Singing the Line into Existence


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Searching for Old Stations

 

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First Journeys

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.

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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.

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Visit to Pont Llanio railway station and Creamery

Old picture of Pont Llnio

Back in August at a Traws link Cymru meeting, committee member John announced he had an idea, “ how about we clear the old station at Pont Llanio?I know the guy who owns it. It’s not been developed, he uses it for storage” all the members, were enthusiastic about this, so we arranged a site visit.
On the 23rd October 2014 we got permission to do an inventory of the site. We arrived in the village of Pont Llanio, not far from Tregaron. It was a early in the morning and nobody was about.
We pulled up to the entrance to be met by an enormous abandoned milk factory that dominated the yard as we entered.milk factory
As soon I saw the building I felt exhilarated. I began to have idea’s for a site specific dance and performance. A multidisciplinary performance incorporating sound, projected visuals, lighting, spoken word, songs and dancers. was very excited!
During my research I will be focusing on Pont Llanio I wanted to know, how the factory operated? what had the working conditions been like? Had such milk plants been common? Who had worked in it? When did it close? Was it a directly related to the closer of the line? what were the feelings of the factory workers when was the last freight train was loaded with the milk? When was it’s last run? What was the village like when the factory was going strong? what sounds/noise came from the site?
An interesting fact that Ceredigion was known as “very milky Ceredigion” but at one time the people could not afford their own milk to drink or to make into cheese, instead theyhad t sell it to Liverpool or London.This fact made me wonder who remembers drinking the milk that came from Pont Llanio and about the London dairies?
I spent such a long time observing and walking in and around the milk factory building that I almost forgot about the platform. The TLC group had already located the platform and it was my turn to discover it. The platform was completely barricaded off with brambles and we had to bash our way through with sticks.
Once through the brambles I entered onto a fully intact platform, with it’s stone top and walls.

Pont llanio track

I felt a huge energy surge, and again ideas for a performance flooded my imagination. Evoking more questions like, what did it look like when it was up and running? what buildings and shelters stood there? who caught the train? Where did it go? was it passenger or mainly freight?
I was told that a water tank still survived, and I was eager to see it. We had to walk a little further, bashing more brambles that had overgrown the platform. As I approached, it was the sound of rushing water I first sensed; it sounded strangely like the you were traveling on a train. Then WOW! There was this beautiful stone bridge, and then, across the track was the water tank, still holding water.

water tank

Bridge

The sound I heard was the water running around the tank due to blocked pipes. This very elegant water tank used to fill locomotive boilers, and is still standing firm at Pont Llanio.
Walking back, a little further up the platform I explored part of the railway track that had been totally reclaimed by nature. Seeds had been blown onto the track, had taken root and were now 40-50 years old high.

tree and fire small

woods

I was struck by the symbolism of this relating to my project. Like seeds blown in the wind, ideas can take root in peoples minds and imaginations. And how seeds of change and or future growth waiting to emerge from within each and every person.
I was happy to see the trees and the thoughts and feelings that sprang from them; however, I was saddened at the prospect of them being cleared, feeling guilty and sorry for what many humans have done to this planet from the overfishing of the sea to the poisoning of the land to climate change. I needed to transform these sad thoughts, into positive thoughts out into my world. What comforted me was the belief that this railway line if reinstated will connect busy towns in Wales with a reliable rail link, reduce the strain on the roads, link north and south Wales, railways are more socially inclusive means of transport. I feel my project research will also look into the symbolism this line has regarding the economy and the necessity for new approach to doing business– a new economy, one that is driven by caring, sharing sustainability rooted in the soil, ideas of ethics and spirituality, not greed and ecocide.

A week or so later I met a lecture Dr Louise Ritchie a lecturer in theatre and performance at Aberystwyth University. After our conversation, we both felt that it was a synergistic meeting, as we are both involved in a train project. Louise applied for funding from Strategic insight programme, and we got it! I will be engaging I talks with louise and running workshops with the BA students.  More information as and when it develops.

Thanks for reading