Day 1 – Gilfachreda – Cardigan – Aberystwyth – Strata Florida – Tregaron – Cardigan – Gilfachreda
The project begins with picking Jacob up and his recording equipment and traveling to the home of storyteller Peter Stevenson in Aberystwyth.
I want to say a little bit about why I chose peter and why Peter has been captivated so much by the idea. I met Peter through a mutual friend Ruth Hogg, I remember he was carrying an accordion and wore a large coat. His soft intelligent voice was so captivating and his friendly smile seemed to put you at ease, as if you had known him all your life. Peter was one of the first artists I talked to about collaborating with me on Singing the line into existence, he was enthusiastic and wanted to know more. Peter said “I have walked most the line , there are many stories from all along there” and that, was as much as he has told me. during the years Peter has told me “Jo! I have found another one” I would say “can I hear it?” he would reply “ when the time is right” Finally, the time is right!
We arrive at Peter’s mid morning and soon it becomes apparent that none of us can work without a cup of tea or on empty stomachs, so we made tea then made lunch before any work is done. Lunch was a medley of salads, dips and pitta bread. lovely!! I eat really fast eager to hear the stories I have been waiting for 3 years.
Peter reads out snippets of stories, these bite size stories tantalise our imagination and it starts to become clear that these will inform the structure of the work.
As it was a beautiful day we decided to bundle into my very small car and do some investigating. We drove first to Caradog Falls Halt and the story of The War of the Little English Man and then to Tregaron to locate the old station and hear about George Batty’s Elephant. We stopped at the Strata Florida station in Ystrad Meurig and visited the church and the Abbey to hear and film more stories from Peter.
These long car journeys, have been a sort of “office” we have found them to be great way to talk about ideas and plan what were are going to do next.
Day 2 – Gilfachreda – Carmarthen – Bronwydd Arms – Pencader – Bryn Teifi – Lampeter – Derry Ormond – Olmarch Halt – Allt Ddu Halt – Cardigan – Gilfachreda
The plan for today was to go to the Gwili heritage railway and film Peter telling stories from the book ‘ Railway Humours or Stories of Railway Travel’ by Thomas Phillips, stationmaster in Carmarthen, published in 1926. It was extremely rich to hear the stories as we traveled on a steam train. A very important part of this journey was arriving at the goods shed at Llwyfan Cerrig to pick up a train window.
As we travel to the various locations I am thinking all the time on how to use the visual and spoken word from them, developing movement work with the train window at them and learning to communicate how we embody space.
A window is a man himself The porte Fentre provides the man with a frame, it accords his outlines the vertical is the line of the upright human being it is the line of life itself”
Le corbusier, from ALMANACH D’ARCHITECTURE MODERN, PARIS 1925
In Pencader and Bryn Teifi we heard about the flirtatious goings on in the long dark tunnel, about Sarah Jacobs the fasting girl of Llanfihangl ar Arth and about the old man of Pencader and his encounter with Henry II. On to Lampeter we found the site of the largest stations on the line and followed the line to the bridge still standing alongside the road bridger on the Teifi (near Co-op). Over lunch at Conti’s Peter told us the history of the Conti family, of George Gibbs the last of the gentlemen tramps and of the Black Ox Bank and how before the railways, the drovers herded their cattle and sheep to Smithfield in London, in fear of robbery and their lives. In 1799 they set up their own bank and issued their own banknotes with a Welsh black bull on it.
Heading North we arrived at ‘a miserable little corrugated iron hut stood on a wind and rainswept platform on the downside, seemingly miles from any human habitation.’ as described by J.S Holden in ‘The Manchester & Milford Railway’, or Derry Ormond in the village of Bettws Bledrws. Here in the last standing station that remains on the line we filmed and listened to Peter telling us stories about the witches of Bettws.
Further still to the site of Olmarch Halt where we learnt about Operation Julie and how half the world’s LSD was produced in nearby Llanddewi Brefi in the late 1960s, the subsequent drugs busts, the comical tales of the locals, stories of the visits of legendary rock stars including Bob Dylan, and how Joe Strummer wrote, “Julie’s Been Working for the Drugs Squad,” after Sergeant Julie Taylor who participated in the whole Operation.
Near Tregaron we stopped near the lake called Maeslyn, site of the drowned ‘Old Tregaron’ and filmed on the old line, now cycle path, near Allt Ddu Halt. This particularly stunning part of the line’s journey was awe inspiring as the sun shone, buzzard’s cries filled the sky and the stories of the bog and the tylwyth teg fed our imagination. I used this opportunity to experiment with moving in the landscape and on the line with the train window, reflecting the emotional experiences shared by anyone travelling through the landscape.