MAESTEG, Cribyn, Ceredigion 2014

Notes on MAESTEG, Cribyn, Ceredigion 2014

Whilst driving to Maesteg I was half listening to the radio and thought I had heard the phrase ‘architects of infinity’ and for some reason this amused me and I said aloud to myself:
‘The Architects of Infinity have forgotten where they had started from’.

Many Times to a Ruin:
Off the main road and onto a b-class road and then after a few miles onto an unclassified road. This road wends a little while and is in fact a loop road of around 8 miles. Half way a long this road is an entrance and at the entrance an old rusting gate hanging off its hinges and held up with bailing twine. I climb over the gate and walk along the track. There is a line of electricity cables running in the field adjacent and heading in the same direction as the track. There is no cable running from pole to pole. I seek visible signs that no-one has been this way recently; tyre tracks in muddy puddles, footprints and even discarded foot packaging. The track becomes greener, thick grass grows straight and tall and soaks the trousers at the top of the wellingtons. According to the map the track should veer to the right and enter a small wooded area. This is where I am led to believe I will find my ruin. I have checked the Ordnance Survey maps, and saw an ubiquitous rectangle with another long thinner rectangle at a right angle beside it. I am thinking a house and barn. I have also checked GoogleEarth, for all the dislike I claim, I cannot help but wonder at its practicality in searching for ruins. However, in this instance GoogleEarth is of no use, I have peered long and hard at the computer screen and could draw no solid conclusion if the summer foliage of the trees simply disguise the two buildings or they have in actual fact been demolished years ago and the fact I can’t make them out on the computer screen is because they no longer exist. There is really only one way to find out.
I plan my journey, make sure all my equipment is working as it should and head out. What joy when you’re in luck! To find a small workers cottage; squat, roof barely clinging on, a large crack one gable end and if fortune carries a little further; an open window, a quick look about and then a small scramble inside, sometimes feet first (my preferred entrance) but occasionally head first and never really knowing for sure what you’re hands might discover. Today feet first, the kitchen with a toilet basin sitting skew whiffed. A wander through the rooms, dead birds, bird shit, broken things. I’ve upset some dust because I cough almost constantly. I am far from any other house but I want to be quiet. A sheep bleats outside and then the horrid sound of a baby crow demanding food, lodged somewhere in the chimney, the gable end with the crack and large gap under the eaves. There’s a lot of daylight coming in into this room. The wall has collapsed and damp runs down the walls all the way through the floorboards (completely rotten) and into the bathroom downstairs. The peeling paint is delicious, it tickles my aesthetic fancy but kneeling down, closing one eye to compose and I see it’s not quite up to scratch (as it were).
I resume the search of the rooms. A child’s room; baby wall paper of cartoon tigers and hippos but also a Michael Jackson poster and a car magazine called ‘Fast Fords’ (dated 1994). So this was when the last occupants lived here and they had a child, perhaps no longer a baby but someone whom liked Michael Jackson. Twenty years and the house is near dereliction. I think the last tenants found it cold and damp here. The house is in a lovely position but you can tell that today isn’t the first day for the air to be dusty and damp. These old Welsh houses have little insulation and even a tramp would struggle to find much comfort or warmth here. All the radiators have been ripped out or there had never been any in the first place. I think back to where I was in 1994. I first visited Aberglasney Mansion in 1994. That house is fully restored, this house has begun the quick decline. I find the skeleton remains of a large bird, probably a crow or a pigeon. It had probably found a way in but couldn’t quite work out how to get back out again. I am pleased I do not have this problem.
I set the camera up, a slow process focussing in the dim light. It is a simple exposure, taken directly above the birds remains. The bones of the wings and feet are fully stretched out, like it had fallen from a great height and had tried to break its fall by spreading out. An eight minute exposure, time enough to contemplate, time enough to breath. I sit in squat position, knowing I’ll be stiff when I rise. The minutes pass slowly at first but soon reverie takes over and I start thinking back about my journey here and then back further to all ruins visited. I don’t know why I do it sometimes yet it is also addictive and satisfying. Eight minutes has passed and I think for a moment more. Is that it? Any more photographs worth capturing here? I think not. I remove the lens, put the caps back on, unfold the camera, put it carefully away. I zip the zips and push down on the Velcro fasteners. I lower the tripod and climb down the stairs, taking in each step, saying a final farewell to the house. I have been here for no more than forty five minutes but it feels much longer and like every other ruin I’ve ever visited, my visit here has been securely etched onto film and into my memory. The walk back to the car is less worrisome. I will meet no-one I can tell. I will walk along the grassy track and note that my feet had pushed down the long grass on my way here. Dew marks stretch before me. If someone, like myself, wishes to visit and photograph here today, they’d walk along this path and they’d know, by these visible signs that someone had walked along here very recently. Maybe they’d change their mind and turn back. I almost want to make a sign and to leave it somewhere and for it to read; it’s okay, it’s worth a look, come here, look around, go home, save the memories.
Once back to the car and the equipment loaded into the trunk I sit at the wheel and scan the map. Where to next? A small chapel house, roadside location, in a church yard. Easy. Not much walking, no trespassing but I know that even if my next visit is easy it will still have the same impact upon me; and for all the good it does me, the silence and stillness of a forgotten home, elsewhere, untouched for some time and careering further to total ruin.
Maesteg isn’t all these things. It sits in the corner of a field. You can tell that no one really comes here. Once it was a family home, now it is just an empty house.
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MAESTEG, Cribyn, Ceredigion 2014

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