Limestone country

I was following a guidebook on a short walk in the Brecons, and came across this description:

“The bustle of the valley is left behind. In front lies a a lunar terrain of limestone crags, pockmarked by quarries and loose rocks.”

It’s by Alastair Ross, whose walking guides in the Kittiwake series are ideal for a casual walker like me. The village still has a  (just about) working quarry, and the station building is still standing, even if the remaining quarrymen’s houses are now home to the South Wales Caving Club and the railway line is long gone.
There’s a hidden history here, of the 19th century opera singer Adelina Patti, who paid for much of the station. Patti, who commanded at the height of her career fees of £1,000 a night (then a colossal sum) was rumoured to have been a mistress of Edward VII, and was for a time the flamboyant owner of the nearby Craig-y-nos Castle, which she equipped with a private theatre and a billiards room, and invited musicians and billiards players alike to come and stay.
But I digress. The phrase in the guidebook, and the sudden change to the bleaker limestone landscape, reminded me of Auden’s early poems, strongly inflluenced by the former lead-mining area he would walk in in the Pennines. This is the first part of The Watershed, written in 1927, when Auden was 20, and the earliest poem to make the cut in the Selected Poems, edited by Edward Mendelson:

Who stands, the crux left of the watershed

On the wet road between the chafing grass

Below him sees dismantled washing floors,

Snatches of tramline running to a wood.

An industry already comatose,

Yet sparsely living. A ramshackle engine 

At Cashwell raises water; for ten years

It lay in flooded workings until this,

Its latter office, grudgingly performed. […]

The photos in this post were taken by Andrew Curry. They are posted here under a Creative Commons licence: some rights reserved.

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