Climbing the mountain with the help of Watkins the tinsmith

 

One day, as I was playing inside my house at 7 Wern Terrace, I heard a rather peculiar clanking sound in the distance. At first I took very little notice but, gradually, it grew louder and louder until, eventually, it sounded like a dreadful racket right outside our front door. I decided to have a look outside to see what was causing all the noise.

As I opened the door I saw one of the most bizzare sights I’d seen up to then. I recognised the person of Mr Watkins the tinsmith walking down the street and, all around his person, were tied an assortment of his tinsmith wares: buckets, all sorts of cans, jugs and other items all made of shiny tin sheet, probably from the tin sheets produced at Pontnewynydd Town Forge. You can imagine the din he made with every step he took.

Mr Watkins the tinsmith had his house and workshop on the Bell Pitch roughly opposite Franketti’s chip shop. Every day when we walked up and down the Bell Pitch on the way to and from school we passed his house and, invariably, there would be an assortment of his products hanging outside around his front door.

When we were a little older, Eric Smith, Elgar Counsell, Royce Pritchard and I used to go on long walks down Twmpath Road, along the Crumlin Road and up the Glyn Mountain. It was quite a steep climb but held a lot of interest for us young lads as there were all sorts of abandoned rusty corrugated sheds to explore and the old railway line to walk along.

crumlin-rd-fishponds-from-glyn-mt-copyMy photograph of the Crumlin Road and fishponds from our favourite ledge on the Glyn mountain

At the foot of the mountain was a large black pipe protruding from the bank. Fresh, clear water always poured out of it and we frequently stopped for a drink. Common knowledge in the area ranked the water as pure enough to drink; I imagine this would be quite true as it must have drained through many layers of the mountain on the way down to the outlet pipe. It would be our last drink before we returned down the mountain on the way home.

We usually took the same routes up and down and, gradually we became well acquainted with every footpath, rock, ledge and pond. We also used to stay longer on our excursions, sometimes almost all day; it was generally hunger that drove us back home. At the very top of the Glyn was a wood of dead grey trees. Many of their branches had fallen off and were lying on the stony ground, so we often gathered these together with some dry grass and lit a fire. Then we came up with the bright idea of making soup on the fire so we could have something to eat and stay even longer. But there was just one problem: there was no water at the top of the mountain.

pontypool-from-ledge-on-glyn-mt-copyPhotograph of Pontypool from the same ledge

It therefore dawned on us that we would need to carry a supply of water up to the top of the mountain together with something to boil the soup in, plates, spoons, a knife and the various ingredients for the soup. We managed to borrow a large boiler with a handle and we borrowed the other utensils from home. It was the water which proved awkward. Therefore a few of us paid a visit to Mr Watkins’ house one day to ask whether he could supply us with a churn to carry the water. He said he could and that the price would be three shillings. We placed our order and then had to save up our pocket money for several weeks to raise such a large sum to pay for it, but we did it and then came the great day when we completed our transaction and emerged from Watkins the tinsmith’s house proudly bearing our shiny new three gallon churn.

There were about eight of us who joined in the excursion and we each cadged a few vegetables from home to make the soup; we decided that an oxo would suffice instead of meat. When we arrived at the water pipe we filled the churn with water only to find that it was far too heavy to carry it full right to the top of the mountain so we about half filled it. We took it in turns to carry the heavy churn and the other necessary items right to the top where we emerged triumphant but tired and out of breath.

Then we collected the firewood, built a circle of stones on which to rest the boiler, and lit our fire. We eventually managed to peel the vegetables, cut them up with rather grubby hands and threw them, some salt and the oxo into the boiler. There was no top on the boiler so a few bits of fern and wood ash were added to the brew in the stiff breeze which always seemed to blow at the top of the mountain. We felt the pangs of starvation while we patiently waited for the soup to boil, but it eventually responded positively to our frequent sampling and we shared out the soup equally amongst us. As we were all ravenously hungry by that time, it tasted like nectar to us all.

After running around, climbing the trees and exploring the very deep crevices in the mountain down which we dropped many stones to see how deep they were, we finally faced the rather unpleasant job of washing up, poured the remaining water on the fire to make certain it was out and then started on our journey down the mountain and home. We considered the expedition a great success and planned to repeat it whenever we could in the future. News of it spread amongst our friends so our merry band of explorers grew as the weeks went by.

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