Category Archives: Wales

The Old Man

I used to do a lot of hill walking when I lived in the right places, principally Stirling, where I went up into the Highlands, and Cardiff, where I used to drive to the Brecon Beacons. The Surrey Hills, where I live now, are good – but they’re not quite the same. There’s nothing like proper mountains for a sense of freedom.

The old man in this short poem is the the Old Man of Coniston. Those who know that fine mountain in the English Lake District will also know that this photo is not taken there, as I don’t have any digital photos from that walk, which was done a long time ago. (It’s in the Brecon Beacons, near Pen y Fan).

The Old Man first appeared in Orbis poetry magazine, no.88.

The Old Man

In stride pale valleys grow before us,
smoothed between slumbering beasts,
and exciting strange pools of thoughts;
after roaming the Old Man and returning
like water we fall together
by a crumbling river and you sing,
a silly song, into my ear
as I rest my thoughtless head in your lap.

Who are you to me?
Dreaming child, self-absorbed,
before eroded thoughtways
you sing the possibility of freedom.

Sausage, Chips and Beans

My first proper job after finishing university was working for an environmental charity in the South Wales valleys. We worked on a housing estate called Fern Hill, undertaking practical projects such as tree planting and fencing. We worked in all weather, and it was always good to get a hot lunch in the local community centre, where this gentle incident occurred.

Sausage, Chips and Beans was published in The New Welsh Review (no. 27, Vol VII / III).

Sausage, Chips and Beans

The four old women
in Fern Hill Community Centre
start to shake
their glass salt cellars.

Salt up, salt down
salt up, salt down
back and forth
across four sausage, chips and beans.

‘I like my salt,’
smiles one, ‘You do,’
says another, arms
rocking in unison.

I am still watching.
Some dots of white
fly outwards, bounce
and slide on the blue formica.

When they have finished
I ask one
to pass the salt
if she wouldn’t mind.

I spin it quickly, once,
over my chips,
watched by four sets
of bemused spectacles.

The Welsh Marches – Photoblog

Rowan Cottage, the house that Lizzie inherits in The City of Light, is set near the fictional village of Hebley, loosely based on the black-and-white village of Weobley. I’ve already posted about the real garden of rooms that The Secret of the Tirthas is based on here, but here’s a few photos of the remote, beautiful, and occasionally austere area known as the Welsh Marches, which serves as a backdrop to the books:

Looking towards Hay Bluff and Twmpa, at the western edge of the Black Mountains


The Golden Valley


Across the border in Wales: Herefordshire bull, Vale of Ewyas


Ruins of Llanthony Priory, Vale of Ewyas



Pen y Fan, the highest of the Black Mountains




Small Boy’s Poem

As the last poem featured an elderly Chinese man, I thought as a contrast I’d post one about a small Welsh boy. This was written after a school visit a few years back when I was working for an environmental organisation in the Welsh Valleys. Well before my own small boys entered the scene, although it’s easy to imagine either of them sounding exactly like this.

Small Boy’s Poem

I am small and I am precious and I am
growing up in Merthyr Vale which is called
‘Ynysowen’ which is next to Aberfan.
Mrs Thomas is my headteacher and she is
very nice but she tells me that I have
a loud voice for someone so small because I am
just the smallest boy in my class
although Peter Ryan is
nearly as small as me.

I also like Mrs Jones who’s my class teacher
especially when it’s nearly end of term
and we all go out on the playing field
for games and we have one sack race and
one egg and spoon race before it
starts to rain and we have to go back in
but it doesn’t matter because
the teachers are all being funny
which makes me want to

run around and go ‘yaroo’
which I do and that’s when Mrs Thomas
calls me over and puts her arm around me
and tells me that
I have a loud voice
for one so small as me
and looks at me like my mum does
when she tells me
that I’m precious.


Like Bird Garden, this was one of a few poems used by Belmont Arts Centre in primary and secondary schools in Shropshire.