh as their first language when I first arrived over 30 years ago. On the Merthyr Corporation buses (which actually ran on Sundays and evenings!) Welsh was as common as English.
   When the Thomases owned the Post Office, it was also regularly used there. Now it's more likely to be employed at school by a younger generation ; at Santes Tudful and Rhydywaun.
   Like Gwyn Alf Williams' precious Dowlais Heolgerrig is regarded as part of Merthyr, yet is fiercely proud and independent.
   In recent years alone, it's truly remarkable how much talent has emerged from here. The band Blackout all hail from Heolgerrig and even recorded one song using the choir from their old Primary school.
   Actors Jonny Owen and Richard Harrington both come from the village; the former making his name in the 90s ITV soap set in a Valleys town, 'Nuts and Bolts'. Jonathan is from the same street and also a Cardiff City fanatic, so when we meet the conversation is inevitably based on the round ball.
   When I rarely encounter Richard we chat about drama and literature and the latest projects. I followed him closely in the last series of 'Lark Rise To Candleford' and wonder if he'll end up in 'Pobol y Cwm'.
   Flautist Susan Thomas is the daughter of the couple who used to run the Post Office. She has done so well after a long, hard struggle to establish herself and, at present, is sub-principal at the London Philharmonic.
   Brothers Robert and Peter Sidoli also originate from Heolgerrig. The former is an ex-Welsh rugby international, of course, and I was surprised to wiki Peter and find that he now chooses to qualify in rugby for the Italy of his father's birth.
  I'm told there's a Plaid Cymru A.M. from the village and a Channel 4 reporter!
   It has a rich history relating especially to Chartism and Nonconformism ; the artisan Chartist leaders of the 19th century like Morgan Williams and the chapel at Cwmglo where early Dissenters met to avoid persecution.
   It's often described as the 'posh' part of Merthyr and there are certainly a few estates with exceptionally large houses. We have a pool in our garden.......when it rains constantly!
   However, signs of the recession are houses left unsold for years and some left half-built and one of the two pubs is up for sale , as is the village shop. In both shop and Post Office, stocks seem to dwindle daily.
   We're served by John's Buses and by drivers who know their customers by name. Of all the drivers, Ron is the most interesting character.
   He possesses a cackle worthy of Cwmgrach and fine line in wind-up comments. He drops off papers and parcels, leaves people by their doorsteps, chats with other drivers and holds up traffic, parks his bus to nip into the shop and might even be able to get you a 'tidee' second-hand car if you ask him.
   Ron is also a Plaid Cymru supporter who knows a thing or two about politics. On Facebook recently I nominated him as a future President of Cymru and certainly he'd be first choice for a Republic of Heolgerrig!
   In recent years, Heolgerrig has featured more and more in my work. My latest book of poems 'Moor Music' has many poems dealing with the Waun, the moorland once dotted with small shafts and drift mines.
   My novella for teenagers 'The Climbing Tree' is set in a future Heolgerrig, where that same Waun has been in a state of continual flooding.
   It is a village which has risen from its relative slumber many times to fight plans for  opencast mining. People have gathered and spoken out eloquently, signed petitions and marched, from the 80s right up to the present day.
   Some campaigners such as Tony Chaplin ( a regular letter-writer in the 'Western Mail' and local paper) have fought against opencast wherever it has raised it's ugly, dust- and fume-breathing head.
   Others have only bothered about their own patch, following the example set by our former MP Ted Rowlands, who opposed opencast on the west side of town, while favouring it on the east. Typical Ted: both-legs-on-either-side-of-the-fence!
   Perhaps Heolgerrig deserves a 'Real' book of its own. Certainly Basini has no intention of writing a 'Real Merthyr 2' and remedying his awful omission.
    I can't really complain. I was supposed to write 'Real Merthyr', but pulled out as I was teaching full-time then and couldn't get a bursary to do it.
   The following poem is very much a piece of Peter Finchesque psycho-geography. All the house names are genuine and I've organised them, fairly accurately, to begin at the top and work your way downhill.



COALBROOK  :  across valley, good view of opencast site;
                             somebody was prophetic

MANJUSHREE : with a southern aspect
                             when it should be facing east

SAN REMO       : painted on bin ; half-finished
                             for decades ; home of builder

TY LLOEGR      : owned by a family called ‘England’
                             who, of course, are Welsh!

REESVILLE       : a whole town in a few rooms
                             (California, west of Merthyr)

MIRA-MONTES : sounds like a villa, looks like a dormer ;
                              had a great holiday in Majorca

BELLE VUE       : overlooks electricity sub-station,
                              DANGER OF DEATH

BRYN AWEL      : noise of school and road ;
                              how about BRYN SWNLLYD?   

ANFIELD             : BEWARE THE DOG ;
                                trained to eat Toffees

LLWYN YR EOS : poetically perfect,
                               but no sign of bird or bush

PENYBRYN         : once topped the road ;
                                has the hill grown?

HERBERT HOUSE : sign stuck on with tape ;
                                  one Herbert within

TARDIS COTTAGE : small terrace on outside,
                                    mansion once you enter

MARBRY                : when Margaret married Bryan
                                   they gave birth to pebble-dash

CASTLE VIEW       : with binoculars ; should be renamed
                                   RETAIL PARK VIEW

BROOKSIDE           : nothing to do with the soap ;
                                   stream somewhere, hidden

HASLEMERE          : wished it wasn’t here ;
                                   Home Counties, perhaps Royal Berkshire


Geraint Rees
02/20/2012 12:07

Hi Mike, I read with interest your story of Heolgerrig, especially about the tarmac road that leads to a rubbled lane.
Unfortunately that information was a bit late for me. I moved to the Cynon Valley 9 years ago, and at that time I had a Courier business.
One day in Heolgerrig I wondered if that road was a shortcut over to the Cynon Valley. I had a new Mercedes Sprinter, with long wheel base and high roof, but by the time that I was prepared to admit to myself that I'd made a bad decision, it was too late to do anything, other than to carry on.
The road was horrendous; pot holes were filled with builder's rubble, and my van swayed from side to side. I was afraid that it would go over, and that I would have to get some rescue service to get me out.
Eventually I was relieved to see yet again a tarmac road ahead, and to discover that I had arrived in Abernant.
I've never been that way again! :)

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