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View over Abertridwr of the old colliery village of Senghenydd, seen upper left at the head of the Aber Valley below Eglwysilan Mountain: photograph taken from the north east slope of Mayo Mountain, November, 2007.


Cultures and belief systems develop in response to their physical environments but they also change them. Geopolitical tensions and resource use are better understood in the context of culture and belief, which are essential aspects of ethnicity and nationalism. All these themes are woven together into the fabric of globalization, which currently defines how people interact with each other and their landscapes worldwide. However, landscapes remain as 'heartlands'; places where individuals return physically or emotionally because they are inexplicably linked with their history. The old Hundred of Senghenydd in South Wales, which stretches thirty miles to the north of Cardiff between the valleys of the rivers Taff and Rhymney (marked in purple on the following map), is such a distinct cultural heartland. Walking its semi-urban wildness is to connect with the birth of globilisation.


In 1848, C.F.Cliffe explored the the valley of the River Taff in South Wales and wrote, "The people of this solitudinous and happy valley are a pastoral race, almost entirely dependent on their flocks and herds for support... The air is aromatic with wild flowers, and mountain plants- a sabbath stillness reigns".

Industrialization of the South Wales coalfield had just begun, but in its centre, where the coal seams lie deep, or on the southern margin where they dip steeply, it has swept through the valleys only in the last hundred years. The pastoral pattern of settlement in the uplands, the blaenau of the counties of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire was the culmination of a very gradual increase of cultivation and population which occurred there between the Bronze Age, the only other period when the hills were relatively well peopled, and the modern Iron Age. It produced, throughout the upland areas a landscape thinly scattered with farmsteads on the valley sides and on the margins of the common grazing land on the plateau tops. Small groups of farmsteads clustered near watermills or ridge-top churches, and the farm people moved along footpaths and ridge-roads as did the former occupants of the Bronze Age. The valleys were less important as routeways. They contained wooded gorges of great beauty which, though now marred, is not entirely lost.

Though many farmsteads survive, the emphasis today is not on the blaenau, the hills, but on the valleys which cut them. 'The Valleys' are today synonymous with the Coalfield, and although mining has ceased the communities of the valley bottoms are descendants of a peasantry which came not only from the local hills but from all parts of Wales and much of south-west England and southern Ireland. At first, rows of stone-built houses and one or more chapels arose around each pithead. Now these nuclei have coalesced, at first through the development of river-side roads, canals, railways, pits, houses and now through new commercial premises which engulf the valley bottoms and lie like bulging petrified snakes in a settlement pattern that is unique in Britain.

This way into Wales is only one of many conceptual pathways to Wales as a larger national heartland, which through its language can be viewed as a member of the Celtic branch of the Indo-European cultural family, its closest relations being Cornish and Breton.

GREEN MAP OF WALES