Local author Bridget Ashton recently revisited the home of her childhood in rural Radnorshire when she was invited by Painscastle Local Interest Group on 28 September to present her new book Cold War, Warm Hearts.
While there, she retraced some of the pathways in the Begwyns around the cottage where her family had lived back in 1949. There she met a childhood acquaintance who inspired her to write the touching story which follows.
Friends along the Green Road
by Bridget Ashton, with inspiration from Maldwyn Evans
“It’s Mrs Ashton coming up the road,” says seven-year-old Maldwyn. He has seen my young mother pulling her wheeled cart with baby Rosie and my three-year old sister along the path to the farm. I am skipping along beside them, my pony tail bouncing with every leap.
Earlier that morning, as she did the cottage chores, my mother had said to herself: “It is such a lovely day. When I get the jobs done, I’ll take you girls along to Bailey Bedw. It is time I visited Mrs Evans, and perhaps we can pick blackberries.”
She had already milked our goat Annabelle and changed Rosie’s nappy. We’d had our bread and butter and eggs for breakfast. She brushed Helen’s and my hair, packed some extra woollies into a bag and then strapped Rosie securely into the cart. My father had made it using two redundant pram wheels, and it was pulled along with a strong handle. We normally used it to collect the groceries which were delivered from a Hay shop to Bailey Bedw. But today, this is our free day, our holiday, away from our cottage of Top o’ Lane.
My mother pulls the cart a little further up the hill to the Green Road. The turf is prickled with small yellow flowers. Lightly, brightly, we pass beyond Wern farm where my friend Eileen lives.
Alerted by Maldwyn, Mrs Evans wipes her hands on her tea-towel and tidies the crockery on her dresser. She has allowed the fire to go out in the hearth because this is a mild autumn day. The two women smile at each other a little shyly. “Mrs Ashton, I didn’t expect a visitor,” says Mrs Evans. “This is a nice surprise.”
We go down the lane near Bailey Bedw to a hedgerow overgrown with ripe blackberries. Baby Rosie is set down on the soft turf. Helen, Maldwyn and I eat blackberries in easy reach, getting some scratches and purple hands and faces. We play at leaping over the tiny stream, round and round, while chanting “Keep the Kettle Boiling, Never miss a Beat”, until I catch my heel and fall in the water and have to be rubbed dry by my mother.
Our mothers fill their white enamel billycans with blackberries, enough to make a few pounds of jam. The fruit must be mixed with apples so that the jam will set. My father has brought some to this hill farm which has no apple trees. Our mothers have saved up some sugar, which is still post-war rationed in 1949, by banning it in everyone’s cups of tea. This way, there will be jam for everyone to spread on their bread and butter through the winter months ahead, and jam tarts for Christmas.
The sun is getting lower. The goat must be milked and the meal prepared for my father who will be coming back from his workshop in Hay. The women fondly bid each other goodbye. Tiredly, our mother pulls the cart back to our cottage. We will have jam; our expedition to Bailey Bedw has been a success.
But there is an unknown sorrow ahead. Soon, we will be leaving Top o’ Lane. My mother is finding it hard living without running water or electricity, far from school and shops, and with a new baby on the way. The family will move to Hay. There will be no more blackberry days for Mrs Evans and Mrs Ashton, those friends along the Green Road.
Years later, seven decades later, Maldwyn tells me: “My mother loved Mrs Ashton. They were company for each other. She really missed her when they moved.” The day when we picked blackberries fades dreamily in his mind, and mine.
Bridget Ashton’s book, Cold War, Warm Hearts, is the second in her Hay trilogy. The first, Hay Before the Bookshops or The Beeman’s Family, contains the full story of her childhood year in Painscastle. Both are available from local bookshops or online. The third, Hit the Road, Gals, will be published in February 2024.