Brecon Beacons and the Tragic Story of Tommy Jones
Sunday morning was again glorious. I'm sure the green of the Welsh hills is so green because of the continual sunshine.
After breakfast we met our third and final volunteer leader, the aptly named Kevin Walker of Mountain Activities who had just returned from yomping up the Himalayas. An expert mountain walker and climber, he had made a business of a hobby and was to lead us on our final morning's walk and like Ruth before him, this man inspired confidence. We were to walk near Cwm Llwch at the foot of Pen y Fan.
A short car journey and we parked in an idyllic location in a field, by a stream, with the mountains stretched out before us. I was up for the walk all right. Kevin lead the way. He was sporting a huge rucksack, simply huge. The man was prepared for any eventuality. I just know that if we had needed anything, anything, in an emergency situation he would have been prepared. I also think he had a few bricks in there to continue his Himalayan training.
But before I relate the tragic story expertly shared by Kevin, I must point to the Eureka moment with my camera. Suddenly, all Alan's patient explanations the previous morning began to make sense. I discovered and used manual controls on my camera that I had previously thought merely decorative. No more “auto”. I was “Manual Man”. And I surely would have taken that elusive Rembrandt were it not for the horseflies that dive bombed us when we stopped to listen to Kevin speak. Horseflies render mosquito bites as innocuous as nappy rash. Several of us were bitten and some showed cowardice in the face of the enemy and fled. If you follow in our footsteps invest in a good insect repellent.
We retraced the steps of five year old Tommy Jones who made the long journey in August 1900 with his father from the mining village of Maerdy to visit his grandparents in their isolated farmhouse. After a train journey and a near four mile walk to Cwm Llwch, with a quarter of a mile to go, at about eight in the evening they met up by chance with the boy's grandfather and his thirteen year old cousin, Willie John. The two boys went on ahead to the farmhouse, only for Tommy to turn back for his father. He was never seen again. A huge search ensued with national press coverage. 29 days later the young boy's body was discovered still wearing his sailor suit with collarette. He had walked two miles and climbed 1000 feet probably in the dark. A public subscription raised funds for an obelisk and it can be seen to this day, as we did, high on the ridge on the approach to Corn Du.
Kevin showed us the farmhouse, the bridge from where initially it was thought Tommy had fallen into the river, and the route the father and son had followed. 114 years does not diminish the tragedy of a brave little boy who, it is believed, took the wrong direction.
A number of us said our goodbyes to Kevin and the the bulk of the party. Walking with people does develop a camaraderie and it was sad to leave but I wanted to explore other areas of Brecon. I took a departing picture of our little group, first checking with Alan on the manual setting F8 with a touch of fill flash. (I sound good, don't I?) We travelled back with Laura. I had teased her about the number of photographs she had taken. I fully expect my athletic figure to adorn the next HF Holidays brochure.
We ate our picnic in the grounds of the hotel and headed off towards the town of Brecon itself. It was recently voted the 79th most attractive place to live by The Sunday Times. These statisticians amaze me. That same profession ranked Cyprus as the most neighbourly place in Europe, heedless of the presence of nearly 1000 UN troops required to suppress intercommunal violence between Cypriot Greeks and Turks. Sitting in the delightful Pilgrims cafe in the grounds of the equally attractive cathedral, having chatted to the friendly locals, walked through a relaxed, natural town, I don't think I give a stuff about placings in daft surveys.
The 900 year old Tretower Castle and the residential Tretower Court dating from the 14th century, were our last ports of call. I experimented with the camera settings in the shots I took of the two buildings. Apart from its historical significance I must recommend the place as a sanctuary of calm with an engaging staff, a fantastic view of Table Mountain, and some old English roses that were simply ravishing. Rosa Mundi is one I must buy.
Sitting in the grounds, eating the remains of our award winning, top of the surveys, hand picked picnic, it was time to reflect on the short weekend. HF Holidays deserve their ranking and vindicate the entire profession of those who design and interpret questionnaire makers. They provide a range of holidays for all ages and interests. And in this glorious area of mid Wales they have just the place to show off their undoubted expertise.
I'll dare to use the F word. What this weekend provided was Fellowship, Friends, F11 (as in manual setting for landscapes) and Fabulous Brecon Beacons National Park.