(c) Steve Cordory


NWR Issue 115

On Shifting Sands

A Personal History of Newborough and its Environs,
by a Local Schoolmistress

Newborough, situated on the south-easterly tip of Ynys Môn, was established in the late thirteenth century. With a population of some 1,000 today, it sits above the once wealthy Welsh hamlet of Rhosyr, one of the dazzling gems in the crown of the king of Gwynedd. The borough was created by Edward I for an uprooted people, who had been forced to set up new, precarious lives on the edges of a wind-blasted, sand-drenched land.

What happens to those pieces of ourselves that we leave behind? Where do they go, those particles of skin that we shed every day, every minute, every second? Are there still fragments of us lying in in the soil, under layers of skin and detritus? I wonder if some of me is still here, in Newborough, beneath the dunes of Newborough Warren. Or have I been swept out by tidal currents over to Llanddwyn Island? Or carried off by the angry Irish Sea over to Dublin or the Wicklow Mountains? Is some of me still here, in Ty’n y Coed, the two room tyddyn where I was born and had lived until I was three? But if I am anywhere it is here, in Bryn Menai, in my nain’s old house, where I spent every childhood summer. I am there, sitting on the rocky tump, gazing out to the Menai Straits, across to the mountains of Eryri.

‘You think too much!’ my mother snaps.
We are driving past Wylfa Nuclear Power Station and I had been sharing my studentish anti-nuclear views.
‘Carry on like that and you’ll make yourself mad!’

She spits the word ‘mad’ with a Cassandra-like emphasis. I have been here before. Her rage bubbling up, its hot lava spilling over me. I am sitting alone on the back seat and we are on our way to my nain’s funeral. Ann, my mother, has turned round to face me in order to make this prediction. David, my father, is driving, locked in grief and rage. He is unusually quiet.

We arrive at Nain’s house in the village. It smells of damp and mothballs. The walls are lined with boxes of books that have been there since Nain moved in, nearly two years ago. I think of her in that tiny, sunless room. But I would rather remember her as she was, in the rambling, chaotic Bryn Menai, among her books and paintings and her dusty treasures from the Far East.

Over the years, Nain had gladly given up running water, her bathroom and kitchen. She had freely given her time and labour to care for relatives who cared nothing for her, all to stay in Bryn Menai. Even in her eighties, walking the daily three-mile round trip to the village was nothing to her, so long as she had Bryn Menai to come home to.

At eighty-four, the move to the village was Nain’s final attempt to plug up my father’s sinking finances. Far from enjoying the close-to-the-shops convenience that my father had offered as consolation, the new home seemed to hobble her. Like the mermaid that lay on the shore in a painting that had hung in Bryn Menai, she looked to be in profound pain.

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