The world was divided.
Below the terrace were two railway lines: the top line and the main line. Then across the River Ebbw, black as night with coal dust, lay tinplate works, iron works, chemical works, the Prince of Wales colliery- scene of one of the nation’s worst mine disasters in 1878. Then came the derelict canal and yet another railway. The language of the valley was English. There Welsh natives mingled with English, Irish and Scots immigrants, working in mines or heavy industry. Little grew and shadows were long.
Yet above the top line, once an old tramway, the grass was green, the hillside was swathed in trees and sheep grazed on the tops. The language was Welsh, and the land was fiercely its own. I was sure that there lived the Tylwyth Teg, the ‘fair family’ of small, beautiful, fairy folk, blessing those that left them gifts of milk or food, and tricking those who were not kind or not generous.
To visit the shops we would cross the railways and river and venture into a hobbled, cobbled landscape, painted with coal dust and chapel frowns, and speaking English. But behind the terrace was ‘the mountain’: Mynyddislwyn. Once a year we would take our picnic and the whole family would climb up to Sychpant Farm for the sheep dog trials. There, in the clean air and the bright fields the language was Welsh.
Even the sheep only understood Welsh sheep dogs.